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Pushing the boat out on The Velveteen Rabbit

Velveteen Rabbit

Tom has already written about this a little, but last week, the British Book Design and Production Awards Shortlists were announced.

These are prizes for exceptionally beautiful books – beautifully designed and beautifully made. I have been to the British Book Design and Production Awards once before, when There’s A Bear on My Chair was shortlisted (but didn’t win: The Imaginary did), and was just delighted and astonished to see the craft of bookmaking and bookbinding so brilliantly showcased, and so brilliantly combined with visionary and highly innovative design.

We were, therefore, hugely proud that The Velveteen Rabbit, with the original text by Margery Williams and new illustrations by Sarah Massini, was one of the shortlisted books in the children’s category.

I have written about the way that we are ambitious about production values in my blog from last week, when Where’s Mr Lion, by Ingela P Arrhenius won the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award. Similarly, we were ambitious about production values for The Velveteen Rabbit. This was, I have to say, partly a complete self-indulgence: this is one of my very favourite books, and the only book I can remember my mother reading to me (it was in a Christmas edition of Good Housekeeping) when I was small. I could not read aloud the pages in which the Skin Horse explains to the Velveteen Rabbit how toys become real – so careful, so honest – without blubbing.

So I wanted to do my very best for it.

We published it in hardcover as the first Nosy Crow classic, and we set the bar high. We were meticulous in the editing of the book. Meanwhile, Sarah Massini expended the most incredible amount of labour and creativity on the illustrations, working particularly hard to create a different visual universe – different characterisation, different landscapes, a different palette – from the brilliant original illustrations by William Nicholson (which never show the boy who loves the Velveteen Rabbit – never show any people at all, in fact). And then we pulled the text and the illustrations into a book that was very expensive to produce. We printed the book in Italy using special, new HUV inks, which produce a cleaner, sharper more vibrant image. We printed it on creamy, heavy Munken paper. We bound it in cloth – not paper cloth, but real cloth – and stamped the cloth with an intricate design in silver foil of the rabbit in his real (jacket-less) state, and on top of that we put a paper cloth jacket which we again stamped with an intricate foil design. Like Where’s Mr Lion, these specifications made no kind of sense. But we ended up selling 50,000 copies in less than a year, including, so far, co-editions to countries where the story is much less well known: Germany and France.

Sometimes it’s worth pushing the boat out, and it’s fantastic to have the care we – and Sarah – lavished on this book recognised.

Look inside the first few pages of The Velveteen Rabbit – though, of course, it’s better in real life!

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