Study Guide

The Velveteen Rabbit

By Margery Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit Introduction

Before Toy Story, before Pinocchio, before even (shudder) Child's Play—there was The Velveteen Rabbit.

This book is one of the earliest stories about the secret lives of toys. It tells the tale of a little stuffed bunny who dreams of becoming capital-R Real someday. He ends up achieving his dream with the help of a kind little boy and also learns all about friendship, love, and loss along the way. (And, on the plus side, he never once tries to kill anyone. We're looking at you, Chucky.)

The Velveteen Rabbit was written by Margery Williams way back in 1922. Williams had penned other books but, after World War I ended, she was inspired by her two children to start work on a short book for kids. The story was an instant hit. Williams would write nearly twenty-five books total, but The Velveteen Rabbit would be her most famous by far.

Hey, everyone loves a bunny who keeps it Real.

Even now—almost a hundred years later—this story remains one of the most cherished children's books of all time. It was honored with the IRA/CBC Children's Choice Award. It was also voted one of the Top 100 Books for Children by the National Education Association. That's pretty impressive for a little rabbit stuffed with sawdust.

It isn't surprising that Margery Williams would dream up a story about a toy that comes to life. People have always wondered what their toys are up to when they're not around. Calvin imagined his tiger Hobbes was Real. Pinocchio wanted to become a Real boy. Clara helped her nutcracker doll turn into a handsome prince. Woody and Buzz fought over who was better—the classic toy or the modern, flashy one.

And, you know, Chucky tried to possess the kid who owned him.

The point is—the lives of our toys are so mysterious. What do they do all day? Does our Barbie have hopes and dream? Does our Ninja Turtle love us as much as we love him? And what happens when we can't take care of our scruffy-looking teddy bear anymore?

The Velveteen Rabbit has answers to those questions.

What is The Velveteen Rabbit About and Why Should I Care?

You're a mature person. You're in control of your emotions. That means you don't go around crying at kid's stuff. Especially not a book written for little tiny children.

Right?

wrong.

We hate to break this to you, but, based on our (unscientific) calculations, 99% of people cry at some point during The Velveteen Rabbit. This story is an emotional minefield. It's a sweet and sentimental tale about a vulnerable toy rabbit who learns to love and then has his little sawdust heart broken into a thousand pieces when he's ultimately rejected by the child he cared for the most.

What's that? You've got something in your eye. We'll give you a minute to recover.

The Velveteen Rabbit is pretty deep for a book aimed at little kids, but it's in keeping with a tradition of tackling big topics in children's literature. The Giving Tree; Love You Forever; The Hundred Dresses: these books all have a bittersweet quality as they take on issues like love and loss and friendship. It's definitely not just kid's stuff.

The Rabbit is also struggling with another big question—what does it mean to be Real? The book says we become the truest, most authentic people we can be when we open ourselves to the possibility of loving and being loved in return. Of course, that also means we can be hurt. The Velveteen Rabbit learns that love isn't all play dates and Sunday morning snuggles in bed. Real love can mean heartbreak and tears and being burned to death. Well, not usually being burned to death…but you get the idea.

If you're not tearing up after all that? It's cool. You're probably one of those people who didn't cry at the beginning of Up either. (On the plus side, you'll save a lot of money on Kleenex.) The rest of us will be over here sobbing our eyes out with the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Velveteen Rabbit Resources

Websites

Author, Author
No one maintains a Velveteen Rabbit website (get on that bunny fans), so you can learn more about the author of the book, Margery Williams, at this Encyclopedia.com entry.

Movie or TV Productions

The First Easter Rabbit
This 1976 cartoon featured the voice of Burl Ives and adapted the Velveteen Rabbit's story to turn him into the Easter Bunny in the end. That's quite the upgrade.

Little Ears: The Velveteen Rabbit
This 1984 short film is basically just Meryl Streep reading straight from The Velveteen Rabbit book while illustrations flash by over music. Still, Meryl Streep. Who wouldn't want to listen to her read bedtime stories?

The Velveteen Rabbit (1984)
This short cartoon that came out in 1984 also recreated the tale of the Velveteen Rabbit and his quest to become Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit
Truth be told, this live-action movie version of the bunny's tale doesn't sound a whole lot like what happens in the book. The Boy finds a "magic attic" and his tears bring the toys—including the Velveteen Rabbit—to life. Close but not quite.

The Velveteen Rabbit (2007)
This short live-action film which was released in 2007 is yet another standard retelling of the Rabbit's story.

The Velveteen Rabbit (2009)
This 2009 full-length film adds a mom, dad, and grandma for the Boy. In fairness, if you're trying to stretch out a thirty-page book into an hour and a half you're gonna have to make some adjustments.

Articles and Interviews

Six Life Lesson from The Velveteen Rabbit
Bustle wrote this list so we could all learn something from our little bunny friend.

A Review of The Velveteen Rabbit
This review in the New York Times is about a 2016 off-Broadway stage version of The Velveteen Rabbit, but it captures all the same themes from the beloved book.

An Interview with Laurel David Huber
Believe it of not, no one has ever written a biography of Margery Williams. But in 2017, Laurel Davis Huber tackled the topic by writing about the lives of Margery and her daughter, Pamela Bianco. You can read all about it in her book The Velveteen Daughter.

Scarlet Outbreak
According to this Vox article, scarlet fever is making a comeback in some parts of the globe. Toys of the world beware.

Video

Chandler's Gift
On an episode of Friends, Chandler buys Joey's girlfriend an early edition of The Velveteen Rabbit as a gift because he knows she loved that book when she was a little girl. This doesn't do anything to help keep his obviously crush on his best friend's girl under wraps. The Rabbit brings out the love in everyone.

Audio

Audio Book of The Velveteen Rabbit
Listen along to the sweet sounds of an amazing children's story being read aloud. It'll bring you right back to your childhood.

Images

Cover Art
The cover of an early edition of The Velveteen Rabbit. Looking good, bunny boy.

The Skin Horse Tells His Story
Original art from inside the book. This shows the little Rabbit talking with the Skin Horse. What does it take to be Real anyway?

Anxious Times
More original art. The Rabbit waits patiently for the Boy to recover from his illness. Get well soon, kid!

The Fairy Flower
And the last bit of art from the book. Here's the Fairy popping up out of her blossom getting ready to make some Real magic.

It Lasts for Always
A sweet quote from our story with a picture of the Rabbit on it.

Once You Are Real You Can't Be Ugly
Even more quotable goodness. Keep it real and keep it beautiful.