Written by Cressida Cowell, Illustrated by Neal Layton
Hyperion Books for Children, 2006
Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Emily Brown and an old gray rabbit called Stanley.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl refuses to give up her rabbit.
As Emily and Stanley are playing, the Queen’s footman shows up and tells her that the Queen would like her bunny and offers her a teddy bear in exchange. Emily politely declines, because Stanley belongs to her. Later, the Army appears with a better offer from the Queen and Emily turns it down again. The Navy and Air Force try as well, but Emily (getting increasingly annoyed) refuses to give up Stanley. One night, the four men sneak into her room and steal Stanley away from her. The next morning, she rushes to the palace and finds the Queen very upset, stating that something is wrong with the bunny. Emily agrees and takes him home, but first, she gives the Queen the teddy bear that was offered to her earlier and tells her to play with him, sleep with him and have adventures with him and one day, he will be as wonderful as Stanley. The next thing to arrive from the Queen is a thank you note.
This is the first book in the Emily Brown series from author Cressida Cowell, who is known for the How to Train Your Dragon series of books, which have inspired a couple of movies and a television series. Emily is a great character with lots of awesome moments for such a short story. First, I love that she refuses to set a price tag on Stanley, since she considers him a friend and loved one. Second, when Stanley is stolen, she takes action rather than feeling sorry for herself. And third, she finds a creative way to address the Queen’s problem that solves the issue in a way that satisfies everyone involved.
Neal Layton’s artwork is a wonderful complement to the story, featuring some illustrations that are simple, some that are more complex and even a few set against photographic backgrounds. Emily and Stanley have lots of imaginary adventures together and these are wonderfully presented in the artwork. It’s a great book for celebrating the special toys in our life if you’re looking for a fun book or for teaching young ones about the concept of consent, if you’re looking for something with an important lesson. An additional three books about Emily and Stanley have been written since this one and I look forward to reading about their other adventures.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that very few things are instantly special – you often have to put a little of your own love into something before it becomes special.