Why is a children's book about rabbits being read at weddings?

Composite wedding images

More and more people are including children's books in their wedding readings. Why?

When Hannah Larkin married her husband Jason, she had three readings, but one stood out - a reading from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.

In her late teens, Larkin had fallen in love with the story of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare and their attempt to articulate their love. It remained one of her favourite books.

Said hares try to outdo each other in their hyperbolic declarations of love for each other.

A sample section runs: '"I love you all the way down the lane as far as the river," cried Little Nutbrown Hare. "I love you across the river and over the hills," said Big Nutbrown Hare.'

Jason Larkin's goddaughter Amelia looks up as Hannah's sister reads from Guess How Much I love You Amelia enjoys Guess How Much I love You at Hannah and Jason Larkin's wedding

It might seem saccharine stuff to a hardened cynic but many brides and grooms seem to feel differently.

"Although it's a children's book, it resonates with adult life because it's about the infinite nature of genuine love," says Larkin. At the wedding at a hotel in the New Forest, her sister read the entire book. Her husband's goddaughter Amelia looked up at her, mesmerised by the story.

The "classic" Christian wedding reading is 1 Corinthians 13, with its ruminations on faith, hope and love (or charity), but modern couples are varying their readings, says Bernadette Chapman, director of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners.

"That's the big thing with weddings now... it's about [the couple's] personalities," says Chapman. Children's literature has become so popular because it's inter-generational and everyone can relate to it.

"They're trying to choose readings that are easy to understand, that are fun to read and fun to listen to and just bring a smile to people's faces."

Chapman says readings from children's books have become popular among remarrying couples who want to give children from previous relationships a key role by reading from a favourite story.

One of the most popular readings is taken from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. It tells the tale of a small stuffed rabbit and its longing to become real through the love of a human.

Guess How Much I Love You cover

Popular choices

  • Guess How Much I Love You (Sam McBratney)
  • The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh (AA Milne)
  • The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams)
  • The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  • Oh The Places You'll Go (Dr Seuss)

When actress Drew Barrymore married Will Kopelman in 2012, Kopelman's sister read a passage from the book. Prince William and Prince Harry read alternate lines from it at the wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall.

The growing popularity of wedding blogs has prompted more creativity in the choice of reading, Chapman says.

But why does children's literature continue to have such resonance? Prof Maria Nikolajeva, director of the University of Cambridge-Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children's Literature, says that children's books give us a shared experience.

Nikolajeva's daughter had a reading from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery at her wedding and Nikolajeva read from The Velveteen Rabbit during the ceremony.

She says children's books are adept at expressing profound thoughts and philosophy about life in a very concise manner, which makes them ideal for wedding readings.

Books like The Velveteen Rabbit take on existential questions, such as what it means to be a human being, in a way that we can connect with.

"As we grow up we are exploring the world and we very often explore the world through the characters of literature because it offers us an experience that we cannot always find in the everyday world," says Nikolajeva.

Why we chose a children's poem

William and his niece

The Magazine's William Kremer explains:

"At my wedding in 2007, we had The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. It was a humanist wedding and my bride and I felt the need for something that would be familiar to everyone.

"Although it's not clear in the poem what sexes the owl and pussycat are, we got the women in the congregation to read the part of the pussycat, while the men read out the owl's part. Re-read the poem and you can imagine it was difficult for them to do this in a straight-faced way.

"A couple of years later I read Guess How Much I Love You at my sister's wedding, performing it as a duet with her step-daughter (pictured above). Once again there was a theatrical element, since the poem calls for a certain amount of reaching and hopping and pointing at the sky."

She says children love to revisit books as they grow older because as they change, they "interact with the text each time, understanding it more and getting involved with it more".

Children's books can be harder to write than longer form fiction, the theory goes, because an author has to articulate a concept in a way that can be reinterpreted as we develop.

Even as adults, we can find new meaning in children's literature.

When Andrea Dell married her husband Robert at a hotel in Wigan, she opted for a reading from The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, a poem she remembered from childhood. For Dell, it took on new meaning with its references to getting married.

"It was just an opportunity to make everybody smile and something that was familiar to them and also was quite evocative with the imagery in it, and also I'm a huge cat fan," says Dell.

She says it is something they can share with their children in years to come and might even be a reading her daughter chooses for her wedding.

"People are moving away from the traditional; they like to mix things up a bit. We had some music from Star Wars in our proceedings," says Dell, whose husband is a big Star Wars fan.

"I think there is so much variety in children's literature. I think people are looking a bit further afield to try and make it a bit more interesting and a bit more unique to them."

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