Hi, this is Ariel. I just wanted to say that after this episode I’m going to take a break for the holidays. I’m going to take two weeks off because, as I said before, I’m going on holiday to Seville. So the next episode will be on the seventh of January. I hope you all have a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year—whatever you’re celebrating, have a lovely holiday and I will see you in the new year. Thank you!
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Toy Rabbit. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Toy. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Toy. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story is a famous English Christmas story. The original title is The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams. Actually, I didn’t grow up with this story. When I was a child, I didn’t know this story. But it is quite old and it was very famous at the time. I thought it was an American story, because I heard about it on the American TV show Friends, but actually it’s a British story. So, hopefully my version is interesting and it gets you in the Christmas spirit.
I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, so at some point I should probably do stories for other celebrations, such as Hanukkah, but Christmas is a big celebration, it’s a big holiday here in the UK, and I can’t escape it. Christmas is all around me.
I live in Bath, and Bath has a very famous Christmas market. So around this time of year the city is full of stalls, little shops that are temporary, where they sell food and toys and decorations, and there are so many tourists in Bath! So it’s horrible to go into the city in the evening because you can’t move. There are just people everywhere. It’s very, very annoying.
So, as you can probably tell, I don’t love the Christmas market, and generally, I like Christmas, because I like seeing my family and I like getting presents and eating nice food, but I don’t love Christmas. Being an adult, it’s just not as fun as when you’re a child and also, I don’t know, it’s expensive and every year Christmas is more tiring. There are Christmas adverts everywhere. It’s a bit much.
I have a warning that today’s story is very cheesy. So when a story is cheesy, it means it’s very, very emotional, like a story for children, OK? This story is very, very cheesy, because it is for children. So it’s very emotional. But I think it’s a nice story and maybe, if your children speak a bit of English, you can tell them the story as well.
OK, so I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
Whiskers are big long hairs that come out of your cheeks, although humans, we don’t have whiskers, but rabbits, foxes, cats and other animals all have whiskers. They all have these long hairs that come out of their cheeks.
A thread is a long, thin thing that you use to make clothes. So many, many threads have to be put together to make fabric, and then you use fabric to make clothes.
A stocking is a kind of sock. So we use stockings at Christmas. They are usually red or green, and they are very soft, but you don’t wear stockings. You either put them above the fireplace or you put them at the end of your bed, and when you wake up in the morning, Santa Claus has come and filled the stocking with presents! This tradition varies a bit between families and countries, but in my family, we have a long stocking at the end of the bed, and we fill it with small toys, DVDs, games and always a big chocolate orange at the bottom.
Chocolate orange is a very popular type of chocolate in the UK. It’s shaped like an orange and it’s cut into pieces like an orange, and you break it open by hitting it very hard. It’s very fun. Basically, when we were very small, my parents used to put oranges in our stockings, but eventually we complained because we didn’t want oranges, we wanted chocolate! So, OK, fine, they gave us chocolate oranges instead.
A nursery is a room for children, for toys, for babies. So it’s often like a bedroom, but it’s specifically for young children.
A tail is a part of an animal’s body. It is on their lower back, and tails help animals to balance, and they move from one side to the other. So foxes have nice, big tails with white bits on the end. Dogs have tails and they move their tails when they’re very happy. Cats have tails, as well. Lots of animals have tails. Unfortunately, humans don’t have tails. I say “unfortunately” because I have very bad balance and maybe if I had a tail I could balance better.
Wise is someone who is clever, usually old, and makes very good decisions. For example, Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster in Harry Potter, is a very wise character. Gandalf in Lord of the Rings is also very wise.
Sensitive means you feel things a lot. You have very strong feelings about things. Like, if someone is mean to you, you will get very sad if you are a sensitive person. Children are generally much more sensitive than adults.
Germs are bacteria. So they are tiny, tiny, very very very small things that we all have in our body. There are millions of germs in our body. Actually, maybe billions or trillions of germs. And germs, bacteria, the bad ones make us sick, and the good ones help us. So, for example, we have good germs in our stomach.
Finally, scratch is when you move your nails across something, and this is how it sounds. [scratching noise]. I have been scratching a lot recently because I have very dry skin on my hands. It’s very annoying.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Toy Rabbit
There was once a toy rabbit. In the beginning, he looked amazing. He was fat, like a rabbit should be. His hair was brown with white spots. He had real whiskers made of thread. His ears were soft on the inside. On Christmas morning, he sat in the Boy’s stocking and looked very cute.
