The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and Sarah Massini

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The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and Sarah Massini

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Something about this dated little story of a boy and his favourite stuffed toy still appeals to today's more sophisticated child. Perhaps because it is all about the private lives and private imaginings of a recognisable peer, but whatever the reason, you will find yourself reading it over and over again.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 64 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Nosy Crow
ISBN: 978-0857636966

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To the Boy the Velveteen Rabbit is not just real but Real. The Boy and the Velveteen Rabbit are best friends. They spend happy afternoons in the garden together digging and wheelbarrowing amongst the raspberry canes, happy evenings together playing in the clearing at the bottom of the garden, and happy nights in bed cuddled up together, warm and safe, whispering their secrets. The Boy has loved his Velveteen Rabbit so much that his tail is becoming unsewn, his beautiful, velvety, soft fur is all worn and all the pink has "rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him". Wherever the Boy goes so must the Velveteen Rabbit and that's just how Rabbit likes it, for he has dreamed of becoming Real ever since the Skin Horse told him about that special magic:

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to toys who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

And the night he becomes Real, the night when the Boy shouts at his nurse that his bunny is not a toy, not a toy at all, he's REAL, is the proudest, happiest night of the Velveteen Rabbit's life:

That night he was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty.

One day the Boy becomes ill, very ill, it's scarlet fever. He is hot and flushed and his body is so very hot that it burns the Velveteen Rabbit under the bedclothes. Still, he stays there, hardly daring to move because he knows that the Boy needs him. At night, when the doctors have gone and the nurse dozes in her chair he creeps up toward the pillow and whispers in the Boy's feverish ear of how it will be when he is well again, of the fun and adventures they will have together. Patiently he waits and slowly the Boy recovers; when he's well enough to sit up in bed the first thing he does is to show Rabbit, cuddled close at his side, the pictures in his favourite books.

The doctors bring good news - the Boy is to spend his recuperation in the healthy air of the seaside. Rabbit can hardly wait. But it's good news only for the Boy - the Velveteen Rabbit is now no more than a germ-laden danger and he's to be incinerated along with everything else in the nursery. While the Boy sleeps Rabbit is taken and dumped unceremoniously with the sheets and blankets and pillows at the bottom of the garden, waiting for tomorrow's bonfire. As he lies there, forlorn and distraught, a single, real tear trickles from his eye. From it steps a fairy and when she kisses Rabbit he is transformed from Real to real. She transports him to a thicket where the other real, wild rabbits are dancing their wild moonlight dance.

'Run and play, little rabbit,' she said.

And with his new, soft fur that is real, not Real, and his new hind legs which are real, not Real, that's exactly what he does.

Small children love their parents. They love their siblings and their grandparents and their aunts and uncles and cousins. Gradually, as they grow, they learn to make friends with other children at playgroups and nurseries but they often use up their first independent love on a precious toy. They imbue that toy with all kinds of anthropomorphisms and to them the relationship is real. They really do love that teddy, that rabbit, that doll, and they assume that naturally Teddy or Rabbit or Doll loves them back. Sometimes I think that it's like a little practice for the future, but one without risk. Perhaps they're wiser than we know, children; perhaps they are practising for older, more mature friendships and relationships. Then again, perhaps they just love the things which make them feel secure and safe and they invent games and fun securely and safely around them.

The Original Velveteen Rabbit, Or How Toys Become Real is a very dated little story. The Boy lives his life like A A Milne's Christopher Robin, in a nursery with his Nanny, the illustrations are twee and Victorian (imagine the Flower Fairies so beloved of those Past Time shops and you're about there), the language and especially the dialogue are very anachronistic. You'd think that today's child, Playstation crazy, devotee of all things Pokemon, owner of a thousand sophisticated themed Lego sets, would look on in boredom at such a tale. But some stories defy time and place, however dated they seem, and this is another picture book that I think we'll be keeping forever. We know it's not true, not really true, I think, but we still like to give ourselves up to the magic once in a while.

While the magic's still real, it's Real, you know what I mean?

For another old fashioned picture book that today's children will still enjoy, try our review of The Tiger That Came To Tea, by Judith Kerr.

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