For many little children, especially girls, even before they start to make friends or play together with other kids, they may already have a vague concept of what friendship means, through their interactions with their toys — particularly stuffed toys that easily lend themselves to make-believe conversations and physical expressions of affection, i.e. hugs and kisses. And while adults tend to dismiss such one-sided pretend-play as ‘cute, harmless fun’, in the minds of children, these ‘pretend-friends’ are probably as real to them as anybody else in their lives — and the bond between them and their toys actually serves as good practice for when they actually do get out there and attempt to make real-life friends.
First published in 1968, Corduroy was probably one of the first books, if not the first, to depict toys as how they are perceived by children — real, and with thoughts and feelings of their own* — with its thoroughly heartwarming story about a teddy bear in a department store who yearns to be brought home by someone. Unfortunately, one of the buttons on his green overalls has gone missing, and as a result, he is often overlooked in favour of the other toys. Thus begins his little adventure as he goes in search of his missing button.
(*While the Toy Story movies are deservedly the most popular iterations of the idea of toys coming to life, they — as well as the many copycat books that came after — probably owe Corduroy a huge debt.)
What makes this book special — and probably why it is considered one of the best classic children’s books of all time — is its light and impeccably spot-on tone and delightful illustrations. The story could easily have gone down the predictably depressing (albeit probably less so towards the end) road, thanks to its premise of an unwanted teddy bear, but the author has wisely chosen to go in the opposite direction, by infusing in Corduroy (the bear) the wide-eyed innocence, curiosity and optimism of a child. The end result is a sweet, gentle book on hope, friendship and acceptance that will touch the hearts of many.
p.s. If you liked Corduroy, don’t miss the legit sequel by Don Freeman — A Pocket for Corduroy — that is just as sweet as the original.