There were other things in the stocking: chocolate, an orange, and a toy train, but the Rabbit was the best thing of all. For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to lunch, and they opened all the other presents, and the Toy Rabbit was forgotten.
For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much of him. He was shy, and he wasn’t made from expensive materials, so some of the other toys were mean to him. The electric toys thought they were better than all the other toys. They had very modern ideas, and they thought they were real.
The Rabbit could not say that he looked like something real, because he did not know that real rabbits existed. He thought that all rabbits were soft like him. The Rabbit felt very small compared to all the other toys, the soldiers and the boats and the wooden lion. The only toy who was nice to him was the Toy Horse.
The Toy Horse had lived in the nursery longer than any other toy. He was so old that his brown hair was completely gone in some places, and the hairs of his tail were mostly gone as well. He was wise, because he had seen many electric toys come proudly into the nursery, but they all broke in the end, and went away. They were only toys, and they would never be anything else. You see, the nursery is a magical place, and the magic is strange. The toys that are old and wise like the Toy Horse understand all about it.
‘What is “real”?’ asked the Rabbit one day. ‘Does it mean that you can move on your own? That you are electric?’
‘ “Real” isn’t about how you are made,’ said the Toy Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, really loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Toy Horse, because he always told the truth. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen suddenly?’ he asked. ‘Or does it happen slowly?’
‘It doesn’t happen suddenly,’ said the Toy Horse. ‘It takes a long time. So it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily. Most toys who become Real are old. Their hair has dropped off, their eyes hang down, and they look very dirty. But that doesn’t matter, because when you are Real you can’t be ugly. Only people who don’t understand think you are ugly.’
‘I suppose you are Real?’ said the Rabbit. Then he felt bad, because the Toy Horse might be sensitive. But the Toy Horse only smiled.
‘The Boy’s Uncle made me real,’ he said. ‘That was many years ago, but when you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts forever.’
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before the magic of Real happened to him. He wanted to become Real, but the idea of getting old and dirty was quite sad. He wanted to be Real without those horrible things.
There was a person called Nana. She controlled the nursery. Sometimes she didn’t notice the toys lying on the floor, but sometimes, for no reason, she went and put them all into cupboards. She called this “tidying up,” and all the toys hated it, especially the electric ones. The Rabbit didn’t mind so much, because he was very soft, so it never hurt.
One evening the Boy was going to bed, but he couldn’t find the toy dog he always slept with. Nana was in a hurry, so she looked around and saw the Rabbit.
‘Here,’ she said, ‘take your old rabbit! He’s good enough!’ And she pulled the rabbit out of the cupboard and put him into the Boy’s arms.
That night the Toy Rabbit slept in the Boy’s bed. At first it was uncomfortable. The Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he sat on him. Sometimes he pushed the Rabbit under the pillow and he couldn’t breathe. He missed those long hours in the nursery, under the moonlight. The whole house was silent, and he could talk with the Toy Horse.
The Boy continued to sleep with the Toy Rabbit, and the Rabbit grew to like it. The Boy talked to him, and made tunnels under the duvet, like for real rabbits. They played games together, quietly in the night, and when the Boy fell asleep, the Rabbit hugged him and dreamed all night long.
Months passed, and the little Rabbit was very happy. He was so happy that he didn’t notice how his beautiful hair was getting dirtier and dirtier, and how his tail hung off, and how the pink went away from his nose because the Boy kissed him so much there.
Spring came, and they spent long days in the garden. They went everywhere together. They played in the flowers, and ate picnics on the grass, and told stories about the insects. Often, when the boy went for supper, he left the Rabbit out on the grass. In the evening, Nana had to come and look for him, because the boy couldn’t sleep without him. He was wet and dirty from all the playing.
‘You always have to sleep with your Rabbit!’ she said. ‘How funny! It is only a toy.’
The Boy sat up in bed and held out his hands.
‘Give me my Rabbit!’ he said. ‘You can’t say that. He isn’t just a toy. He’s REAL!’
When the little Rabbit heard that he was very happy. The Toy Horse had been right. The nursery magic had happened, and he was no longer a toy. He was Real. The Boy himself had said it.
