Every child that has ever owned a toy that has become so well-loved, dog-eared and tattered that it simply must be taken to bed each night, will relate to the classic story of The Velveteen Rabbit. Of all the books read to me as a small child, it is one that has lingered in my memory.
The story begins with all the charm and excitement of Christmas, when a little boy receives a soft toy rabbit in his Christmas stocking. The boy loves to play with the rabbit almost at once and does so for two hours. However, it is then put into the toy closet and quickly forgotten.
At night-time, the nursery comes alive with chatter as the toys in the closet discuss various matters. The velveteen rabbit is by nature very shy, and the more expensive toys "snubbed him". The more "mechanical" toys know exactly what they are; there is no problem for them to pretend they are "real". Even Timothy the wooden lion "put on airs and pretended he was connected with the Government". But the velveteen rabbit has never heard or seen real rabbits, so he cannot talk like the others about what he is like; he is just a rabbit stuffed with sawdust. The rabbit's one friend is the Skin Horse, whom he asks, "What is Real?"
"It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
When the boy's regular night-time toy cannot be found, the rabbit is chosen as his companion, and subsequently they spend many happy times together. But then one day the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, and the doctor gives instructions that all of the nursery toys that were in his bed must be burned. As the rabbit waits, he cries, and a beautiful flower grows from one of his tears. It turns into a lovely fairy, who tells him he is now going to be real.
What is it about this book that is so memorable? Is it the touch of irony and beauty of the story, the scenes of happy childhood play, the way love can change us and stays in our memory, the qualities of uncertainty and shyness in the little rabbit toy, or the messages of being loved and growing through seasons of the heart that seem to ring true to every reader young and old? To this day, the story still tugs at my heart.
A former children's librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.
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