The Stories of Bertie the Guinea Pig: Keeping it Real!
Where do you begin when you start telling a story about guinea pigs? Cavies are so misunderstood, sometimes even labelled as ‘dull’ or ‘boring’! When I started writing, I really wanted to show people how amazing guinea pigs can be, granted they don’t actually talk in real-life, and perhaps some of the Bertie stories stretch reality a little – but at their heart, they’re anecdotes about my own guinea pig family and the little personalities who have made such a huge impact on my life and continue to provide inspiration every day!
The first time I told my little girl about Bertie, I told her about his best friend, Jenny – who really did have no squeak. Of course in a children’s story it’s important to have a happy ending so when I came to put pen to paper, Bertie helped Jenny find her lost squeak. The story became the first tale http://bertieguineapig.com/stories/bertie-and-the-big-squeak/. In real life, Bertie helped Jenny in a different way; becoming her soul mate and helping her overcome her grief from losing her sister.
While I was wondering where to go next with the Bertie tales I kept hearing about my friend’s hen, Roberta, who was always breaking out of her enclosure and stealing the guinea pigs’ food! Her antics stuck in my mind as I wrote Bertie and the Cheeky Chicken.
Bertie and the New Baby is based on reality too. When I fell pregnant a few years ago, my guinea pigs would sit on my tummy and give me the strangest looks when the baby kicked! And I remember how life changed for them when the baby came along; I think we all got a shock at how noisy babies could be! It must be hard for pets when a new family member arrives and takes over the house. I thought some of Bertie’s young readers may have a new baby arriving in their family at some point too and might relate to Bertie’s feelings. We had four guinea pigs at the time my little girl was born and they were very tolerant, but I do recall them being very happy to be outside in the garden and away from the noise of the house! In the story, when Bertie’s ‘favourite big person’ has a baby, Jenny returns to keep Bertie company – and brings her own baby with her. I imagined if the real Bertie and Jenny had had babies then they might have looked a bit like Amy!
My little girl has grown up with guinea pigs – they are part of our family. I’ve always tried to instill in her a sense of respect for animals and re-iterate again and again that they are not toys to be ‘played with’ but little creatures who need love and affection. She’s learning to recognise their body language now and loves to see them exploring during floor time. One day our youngest pig, Amy, crawled into my little girl’s backpack and enjoyed a good sniff inside. It gave me the idea of sending Bertie and Jenny’s baby (Amy) on an Incredible Adventure of her own.
When it came to writing Bertie Visits the Vet, I had quite a few memories to draw on, but it was Bertie’s own experiences with the vet that formed the backbone for the story. He was never keen to go, but used to be putty in her hands if she called him ‘handsome’! Bertie had teeth trouble and he saw our regular vet and a local rodentologist (recommended by the UK’s Cambridge Cavy Trust.) The rodentologist really did give him a sticker when he’d had his teeth trimmed; if you look closely in the photo you can see it on his hutch! Meanwhile the vet needed only to tickle him under his chin and he virtually opened his mouth and said ‘ahh’ for her! In the story, Bertie gets a splinter in his paw – something I thought the children reading the stories might relate to.
The latest tale, Bertie’s Christmas Carrot was inspired by my own forgetfulness. When our daughter was a baby I remember leaving out the mince pie for Santa and realizing the next day that I’d forgotten the all important carrot! I joked with the guinea pigs that they must have helped Rudolph out and I’m sure I saw one of them wink at me – or maybe that was just my imagination
The Stories of Bertie the Guinea Pig app is available to download from the App Store. There are 6 virtual books, each complete with real guinea pig squeaking, munching and rustling! The first tale, Bertie and the Big Squeak is absolutely free! For more information visit http://bertieguineapig.com. You can also now connect with Bertie on Facebook or find his author Helen on Twitter.
App images courtesy of The Story Mouse. All photos copyright Helen J. Aitken.
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