The Velveteen Rabbit, also known as How Toys Become Real, is a British children’s book by Margery Williams that was first published way back in 1922.
It’s not often seen on lists of the best books for children anymore but I’m sure lots of you might find the name familiar.
If you’re struggling to remember where you might have heard the name of this book, let me take you back to Friends season 4, episode 6, “The One With the Dirty Girl”.
In this episode, Chandler buys Joey’s girlfriend, Kathy, a vintage edition of her favourite book, The Velveteen Rabbit.
The rest of the gang are adamant that Chandler can’t give such a thoughtful gift to his best friend’s girlfriend so Chandler lets Joey pretend he bought it for Kathy instead.
Of course, Kathy sees right through this and realises that Chandler must have bought this since Joey presented it to her and said: “I know you like rabbits and I know you like cheese”. He missed the mark a little on that one.
Rewatching this episode inspired me to finally look up The Velveteen Rabbit and actually give it a read. And what a lovely read it was!
I have often felt that children’s book carry much more meaning when read by adults.
That’s why I wrote this article on books like The Little Prince that adults need to read.
So what is The Velveteen Rabbit actually about?
The Velveteen Rabbit Summary
The story begins on Christmas Eve as a velveteen rabbit toy peeks out of a Christmas stocking.
The recipient, a small boy, receives so many toys that year that he quickly forgets all about the velveteen rabbit. His other toys are new and mechanical and think themselves superior to the stuffed toys.
The velveteen rabbit feels small but the Skin Horse, the oldest toy in the nursery, teaches the young rabbit about what it means to be “real” and how toys can become real if a child loves them enough.
One night, the boy’s Nana picks the velveteen rabbit up and gives it to the boy to sleep with. From then on, the boy and the rabbit are inseparable and enjoy picnics together in the day time, and bedtime hugs in the evening.
The boy and his toy rabbit play outside one day and the velveteen rabbit encounters real rabbits for the first time.
However, the real rabbits look down on him as the velveteen rabbit does not have hind legs that will allow him to hop around like they do.
Unfortunately, the boy then falls incredibly ill with scarlet fever but the faithful velveteen rabbit accompanies him all the same.
As the boy begins to recover, the velveteen rabbit overhears the doctor say that the boy should go to the seaside and the rabbit is delighted!
What the velveteen rabbit did not understand was that the doctor had also ordered for anything that may now be covered in germs should be burned so as to disinfect the boy’s bedroom.
The rabbit finds himself in a sack and left for the gardener to deal with the next morning. The velveteen rabbit begins to cry and tears fall to the ground.
Magically, a flower grows from one of the tears and out pops a small fairy!
This is the Nursery Magic Fairy and she says that because the rabbit was Real to the small boy, she will take the velveteen rabbit to a place where he can be real to everyone.
The velveteen rabbit finds himself in the company of real rabbits again and starts to feel embarrassed about his hind legs.
However, he soon finds that he has been transformed and can now hop and skip just like the other real rabbits!
The Velveteen Rabbit “Real” Quote
“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.”
This quote about what it means to be real is undoubtedly the most famous passage in the Velveteen Rabbit.
I love the little rabbit’s innocence and his first thought that new and shiny mechanical objects might be the most real.
This is a defining moment for the Velveteen Rabbit as he begins to understand that the other horrible toys in the nursery might not be so great after all.
It also teaches us where we come from doesn’t define us but our life experiences do.
“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.”
Love can be painful. But in the wise words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all“.
“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.”
This reminds me of a quote from The Fault in Our Stars where Hazel says: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once“.
“…once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I love the idea that once you come into yourself, you reach a point that no matter what happens to you, you can always be true to yourself.
“He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these”
This quote makes me quite sad and feels even more apt in today’s social media world where lots of people care more about what they look like than being “real”.
The Velveteen Rabbit Love Quotes
“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
It’s easy to spot a child’s favourite toy – it will always be the most worn one. You just know that that toy will have been dragged along on all sorts of adventures.
A child’s ability to love a toy even though it may look quite ratty and old should be remembered by adults. It’s not about appearances, it’s about what you feel.
“Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden.”
This beautiful transformation at the end of the Velveteen Rabbit is a reminder that good things can grow out of hardship and you may find yourself better for it in the end.
Sometimes those who love us leave us behind but it’s an opportunity for you to find out who you really are. Whilst the love of another is amazing, it should not define us.
Which is your favourite Velveteen Rabbit quote?
If you liked this post, check out these:
13 Books to Read if You Loved the Little Prince