Love that Book: The Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams and William Nicholson, 1922)

    Published: 24 September 2018

    “Real isn’t how you are made…it’s a thing that happens to you”

    We probably all have books that have become part of us, intertwined with who we are and how we have been shaped, books that have helped to make us. Christmas 1980 saw me receive one such book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. It helped me to cope when Special Dolly had been loved so much that she needed some facial remodelling, some bodywork repairs and actually ended up feeling and looking so much more special and Mine than the original shop-bought version (thanks, Mum, for the lovely sewn-on face). It helped me to cope with the gut-wrenching experience of losing our first family dog; that in fact she hadn’t really gone but was running free with other dogs in some otherworldly version of our favourite walks. And it helped me when the inevitable happened and I suddenly lost my first beloved grandparent.

    Books that we love, that are etched in our memories, that become our life-guides, should be the entitlement of all children. They are not only a form of escapism, a way of expanding horizons and raising aspirations for our futures, but also – crucially – a way of making sense of our own personal realities. There is something about reading words, taking in their meaning, connecting to that author’s (and illustrator’s) interpretations and the transformation of sense and meaning which occurs as a result that cannot be matched by any other experience. They are a gift from the creators to the world of readers that can uplift, make into a soggy mess, unite and re-form the hardest of hearts.

    Alongside its obvious discussion opportunities, this book provides so many opportunities for children to express themselves using their writing skills. In the table below, you will find some suggestions for how it could be used creatively to develop children’s writing skills in line with the vocabulary, grammar and punctuation programme of study for each year group (NB expectations of outcomes will vary across the year).

    Year group

    NC statement

    Opportunities for exploration in the text

    1

    Regular plural noun suffixes –s or –es

     

    Sequence sentences with spaces between words

    Role-play toy shop: labels for items, e.g. superheroes

    Role-play toy museum: labels for old toys, e.g. toy engines, skin horses*

     

    Make a clay rabbit. Write simple instructions for making, e.g:

    Roll out the clay.

    Squeeze into a sausage.

    Put on two eyes and a nose.

    Add some long whiskers and long ears.

    Put on some legs and a tail.

     

    [Some children may be able to use some time words to show the sequence, e.g. first, then, finally.]

    2

    How the grammatical patterns in a sentence indicate its function as a statement, question, exclamation or command

    Write questions for hot-seating Rabbit:

    • teacher goes into role as Rabbit
    • freeze frame to show feelings at key points of the story, such as when he is unwrapped, when he is left in the nursery/toy-room, when he snuggles up to the boy’s chin, when he is told by the real rabbits that he is not real, when the boy becomes ill, when Rabbit is taken to the bottom of the garden…
    • give children a range of question starters on large flashcards; invite children to ask questions of Rabbit at the key points of emotional changes

    3

    Word families based on common words, showing how words are related in form and meaning [for example, solve, solution, solver, dissolve, insoluble]

     

     

    Express time, place and cause using conjunctions, adverbs or prepositions.

    Make a word ‘family’ of key words that occur in the text, e.g. ‘comfort’ – show how this can be expanded to ‘comforting’, ‘comfortable’ and then to ‘uncomfortable’, ‘discomfort’.

     

    un

     

     

    comfort

    s

    ed

    dis

    ing

    able

     

       

    Write an explanation for how toy animals become Real. Example model text:

     

    In the beginning, toys are just made of cloth or skin and have stuffing inside them. They can’t move their legs or noses independently but with their owner’s help they can be moved. When they have been loved for a very long time, just before they fall apart, the nursery magic fairy will visit them…

    4

    Noun phrases expanded by the addition of modifying adjectives, nouns and preposition phrases (e.g. the teacher expanded to: the strict maths teacher with curly hair)

     

    Fronted adverbials [for example, Later that day, I heard the bad news]

    Write a free-verse poem based on the Rabbit’s lifetime. Example of model text:

     

    As a young rabbit, I saw

    an assortment of gifts under the Christmas tree

    a skin horse* at the end of the nursery

    the young boy who I had been given to.

     

    Later on, I saw

    some furry rabbits whose hind legs could bend

    a strict lady with a medicine tray

    some worried people with sad faces.

     

    In the end, I saw

    a beautiful magic fairy who whisked me away

    the silver-dappled forest that was covered with new playfellows

    my precious boy playing happily at the bottom of the garden.

     

     

    5

    Indicating degrees of possibility using adverbs [for example, perhaps, surely] or modal verbs [for example, might, should, will, must]

    Stop at the point in the story where the boy becomes ill. Rabbit has snuggled quietly down with him to comfort him, and is trying not to be discovered. Imagine Nanny finds him and wants to send Rabbit back to the nursery/toy-room. Write a persuasive speech from the boy’s mother/father to the nanny explaining and justifying the good it is doing the boy to have Rabbit with him at the moment. (Children will likely also need to use a range of conjunctions, adverbs and prepositions to fully express their views, and to use paragraphing when planning this speech.)

    6

    Use of the passive

     

     

     

     

     

    Use of formal language typical of the era (leaning on examples from the text as a guide)

    Research the era in which the story is set (c.1922), including Scarlet Fever, why the room and contents needed to be so thoroughly disinfected and why the boy was going to the seaside.

     

     

    Invite children to write a recount in the form of a letter from the boy to a friend, explaining what had happened to him. At the point in the story where the boy’s room needs to be cleared out and disinfected, encourage use of the passive form.

    The letter can be hand-written out in best cursive writing, in the style of the day, and ‘aged’ in an oven. Display with artefacts of the era.

     

    *toy horse made of leather (see book)

    At KS1 I would read this book over several days, possibly as an end-of-the-day read-aloud, doing the voices etc to really soak them in the plot, setting and characterisation. However, some colleagues may find ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ to be too mature to share with some KS1 children; perhaps ‘That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown’ would be a suitable alternative option.

    The book provides fantastic opportunities for expanding vocabulary and exposing children to words and phrases from times gone by, for example the author uses ‘for’ quite often as a coordinating conjunction in a genuine context; it gives us a golden opportunity to experience this now little-used literary language.

     

    Come to the ‘Love That Book’ conference on the 6th February 2019 (book here), and pick up more great inspiration for how to share the book-love with your classes. 

     

    Love that book

     

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