The first book in my February project of reading the books you all recommended to me from my own TBR list, The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden is, according to the New York Times pull quote on the back of the book, “for little girls who love dolls, women who remember dollhouse days, and literary critics who can recognize a masterpiece.” I must say that having read a lot of more recent fantasy with its emphasis on non-stop action and sometimes crude humor, Ms. Godden’s “masterpiece” was indeed a breath of fresh air and if not a classic, at least a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Tottie Plantaganet is a wise old wooden doll who, even though her “doll age’ is only about seven years old, carries the wisdom of over a hundred years of belonging to little girls and playing with them.
“‘I am as I am,’ said wise little Tottie. ‘I couldn’t be all those things. In all these years, these hundred years, I can still only be me.’ It is very important for dolls that children guess their right ages; some thoughtless children make their dolls vary between six and six months. Mr. Plantaganet for instance was born twenty-eight years old. Tottie was about seven.”
Tottie and her family, Mr. and Mrs. Plantaganet, baby Apple, and Darner the dog, live with sisters Emily and Charlotte Dane. The dolls live a happy life with two girls who love and care for them, and their only wish is for a house that they can call their own instead of the drafty shoebox where they now reside. However, when they do get their own dollhouse, it comes with a new doll, Marchpane, that Tottie knew long ago when she was the property of Emily’s and Charlotte’s great-grandmother. And Marchpane is a home wrecker! What will the Plantaganet family do to counter the selfishness and spite of the conceited Marchpane?
I just thought the writing and the characterization in this 1947 story were so good. Be aware that one of the dolls does come to a tragic, but loving and self-sacrificing, end in the course of the story. Some children might find that aspect of the tale sad or even depressing, but I thought the theme and tone of the story was ultimately uplifting and redemptive.
Did you like doll stories when you were a child? Do boys ever read doll stories? (Maybe if they are disguised as toy stories, like the movie?) What are your favorites?
Here’s a list of some of my favorites in this fantasy sub-genre:
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Hitty is a wooden doll whose first owner is a girl named Phoebe Preble. Hitty’s adventures over the course of the next hundred years are chronicled in this Newbery award winning book.
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Miss Hickory is a country doll made of an apple-wood twig, with a hickory nut for a head, so when her owner leaves New Hampshire to go to school in Boston, Miss Hickory is worried about surviving the winter on her own. Another Newbery award winner.
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, also by Rumer Godden. This one is on my list for reading this month.
Big Susan by Elizabeth Orton Jones. A family of dolls comes to life on Christmas Eve wondering if they will have a tree or gifts this year from the girl who normally takes such good care of them.
The Doll People by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin. “The Doll People series is about a family of antique living dolls that are made of porcelain and cloth. Each member of the Doll family has the ability to talk, walk, play, and, most importantly, go on adventures.” Books in the series are The Doll People, The Meanest Doll in the World, The Runaway Dolls, The Doll People Set Sail. I’ve read the last one, and on the basis of that reading I would recommend the series for doll lovers. A Guide to the Doll People series.
Mennyms Under Siege by Sylvia Waugh. Greenwillow, 1996. This doll story, the third in a series of five Mennyms books, is not a new book, and it won’t appeal to all readers, even those who like stories of dolls and the creatures living hidden lives alongside human beings. Mennyms Under Siege is much darker and more philosophical than most doll books (but not like the creepy, horror doll books I found in abundance when I looked up this subject), and its concern with the themes of death and thwarted love and over-protection feels almost young adult rather than middle grade.
And here are two series from the past that I would love to take a look at:
Josephine and Her Dolls by Mrs. H.C. Cradock, published in 1915 in England. Josephine’s “sixteen dolls keep her company, and she makes up story events for them. They include Sunny Jim who goes off to fight the war, two Korean girls and Quacky Jack, a yellow duck in a sailor suit.” More about Mrs. Cradock’s doll books.
The Lonely Doll is the first book in a series by photographer and author Dare Wright, published in 1957. Other books in the series are The Lonely Doll, Edith and Mr. Bear, A Gift from the Lonely Doll, Holiday for Edith and the Bears, The Doll and the Kitten, Edith and the Duckling, Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand, Edith and Midnight and The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson.
Have you read any of these doll stories, or do you have other favorite doll stories? Not scary horror story dolls!