I’ve been reading and re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, his first children’s book set in Discworld (in Uberwald, where Carpe Jugulum is partly set), winner of the Carnegie Medal. It’s a wonderful book, richly intertextual, and fast becoming one of my favourites of the Discworld novels. Rats behind Ankh-Morpork have been eating from the waste produced by the Unseen University, and been changed by the magic they have consumed. They, and the cat Maurice, have developed intelligence and the ability to talk. The rats name themselves from the tins they have read in the dump (Sardines, Peaches, Darktan, Hamnpork) and have adopted a children’s book, “Mr Bunnsy Has An Adventure”, as their guide. A number of authors, including Caroline Webb, have tentatively identified Beatrix Potter as the model for these books, I suspect in part because of the reference to a clothed rabbit deciding to go into a garden to eat lettuces. However, Beatrix Potter’s books are anything but twee. Nature may be dressed up in her books, but it is most definitely red in tooth and claw: see The Tale of Mr Todd. I would suggest instead Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit books.
Beatrix Potter books rarely have cross-species friendships, but Mr Bunnsy refers to Ratty Rupert and Ollie the Snake. Little Grey Rabbit lives with Hare and Squirrel, and a character who is always having (extremely tiresome) adventures is Fuzzypeg the Hedgehog. The books were first published in the 1930s, and I read them in the 1970s. Sadly only the illustrations maintain their charm for me; they are indeed as twee and repetitive as Malicia Grim found Mr Bunnsy.