New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
Read the original Handa's Surprise picture book, written and illustrated by Eileen Brown and published by Walker Books.

The story of Handa's Surprise features numerous animals, though if you were to ask Handa herself, she wouldn't know what you were talking about. As Handa walks between villages to deliver fruit to her friend, Akeyo, these furtive fruit-lovers sneak up on her and nab the fruit piece by piece! By the time she arrives—well, let's not spoil the surprise.

In Little Angel Theatre's adaptation of Handa's Surprise, the many animals come to life through the delightful magic of puppetry. These puppets come in many shapes, sizes and varieties, just like the fruit in Handa's basket! And despite their thieving ways, they're all quite charming once you get to know them.
Monkey – The monkey is a marionette: his head and arms are controlled by strings that attach to a handheld bar. Naturally curious and a born performer, not only will the monkey be happy to make your acquaintance—he'll also do a little dance for you! Like all monkeys he has a taste for bananas, so when Handa's not looking, he absconds with hers. Cheeky monkey.
Ostrich – The ostrich is a rod puppet: her long neck is supported by a handheld rod, and a trigger near the rod's handle operates her turned-up beak. Proud and territorial, she will not be all that pleased to meet you. What exactly are you doing here, anyway, disturbing her beauty sleep?! As for that sweet-smelling guava she makes off with, finders keepers.
Zebra – The zebra is brought to life by a simple sheet of fabric draped over the puppeteer's back, but she is no simple creature. Quite the contrary, she is one brazen and determined lady! One whiff of the orange in Handa's basket, and she commits herself to its theft—a juicy crime worth celebrating.
Elephant – The elephant has ears operated by one puppeteer and a long trunk operated by another. She stomps about, trumpeting a song to herself, and may tickle you with her trunk if you get too close! When she finds the mango in Handa's basket, red and perfectly ripe, it's chomping time.
Giraffe – The giraffe's long neck and head are manipulated by a handle behind her ears, and her spindly legs move up, down and side-to-side simply by pivoting a handle on her back. She's a graceful thing, though sometimes she has trouble standing up; and being so tall, she may find your appearance curious. Her curiosity also leads her to the pineapple in Handa's basket! Uh-oh.
Antelope – The antelope comes to life through a beautiful mask, but it's drumbeats that give him life! This antelope likes to dance, and he'll show you his moves before making off with Handa's avocado.
Parrot – The parrot is a funny guy. Half-corncob, half-shekere, all pride, this bird does not appreciate being teased! Smile at the shaking of his cornhusk tailfeathers, giggle at the rattly twitching of his gourd-shaped head; but stay low and don't cross him, unless you want to end up like that tiny, purple passionfruit.
  A few other animals appear in the show as well, but seeing as one of them takes part in the titular surprise, we're going to keep them a secret and let you meet them in person when you come to see the show. Handa's Surprise is playing at The New 42nd Street Studios through Sunday, February 21st. Come and meet the animals!
Posted by Zack Ramadan
"You must be very kind to him and teach him all he needs to know in Rabbit-land, for he is going to live with you for ever and ever!" — The Nursery Magic Fairy
Written by Margery Williams in 1922 and first illustrated by William Nicholson, The Velveteen Rabbit is a beloved and poignant classic. The National Education Association includes it on their teacher-compiled list of top books for kids, and our friends at Brightly dubbed the titular bunny one of the most lovable characters in all of kids' lit. (Though how could they not? The whole story turns on his lovability!)

The Velveteen Rabbit has been adapted many times in its 94 years. The latest interpretation, of course, in a season full of artful adaptations, is Unicorn Theatre's theatrical one, on the New Victory stage through the end of January. 

Before you come to see the performance, consider reading (or re-reading) the book as a family. Familiarity with the story can't hurt, as it does explore themes of loss and illness; and having it fresh in your minds will help you appreciate Unicorn's adaptation all the more—it really is wonderful! To help you get in a Velveteen mood, we've embedded the original illustrated version below, compiled by Free Kids Books. You can also download a PDF, visit your local NYPL branch or order a hard copy of the book—there are many editions.
If you know the story well, or if your family falls in love with it after seeing it onstage at the New Vic, then there are many more adaptations out there. Take a look at some video previews below:

Award-winning short film by Leonard Berman (1973), available on DVD.

Grammy-nominated storybook narrated by Meryl Streep (1985), available for download and streaming.

Enchanted Musical Playhouse version starring Marie Osmond (1984), available on VHS

Animated version narrated by Christopher Plummer (1985), available on DVD.
Do you have a favorite edition or adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit? Let us know in the comments below, or with #TheVelveteenRabbit on Twitter and Instagram.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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