That night he was too happy to sleep. His little heart was filled with love. His little black eyes no longer shone, but they took on a wise, beautiful look. Even Nana noticed it the next morning, and said, ‘That Rabbit has a very wise appearance!’
That was a wonderful summer!
Near the house there was a wood, and in the long June evenings the Boy went there after supper to play. He took the Toy Rabbit with him, and put him down on the grass. He always made sure the Rabbit was comfortable, and then went off to find flowers or play in the trees. One evening, the Rabbit was lying there alone, and he saw two strange things move in the grass near him.
They were rabbits, like him, but they were very hairy, and they looked very new and expensive. And they moved about so much! One minute they were tall and thin and the next minute they were fat and small. The Toy Rabbit couldn’t do that. The other rabbits went up to him, and the Toy Rabbit looked for their electric parts, because they had to have electric parts if they could move like that, but he couldn’t find any. They were a completely different kind of rabbit.
They looked at him, and the little Rabbit looked back. Their noses kept moving.
‘Why don’t you get up and play with us?’ one of them asked.
‘I don’t want to,’ said the Rabbit, because he didn’t want to explain that he had no electric parts.
‘Oh!’ said the hairy rabbit. ‘It’s very easy.’ He jumped and stood on his legs. ‘I don’t think you can!’
‘I can!’ said the little Rabbit. ‘I can jump really high!’ Actually, he could only jump when the Boy threw him in the air, but he didn’t want to say this.
‘Can you jump on your legs?’ asked the hairy rabbit.
That was a horrible question, because the Toy Rabbit didn’t have legs at all! His body was all one long piece, with feet on the end. He sat there, and hoped they wouldn’t see.
‘Then show us!’ said the hairy rabbit.
‘I don’t want to!’ he said again.
But wild rabbits have very good eyes. One of them looked closely.
‘He doesn’t have any legs!’ he shouted. ‘A rabbit without any legs! How funny!’ And he began to laugh.
‘I do!’ cried the little Rabbit. ‘I do have legs! I’m just sitting on them!’
‘Then show us them!’ said the wild rabbit. He started jumping around and dancing.
‘I don’t like dancing,’ he said. ‘I’d rather sit still!’
But really he wanted very much to dance. A funny feeling went through him. He would do anything to be able to dance and jump around like these rabbits.
The strange rabbit stopped dancing and came close. He came so close that his long whiskers touched the Toy Rabbit’s ear. He moved his nose and jumped backwards.
‘He doesn’t smell right!’ he said. ‘He isn’t a rabbit at all! He isn’t real!’
‘I am Real!’ said the little Rabbit. ‘I am Real! The Boy said so!’ And he nearly started to cry.
Just then the Boy ran near them, and the two strange rabbits ran away.
‘Come back and play with me!’ called the little Rabbit. ‘Please come back! I know I am Real!’
But there was no answer. The Toy Rabbit was all alone.
“Oh, dear!” he thought. “Why did they run away like that? Why couldn’t they stop and talk to me?”
For a long time he stayed very still and waited. But they never came back, and the sun was going down, so the Boy came and carried him home.
Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and dirty, but the Boy still loved him. He loved him so hard that all the Rabbit’s whiskers fell off, and his pink ears turned grey, and his white spots went away. He lost his shape, so that he didn’t look like a rabbit anymore, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was the only important thing for the Rabbit. He didn’t care how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real it doesn’t matter if you’re dirty or old.
And then, one day, the Boy was ill.
His face went very red, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close. Strange people came and went in the nursery, and the light was on all night, and the Toy Rabbit lay there, under the duvet, and listened. He didn’t move, because he thought someone might take him away, and the boy needed him.
It was a difficult time, because the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit got quite bored. But he sat and waited, and looked forward to when the Boy would be well again. They would go out into the garden and play games in the flowers just like they used to. The Rabbit made many lovely plans, and when the Boy was asleep he told him the plans. Luckily, the fever went away, and the Boy got better. He could sit up in bed and look at books while the Rabbit sat with him. And one day, they let him get up and put on his clothes.
It was a bright, sunny morning, and the windows were wide open. They took the Boy out onto the balcony, and the little Rabbit sat on the bed and thought.
