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Handmade Magic July 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Some kids like to play with dolls and others don’t. There are plastic dolls, cloth dolls, and china dolls of all shapes and sizes for kids–and of course, many, many books about children and the dolls that they love.

I was interested, as I looked through some old and new picture books about dolls, to discover a common theme: that what makes a doll valuable in the eyes of a character is not their appearance, but their ability to be a part of games and play. It was a refreshing change from grown-up toys (i.e. technology) which so often must be absolutely brand-new to be special. Here are a few stories about well-loved dolls, if you are looking for a book for a doll-loving child.

The Chalk Doll by Charlotte Pomerantz

Dolls are only one small part of this fascinating collection of memories about growing up in Jamaica. Mother tells Rose about making herself a rag doll and the ‘chalk’ or plastic doll that was missing an arm and had a broken nose, but was still beloved. After hearing more stories about having parties with penny candy and making heeled shoes with mango pits, Rose decides that she will make a rag doll of her own.

The Wheat Doll by Alison L. Randall

Mary Ann lives out on the frontier of Utah in the 1800’s and what better to stuff your cloth doll with, than the wheat that is grown and harvested by your family? Mary Ann keeps Betty with her always, telling her secrets and taking her everywhere, until one day she has to leave her behind while taking shelter from a bad storm. But after the seasons change and with a little help from sun and water, Mary Ann finds her doll again, in an entirely new form.

Sophie and Rose by Kathryn Lasky

Rose is a doll that belonged to Sophie’s grandmother and mother long ago. As Sophie plays with her and carries her everywhere, Rose gradually loses an eye, gets tangled hair, and a chipped nose. But Sophie always knows how to fix her–braiding her hair and stitching a ripped arm. In a way, Rose becomes a metaphor for age and growing older–things may change, eyes may be lost, but the essential qualities of the doll–and a person–remain the same.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock

Charlotte, the little girl in this story, is making mudcakes when she is called to open a package that contains a beautiful new doll. McClintock’s beautiful illustration of Charlotte’s room makes it clear that she does not usually play with dolls. Birds’ nests line the walls, there is a snake in a cage and various other natural specimens treasured by a girl who clearly stays outside as much as possible. But Dahlia (Charlotte observes that the doll looks exactly like a flower!) joins in the fun, even when it means she gets dirty, torn and banged up. And when the aunt who gave the doll comes to tea,  she makes the wise remark that dolls need to be “…out in the sunshine, and played with, and loved.” Many authors clearly agree with her.

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