Books We Loved As Kids: The Velveteen Rabbit

I spent this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio, where my brother got married to his high school sweetheart after dating for almost a decade.  One of the highlights of their very unique and lovely ceremony was a reading of an excerpt of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit.  My sister, a mother of two young children and sucker for all that is heart-warming and -wrenching, broke down about two seconds into reading it and had everyone bawling by the end.  Here’s what she read:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “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.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who 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.”

Since I admit I was drying off tears listening to this on Saturday, I revisited the story today.  The story’s subtitle Or, How Toys Become Real demonstrates the charming combination of matter-of-fact tone and fantastical tenderness that runs throughout the narrative of the velveteen rabbit, his Boy, and how the Boy helps the rabbit become “Real.”  The lure of the book lies not least in its message that love is the ultimate measure of a life well-lived (see the Skin Horse’s wise words and the rabbit’s flashback moment before his figurative death in the garbage bag), and that love can ultimately overcome death (see the deus-ex-machina scene with the nursery magic fairy).  I was not surprised to rediscover the binary created between fashionable, high-tech toys and those that imitate nature–like our dear velveteen rabbit, whose natural materials go right down to his sawdust stuffing–but I did become pleasantly aware that the story takes place over a year, a touching way to extend the themes of life, death, and the cycle of nature.

The Velveteen Rabbit was a story loved very much by a girl who I’m now happy to call my sister-in-law, enough that she insisted on it being part of one of the major milestones in her life, and its gentle magic is sure to continue to delight and wring tears from many, many readers to come.

You can request a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit from the TC closed stacks by searching the title in EDUCAT, clicking “Click here to request that this item be retrieved from the closed stacks,” and following the directions to request it.

Alternatively, you can find a digital copy here.