Sometimes, just sometimes, you get a picture book that you feel was written just for you. This is how my son Toby feels about That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown. It first came out in 2007 and Emily has had many adventures since, but this one is our favourite.
Emily Brown has one special toy, a rabbit called Stanley, and they do lots of exciting imagination-driven things together – launch into Outer Space, deep-sea diving off the Barrier Reef, climbing through the Amazonian rainforest. However, they keep being interrupting by representatives of the Queen (the Chief Footman, the Captain of the Army, the Admiral of the Navy) who offer an ever increasing amount of items in exchange for Stanley. Naturally Emily refuses every time. But that isn’t the end of it.
A few months later that naughty Queen gets her Special Commandos to come and steal Stanley. Can you believe it?
Emily doesn’t sit and weep (as I would). She marches straight up to the Palace and demands to speak to the Queen. Things have gone horribly wrong for the Queen. Stanley isn’t Stanley any more. His mouth has been sewn up, he’s rigid with stuffing and has turned pink. All the things you shouldn’t do to a beloved toy – wash them, re-stuff them and sew back a mouth that has been picked away by little fingers – has been done. The Queen is distraught but Emily keeps a level head despite these atrocities and calmly takes Stanley back. She then takes pity on the Queen (seriously, she is a much better person than me) who has all the toys in the world but none that are special the way Stanley is. So Emily takes one of her many golden teddy bears and offers some sage advice: to play with him all day, sleep with him at night, hold him very tight and have lots of adventures.
Emily and Stanley go home and Emily restores Stanley so he is exactly how she loves him best. And one day, when they are busy exploring the Outermost Regions of the Milky Way, they receive a letter saying ‘Thank you’, with a lovely picture of Queen Gloriana the Third tightly hugging her special teddy.
Not all children have a special toy. Jess has always been happy to rotate her many, many stuffed toys (you get a lot of them if you have a girl). But for Toby, he has always had Annabel the Giraffe. Annabel and Toby were inseparable before school and got into lots of scrapes – including a very hair-raising trip to the zoo where Toby dropped her into the otter enclosure (it was nearly kill or be killed). And while he can’t take her to school she is still very special, particularly at bedtime. She doesn’t look much like a giraffe any more, she has been patched up a few times, her face is worn and she is very very floppy – just how a special toy should be.
Annabel is definitely one of the family and that is why this book, which so perfectly captures the love of a special toy, is one of our most favourite picture books.