The Velveteen Rabbit is one of those books that stays with you.
In a nutshell, it’s about a stuffed rabbit and his quest to become Real. This isn’t an unusual topic for a children’s book. Toys are always talking to themselves or each other, sometimes they are real when kids are around, other times they fall silent when humans come into the room. Pinocchio’s quest to become “a real boy” is the whole focus of his story.
Like Pinocchio, the Velveteen Rabbit is on a quest to become Real. He doesn’t know what that means, exactly, and while the wise and well-meaning Skin Horse tells him that he will become Real when the Boy loves him for a long time, it isn’t until he is discarded by the Boy that the little rabbit learns what it actually means to become Real.
My grandmother first read this book to me, and it had a profound impact on me creatively. I used to look at my favorite toys and wonder which of them was on the way to becoming Real. In my heart, I was pretty sure all of them would. But then again, I tended to think they were Real from the moment I got them. I knew they had feelings, emotions, that it would hurt if I pulled their hair while I was brushing it, that they would get sleepy if they stayed up too late, every single one of them had a stained mouth from my insistence that they needed juice.
In one of the most beautiful passages of The Velveteen Rabbit, the rabbit is asking the Skin Horse whether becoming Real is a gradual thing, or whether it happens all at once.
“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.”
Because it isn’t a very long book, and because I found it impossible to choose just one passage, if you click on the link below, you will hear The Velveteen Rabbit in its entirety. You can also find it by searching “Kid Lit Coffee Break” in iTunes.