This tender, old-fashioned tale is about the imagined feelings of toys, fragile, loved for a while, worn-out and then discarded. It’s fairly long for a preschooler to listen to (at least a half-hour’s reading) but my daughter was entranced, particularly by the account of the Boy’s near-fatal bout of scarlet fever. Although it seems to end happily, with the Velveteen Rabbit rescued from the bonfire and transformed by magic into a real rabbit, for the adult reading it aloud, there is a haunting, wistful subtext. I felt the sadness of those left behind when children grow up, with the loss of each age and stage as they pass, and even the terrible fragility of a child’s life in the days before vaccinations and antibiotics. The toys interact as children do, with friendships and rivalries. Each toy wishes to become “Real”, which can only happen when a child loves it enough to wear it out, as the Skin Horse explains in a beautiful passage to the new Velveteen Rabbit. Is it an analogy for growing up, or growing old? Or just the endless loss of change? But although it is a sad book for an adult to read, I don’t think a young child would find it so, and certainly my daughter much enjoyed a play by Backhand Theatre based on the book at Harrow Arts Centre in 2012. The book is charmingly, though not brightly, illustrated.
I leave you with this anecdote: when it was time for my daughter to take leave of her favourite playgroup because she’d soon be starting school, I happened to chat with one of the playgroup volunteers. “Don’t you find it sad to keep watching children grow bigger and leave forever?” I asked. “It is a little sad to say goodbye, of course”, she said, “but what’s really sad is when, occasionally, a child does not develop and grow as he should, and move on towards growing up.” That made me think about such changes in a much more positive way.