Dialog With My Daughters About Electronic Toys

Jul 6, 2018

What follows is a loose paraphrase of a conversation I lately had with my daughters about some fine new horse toys they received as gifts. I believe that Marjorie Williams, who wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, and whose work I reference to my children, was both a metaphysician and a proverbialist. So far as her proverbs are concerned, a few notable counterexamples are allowable, but are not sufficient to debunk her wisdom. 

Gibbs: I would like to talk to you about your new horse toys.

Girls: Okay.

Gibbs: These are very nice horse toys you have been given, but they are not like the rest of your toys. These horse toys are electronic. They make horse noises when you push the buttons. Have you ever noticed that you do not have any other electronic toys?

Girls: Yes.

Gibbs: Do you know why you do not have any other electronic toys?

Girls: You say they make us fight.

Gibbs: That is true, but there is another more important reason. Do you remember the book The Velveteen Rabbit?

Girls: Yes.

Gibbs: Do you remember what kind of toys become “real”?

Girls: The rabbit becomes real.

Gibbs: How does a toy become real?

Girls: It gets old and worn out.

Gibbs: That’s right. Some toys get old and worn out. What kind of toys do kids still like to play with after they get old and worn out?

Girls: Stuffed toys.

Gibbs: What is the Velveteen Rabbit made of?

Girls: Batting.

Gibbs: What else?

Girls: Toy stuff. Fabric.

Gibbs: That’s right. Because the Velveteen Rabbit does not have electronic gear inside of him, if he gets worn out, he’s still basically the same. He does not have parts that quit working. He does not break easily. That means he can be kept for a long time, and when you keep a toy for a long time, it can become “real.” Do many toys become "real"?

Girls: No.

Gibbs: Why not?

Girls: Because you have to learn how to love a toy and it takes a long time to learn.   

Gibbs: What is your most beloved toy, Camilla?

Camilla: Horace.

Gibbs: How old is Horace?

Camilla: He is five years old.

Gibbs: Is he electronic?

Camilla: No. He’s just a stuffed bear.

Gibbs: Why do you love him so much?

Camilla: Because I’ve had him so long.

Gibbs: Why does that make you love him?

Camilla: Because he’s still with me.

Gibbs: That’s right. And if you remember what the Skin Horse says in The Velveteen Rabbit, it is very hard for a toy to become real when it breaks easily or has sharp edges or has to be carefully kept, which is what most electronic toys are like. Often, when a toy is electronic, it breaks easily, and so it does not last long. Maybe a year. Maybe less. The electronic part of a toy is usually what makes it fun to play with, but the electronic part often does not last long, so when the toy breaks, the whole thing becomes useless. Or else, it is more expensive to fix the toy than to buy something new. But Horace is not the kind of toy which quits working. He does not really break in the same way an electronic toy breaks.

I want you to really love a few toys. I do not want to buy you a lot of toys that only last a little while and do not mean much to you. I want to buy you a few toys that mean a lot to you. Now, these new horse toys you were given are very nice, and I would like them to last a long time, but I do not think they will last long if they are electronic. So, tomorrow I am going to remove the batteries from these horses. If you want them to make horse sounds, you will have to make the horse sounds for yourselves.

Beatrice: (neighing like horse) I can make good horse sounds.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books to high school students at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He is the editor of FilmFisher and has two daughters, both of whom have seven names. You can find him on Twitter @joshgibbs. 

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