The Boy was going to the seaside tomorrow. Everything was arranged, and now they just had to listen to what the doctor said. They all talked about it while the Rabbit lay under the duvet and listened. They had to clean the room, because all of the books and toys were covered with something called “germs”.
The little Rabbit didn’t understand what “germs” were, but he was excited to go to the seaside. It sounded like a lovely place. The Boy had often talked about going there, and how he wanted to see the big waves coming in, and make a sand castle.
Just then Nana saw the Rabbit.
‘What about this old Rabbit?’ she asked.
‘That?’ said the doctor. ‘It’s covered with germs! Burn it along with the other things. Why do you want something so old and dirty, anyway? Get him a new one.’
And so the little Rabbit was put into a bag with the old books and a lot of rubbish, and carried to the end of the garden. They were going to make a fire there, but the gardener was too busy to do it then. He had potatoes to dig and peas to collect, but next morning he promised to come in early and burn everything.
That night the Boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new rabbit to sleep with. It was a lovely rabbit, soft and white with real glass eyes, but the Boy was too excited to care about that. Tomorrow he was going to the seaside, and that was such a wonderful thing that he could not think of anything else.
And while the Boy slept, dreaming of the seaside, the little Rabbit lay with the old books and felt very lonely. The bag was not tied up, so he pushed his head out the top and looked out. He was cold, because he was used to sleeping in a real bed, and his hair was so thin from all the hugging that it did not keep him warm. Nearby he could see the flowers where he had played with the Boy on many mornings. He thought of those long sunny hours they had spent together, the picnics on the grass, the quiet evenings in the wood, and the wonderful day when he learned he was Real. He thought of the Toy Horse, wise and kind, and what he had taught him. Why did it matter? Why be loved and lose your beauty and become Real if this was the end? And a tear, a real tear, went down his dirty nose and fell to the ground.
And then something strange happened. Where the tear had fallen, a flower grew out of the ground. It was a strange flower, not at all like the other flowers in the garden. It had thin, green leaves, and in the centre it was bright gold. It was so beautiful that the little Rabbit forgot to cry, and just sat there watching it. And then a fairy appeared out of the centre of the flower.
She was the prettiest fairy in the whole world. She came close to the little Rabbit and held him in her arms and kissed his little nose.
‘Little Rabbit,’ she said, ‘don’t you know who I am?’
The Rabbit looked at her, and he thought he had seen her face before, but he didn’t know where.
‘I am the nursery magic Fairy,’ she said. ‘I take care of all the toys that the children have loved. When they are old and dirty and the children don’t need them anymore, I come and take them away with me and make them Real.’
‘Wasn’t I Real before?’ asked the little Rabbit.
‘You were Real to the Boy,’ the Fairy said, ‘because he loved you. Now you will be real to everyone.’
And she held the little Rabbit close in her arms and flew with him into the wood.
It was light now, because the moon had risen. All the forest was beautiful. Down below, the wild rabbits danced in the grass, but when they saw the Fairy they all stopped dancing and stood around her in a circle.
‘I have a new friend for you,’ the Fairy said. ‘You must be very kind to him and teach him all he needs to know, because he is going to live with you forever and ever!’
And she kissed the little Rabbit again and put him down on the grass.
‘Run and play, little Rabbit!’ she said.
But the little Rabbit sat still for a moment and never moved. When he saw all the wild rabbits dancing around him he remembered about his legs, and he didn’t want them to see that he had none. What he didn’t know was that when the Fairy kissed him, she had changed him completely. He would have sat there for a long time, and never moved, if a drop of water hadn’t landed on his nose. Without thinking, he moved up his leg to scratch it.
And he found that he actually had legs! His whole body was covered in soft, brown fur. His ears moved by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they touched the grass. He jumped with happiness and then jumped all around the grass. The other rabbits jumped and danced with him, and he was so excited. When he finally looked for the Fairy to say thank you, she had gone.
He was a Real Rabbit at last, at home with the other rabbits.
Autumn passed, and winter, and in the warm spring the Boy went to play in the woods behind the house. While he was playing, two rabbits came out of the grass to look at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange spots on him. It looked like they were once white, but they had mostly gone away. There was something familiar about his soft nose and his round black eyes.
The Boy thought to himself, “He looks just like my old Rabbit that was lost when I had the fever!”
But he never knew that it really was his own Rabbit. It was the little Toy Rabbit, who had come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.
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