Fanny and Fanny & Annabelle, written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
If you are a woman and over 40, you probably remember the original Holly Hobbie, seen at left. This bonnet wearing, calico loving waif was an iconic part of my childhood. As an adult I was stunned to learn that Holly Hobbie is a real person, an artist and illustrator and not just an appropriately, adorably named prairie girl. I learned this when the first Toot & Puddle book was published in 1997. Hobbie's illustrative style is richly detailed, warmly colored and above all else, cozy and comforting, just like her home-loving and roam-loving pigs.
As much as I love Toot & Puddle, I am even more enamored of Hobbie's newest creation, Fanny, which made my Best Picture Books of 2008 list. I was Fanny when I was a kid. I had a sewing box and my mom's old hand crank sewing machine and I would go to town. Making dolls out of pantyhose became popular in the late 1970s and I made myself an orphanage full of six inch tall dolls, as well as an orphanage. As a young architect, a big cardboard box and lots of glue was all I needed. I also made more than one doll like Annabelle, but I am getting ahead of the story...
Which begins like this, "For her birthday this year, Fanny had her heart set on a Connie doll. She has asked for a Connie for her last birthday and then again for Christmas, too. It was the only kind of doll she wanted." When her mother makes it clear that she will not be buying Fanny a Connie doll ("Because I don't like the way Connie dolls look. They're just too . . . much," her mother - and Hobbie - tactfully responds, speaking for mothers everywhere who have the same feelings about Barbie and Bratz dolls) Fanny decides to make her own Connie doll.
Using her old pink pajama top and yarn, Fanny makes her Connie. But, when she looks at the doll's face, she decides that Connie isn't exactly the best name and she decides to name her Annabelle.
Of course, Fanny's Connie owning friends don't think much of Annabelle or the sewing machine that Fanny gets for her birthday and Fanny begins to have second thoughts about her doll, even going so far as to stick her in a drawer instead of taking her to be like usual. But, things work themselves out. Annabelle is taken out of the drawer and get to play veterinarian while her friends' Connie dolls serve as nurses. The book ends with Fanny making a doll for Annabelle. Fanny and Annabelle try to think up good names but fail. Then then new little doll pipes up and asks to be named Connie. "Hmm," Fanny says, "I'm sure there's never been a Connie like you." The book Fanny comes with an Annabelle paper doll to punch out, as well as a blank paper doll for readers to decorate.
Fanny & Annabelle finds the two friends stuck inside on a rainy day. Fanny decides to write a book called, Annabelle's Adventure. The story, which is about Annabelle's search for the perfect present for her Aunt Sally, takes shape over the course of the book as Fanny takes the occasional break when writer's block interferes. Fanny's book is part of the larger book, Annabelle's story alternating with Fanny's, but following similar paths. The stories take an interesting turn when Fanny finds a pink envelope containing two $50.00 bills and her story diverges from Annabelle's. However, both books end on a satisfying note and Hobbie proves, once again, that she is as masterful a story teller as she is an illustrator. My only fear, based on my limited experience with the public as a bookseller, is that so few girls play with dolls at the advanced age of 6 or 7 anymore when they are really old enough to truly appreciate these books. And I'm sure even fewer make their own dolls anymore. Hopefully these books will have a long shelf life and inspire many a girl (and her mother?) to pick up the needle and thread and make a doll or two.
For those of you interested, this is what Holly Hobbie looks like today - every bit as warm and kind as you would expect after reading her books. I would love to see what her studio looks like!