The Velveteen Rabbit (originally published as The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real) is a children's fantasy story by the British-born American author Margery Williams. It was first published in 1922. The Velveteen Rabbit is included in the National Education Association's list of "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".
The book's title character and protagonist is a stuffed toy rabbit. For some time, the Velveteen Rabbit is completely ignored by his owner, a young boy. The Rabbit spends most of his time in the company of other toys, mostly clockworks ones, most of which look down on him. All of the clockwork toys insist that they are not toys at all and that they are Real. The only friend that the Velveteen Rabbit has is an old toy horse. The toy horse tells the Rabbit that being Real and being clockwork are not the same thing. The horse goes on to explain that toys become Real when children love them very much. When the Boy rediscovers the Velveteen Rabbit, he quickly falls in love with him. After some time, the Boy declares that the Rabbit is not a toy but Real. Soon afterwards, however, the Velveteen Rabbit finds out that, although he is Real to the Boy, he is rot necessarily seen as such by anyone else.
The story has been adapted for film and television.
On Christmas morning, a boy receives a beautiful toy rabbit made of velveteen as a present. The Boy immediately falls in love with the Velveteen Rabbit. Other relatives then arrive at the Boy's house bringing more presents for him, causing the Boy to forget about the Rabbit altogether. For some time, the Boy does not play with the Rabbit. The Rabbit is simply moved form the nursery floor to the toy cupboard and back again. The more expensive toys look down on the Rabbit for being made out of a cheap material. The mechanical toys in particular, who all insist that they are not toys but Real, consider themselves to be superior to the Rabbit.
The only friend that the Velveteen Rabbit has is the very shabby-looking old Skin Horse. The Skin Horse is the oldest toy in the nursery and is consequently very wise. One day, the Velveteen Rabbit asks the Skin Horse what "Real" means and if it means the same thing as being mechanical. The Skin Horse explains that Real does not mean the same thing as clockwork and that, "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." The Skin Horse goes on to say that the process of becoming Real can take a long time. By the time that most toys become Real, they look very old and shabby, although becoming Real means that they can never look ugly to anyone who truly understands. The Skin Horse adds that the Boy's uncle made him Real many years ago and that, "Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
One evening, Nana, the Boy's nurse, cannot find the toy with which he usually sleeps. She gives him the Velveteen Rabbit instead. The Boy then begins to sleep with the Rabbit every night and plays with him around bedtime. The Rabbit soon starts to look shabby but the Boy does not notice.
In the spring, the Boy and the Velveteen Rabbit play together outside. One afternoon, the Boy leaves the Rabbit outside when he goes in for tea. At night, Nana has to go outside and search for the Rabbit because the Boy cannot sleep without him. Nana finds the Rabbit wet with dew and smelling of soil, the Boy having made burrows for him. She tries to clean the dirty Rabbit before giving him back to the Boy. Nana complains to the boy about the trouble she has been through because of a toy. The Boy replies, "You mustn't say that. He isn't a toy. He's REAL!" The Rabbit is overjoyed to hear that. The following morning, Nana notices a look of wisdom and beauty in the rabbit's eyes that was not there before.
In the summer, the Boy takes the Velveteen Rabbit with him when he goes to play in the woods near his house. The Boy often makes a nest for the Rabbit before he goes off to play on his own. While he is left in his nest one summer evening, the Velveteen Rabbit sees two real rabbits for the first time. The rabbits ask the Velveteen Rabbit to play with them. Aware that he cannot move on his own but not wanting the rabbits to realize that, the Velveteen Rabbit says that he does not feel like playing. One of the rabbits then notices that the Velveteen Rabbit does not have proper hind legs because the lower part of his body has been, "made all in one piece, like a pincushion." On closer inspection, one of the rabbits declares that the Velveteen Rabbit is not a rabbit and is not real. The Velveteen Rabbit sadly protests that he is Real. At that moment, however, the two rabbits run off when they hear the Boy approaching. The Velveteen Rabbit calls out to them to come back but they do not.
After his unpleasant experience of meeting the two rabbits, the Velveteen Rabbit's life continues happily for some time. He looks very old and shabby. He loses his shape and barely looks like a rabbit anymore. To the Boy, however, he continues to look beautiful.
The boy suddenly becomes ill with scarlet fever. He does not play with any other toys but reads in bed and keeps the Velveteen Rabbit by his side at all times. When the Boy recovers, a doctor orders that all of his bedclothes and the books that he read while he was sick in bed be burned to prevent the spread of the disease. The doctor tells Nana that the Velveteen Rabbit will have to be burned also and tells her that a new toy rabbit can be bought for the Boy. The Velveteen Rabbit is put in a sack along with the other items that are to be burned. The gardener is supposed to burn the items immediately. Having other work to do, however, the gardener says that he will burn them the following day.
At night, the Velveteen Rabbit is able to get his head out of the sack. He wonders what the point of losing his beauty and becoming real was if he is now to be destroyed. A tear trickles down his nose and falls to the ground. Where his tear falls, a flower grows. The flower opens and a fairy is revealed to be inside it. She says that she is the nursery magic Fairy and that she takes care of toys that children once loved but no longer need by making them Real. The Velveteen Rabbit asks if he was not Real before. The Fairy replies that he was real to the Boy but she will now make him real to everybody.
The following spring, the Boy goes out to play in the woods. He sees two rabbits. He is surprised by how much one of the rabbits looks like the toy one that he used to have. He does not know that it is his old toy rabbit who has come back, "to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real."
The animated TV special The First Easter Rabbit, made by the American production company Rankin/Bass and Topcraft of Japan and first shown on NBC in the United States on April 9, 1976, is a partial adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit. The special concerns a toy rabbit named Stuffy who belongs to a girl named Glinda. After Glinda recovers from scarlet fever, Stuffy is set to be burned. Stuffy escapes destruction by burning by magically being made real and, as the special's title suggests, also goes on to become the Easter Bunny.
Two animated adaptations of The Velveteen Rabbit first aired on North American television in April 1985. The first was made by Atkinson Film Arts of Canada and features the voice of Christopher Plummer as the narrator. It first aired on the Canadian channel CTV on April 2, 1985 and was subsequently shown on HBO in the United States. The second animated adaptation was made by an Australian subsidiary of Hanna-Barbera and was first shown on American television as an episode of ABC Weekend Specials on April 20, 1985. Another animated adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit, featuring the voice of Marie Osmond as the Rabbit, was first shown on the Disney Channel in the United States as an episode of Enchanted Musical Playhouse on September 7, 1984. An adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit made by the American film company Rabbit Ear Productions was released straight-to-video in 1984. The story is narrated by Meryl Streep and music is provided by pianist George Winston. A sound track album was released to accompany the film.
A short Canadian film adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit was released in 2007. A feature-length American film adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit, which combines live-action and animation, was released in 2009. Jane Seymour appears in the 2009 movie as the Boy's mother.