The Velveteen Rabbit


In the chaos this is our house, my daughter found a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit this evening. She wore uggies, and sat on the floor, poring through the thin book. I guess we found it at an op-shop or the boot market. I can’t remember.

Margery Williams tells the story of a rabbit who wants to be Real. It’s a tale about becoming mortal, rather than immortal.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Elki's velveteen rabbit

Elki’s velveteen rabbit

Maybe because it is the Easter weekend. Or maybe because life is one big effort to become Real. Or maybe velveteen rabbits, like this one, just do this to you. I don’t know why. This book made me cry, sentimental that I am.

Just one more fairy tale

This is the first post in the Nourishing Little Readers series, which will run on Fridays at Heart Mama. I want to use this space to review children’s books and talk about reading with children.

In our house, walls are lined with books, and we spend hours, some days, ensconced on the couch, reading book after book after book. Just one more. Just one more. We read picture books and classics, like Wind In The Willows, Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland. My husband reads books in Dutch.

Lately, my daughter and I have been sitting in bodies of water (the lake, the bath), facing each other, telling each other imaginary tales. We weave worlds from our imagination. She pulls an invisible book from the invisible shelf – Read this one. What’s it about? and she listens and asks questions and makes changes. Just one more, she asks, as the bath gets cold.

Her favourite tales are Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. We read so many books, but she so often asks for the classics. They are more than classics; they are archetypes; stories told by peasants in the middle ages. Stories that carried messages, passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter, like wisdom. Children sitting in bodies of water – Just one more.

I think I read my favourite Edenland post last week. The Red Shoes. She wrote about her red shoes, and about lying in bed with her sons, telling them the original story of the red shoes. She reminded me that the fairy tales we know are watered down.

The real stories were full of dark themes, complex, dark humanness. When the story was still passed lip to lip, it was Snow White’s mother, not her step-mother, who wanted her dead. Snow White was only sixteen; a ripening, sexual being. Snow White’s mother felt threatened by her sexuality. The Queen demanded that a huntsman take Snow White into the woods, and bring back her liver and her lungs as proof of her death. The huntsman couldn’t bring himself to do it, and brought back the liver and lungs of a boar, which the Queen ate.

Snow White lived with the seven dwarves who made her clean their house and cook as payment for their protection. The Queen attempted to kill her daughter three times. When she eventually succeeded in killing Snow White, the handsome prince found her coffin. His kiss dislodged the poisoned apple, which had stuck in her throat, and Snow White awakened. They married, and the mother was punished for her evil deeds. She was made to dance for hours in heated iron shoes, until she burnt to death.

There are different versions. Mostly gruesome. Mostly heeding a warning. Be ware of your jealousy towards your daughter.

When Little Red Riding Hood was a peasant tale, the little girl wearing a red cape was seduced into her grandma’s bed by the wolf, who ate her. Grandma didn’t survive. Red Riding Hood didn’t either. In other versions, she led the wolf into believing she needed to go to the toilet, and escaped. Little Red Riding Hood was first written down by French author Charles Perrault. In his version, Riding Hood was tricked and killed by the wolf. The story became a moral tale; a warning not to talk to strangers, and to warn villagers of the dangers of the forest.

These stories are tepid when they make it into our children’s books, though there is horror enough. Grandmas are still eaten by wolves. Girls are still led into the forest to be killed by hunters. My just-three-year-old lays against me on the couch. Just one more. Why isn’t she horrified?

These stories carry darkness. Maybe children aren’t afraid of death. Maybe it is something we learn to be afraid of as we age.

My daughter recites fairy tales. Her gaze fixes as her mind draws from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks. The characters and events merge. Her versions are sweet and kind. Her little pigs build houses for the wolf after he tries to blow theirs down. Her Goldilocks leaves porridge for the three bears. I wonder about the morals to her stories.

Just one more, she says.

Do you read fairy tales to your children? Do you read the Disney version? Or glide over the horror, hoping your little one won’t notice? What is it about fairy tales that grip little imaginations?

{Linking with Grace for FYBF on With Some Grace}

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The Adventures of Danny the Pinguin

Danny the Pinguin

This is a very very special addition to my blog.

Late last year, my dad and my brother travelled to Antarctica, as my dad was working on the boat as a doctor. For whatever reason, Dad thought this would be the right time to pen his first ever children’s book. It’s wacky, quirky and a little bit insane. And hilarious. Especially the photographs, thanks to my brother Dylan, known affectionately in the book as Dunkle (Uncle Dylan).

The book was written for Elka, but any child will get joy out of the silly tale, and the funny images. If you would like to buy a copy, they are $10, and I will have it posted to you…please enjoy. Elka certainly did. Thanks Poppa Richie (aka Dr Richard Arnot, surgeon come children’s book author).

The Adventures of Danny the Pinguin…a silly tale of a pinguin who made it to the South Pole, eventually.

Elfie’s Little Book of Eating

This is a little story I wrote with Greg about a year ago. If you have recently had a young child, you will probably identify with Elfie’s antics. The thought was to write a series of these verses, each with a different focus…eating, sleeping, learning to crawl, family etc. Since we didn’t hear back from the publishers, we have stalled…but other ideas are brewing. Let me know if you like it (or not!) Try reading it aloud. Zanni x

Elfie’s Little Book of Eating

Zanni Arnot & Gregor Hacska


Sunlight shimmers through the window

early in the morning.

A sudden rumble in my tummy

sends a little warning.


It’s time to have my breakfast

and I just cannot wait!

My parents eat their porridge

but I prefer my plate.


Then Mummy takes me to the garden

to listen to the birds.

But to be honest, I’m still hungry

and nibble on her shirt.


Eating in the garden

is a lovely thing to do.

I eat some leaves. I eat the grass.

I eat a twig or two.


Later on, I chew my rattle –

a bit of rhythm, a bit of brunch.

I am glad it’s nearly twelve

and Mummy’s preparing lunch.


Mum makes mush, and we both know

there will be quite a mess.

When most food ends up on the floor,

it’s time to eat my dress.


At three, I nibble on my feet

but isn’t it just funny

that I’m still hungry despite all the food

and love I get from Mummy?


She gives me hugs, cuddles and kisses

and even books to read.

I love these books, I devour them,

but that’s not all I eat.


It sometimes seems that I am eating

all the things I see.

It makes me wonder if anyone

eats quite as much as me.


Dinner is at five o’clock

and I am spoilt for choice.

I get excited and squeal so loud

I nearly lose my voice!


My table, chair, cup or bib,

what should I eat, and why?

Thoughtfully I chew my spoon.

Could I give them all a try?


The bath is made for eating

though rather large it is.

I wonder why my Mum and Dad

don’t help me out with this?


It’s time for bed, and I’m exhausted –

I’ve eaten quite a banquet.

I think about the things I’ve done

while munching on my blanket.


I’ve eaten twigs, a leaf, some grass,

a book, a plate, a spoon.

I fall asleep and dream about

how I could eat the moon.

(as an aside, the character is called Elfie because my grandmother Joyce repeatedly got Elka’s name wrong…she was 92, so it was forgiveable. Generally she settled on Elfie. We thought it a cute nickname.)