The Velveteen Rabbit
Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. Illustrated by William Nicholson. The George H. Doran Company, 1922. 24 pages.
The first philosophical text that some children study may well be The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson. It tells the story of a boy’s toy bunny who hopes to someday be loved enough to become “real.” He eventually does, but later has to be thrown out after the boy contracts scarlet fever. Though the rabbit thinks his life is over, something special happens: a fairy comes to him and makes him truly “real,” a living rabbit. Throughout the story, Williams uses long sentences that build on each other, mirroring the rambling way that children talk and helping them relate to the story. Nicholson’s use of bold lines and strong colors creates an absorbing atmosphere that feels almost a little dreamlike, bringing the child reader into a different world where toys can come alive. This will almost certainly make him question whether his world works the same way, creating an opportunity to introduce the concept of metaphysics, or the study of existence. What makes me real? The rabbit didn’t realize he wasn’t fully alive, so how do I know that I am? Can I exist without other people? All are questions that will be raised and should be duly discussed. Also worth questioning with the child is the cultural idea that a person is only relevant if they are important to others, and how much weight should be placed on relationships. Clearly, The Velveteen Rabbit offers not just verbal and visual art, but a wealth of opportunities for discussion of and learning about the world.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you.”