The Amazing World of Stuart by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Martin Matje, 55 pp, RL 2

Stuart's Cape, which was previously only in hardcover and the follow up, Stuart's Goes to School, are now available in one great book at one very low price, magnificent color illustrations and all, titled The Amazing World of Stuart, and that is a very good thing!

As I am always saying, there are so few 2nd and 3rd grade reading level books for kids written in the 50 - 70 page range, which is exactly what kids need once they move beyond "beginning to read" books. Not only are these books, written by  Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Martin Matje's, illustrator of one of my favorite series, The Ink Drinker good, they are laugh-out-loud funny and full of imagination. I discovered this as I sat on the couch and began to read Stuart's Cape.   My two boys, ages 4 and 11, sat down on either side of me and chose to have me read out loud rather than turn on a movie or play a game and the laughs started almost immediately.

In Stuart's Cape, we meet a very bored Stuart. His family, Mom, Dad and Aunt Bubbles, have just moved into a new house in the town of Punbury. Stuart is despondent because, when he packed up his room and put his boxes out by the curb for the movers, the garbage collector took them instead. All his extremely valuable things, his "mannequin arm, an oven door, a dead Christmas tree, a cracked toilet seat, a box of bent coat hangers and false teeth" gone! Stuart is also very good at worrying and not so good at waiting. With trepidation, he is waiting for the first day of school, which is coming up fast. Stuart decides that he wants to have some adventures before school starts and people who have adventures are ALWAYS wearing capes. Stuart needs a cape! Happily, he finds a box of odds and ends being thrown out. Inside the box is a bundle of old neckties, a purple sock and a stapler. Stuart staples the ties together into a cape and adds the purple sock to the inside for a secret pocket. And the adventures begin! Stuart's toy dinosaur, gorilla and horse come to life (and are life-size) and make a ruckus in his room. When they get hungry they eat the left overs from Aunt Bubble's bakery job. Stuart eats a whole angel food cake and the next morning finds himself floating through the sky. Aunt Bubbles thinks he is a talking cloud and follows his instructions for making a sling shot out of the car tires to shoot a pound cake up to Stuart. Next, Stuart finds some buttered toast seeds in his purple pocket. Finally, as he is about to be sent to school, weaker than a newborn kitten because he has been told he can't wear his cape, he discovers that his cat, One-Tooth has switched places with the garbage man and is rampaging through town.

Stuart Goes to School follows Stuart and his cape to Ms Spindles third grade class and "Our Big Interesting World," which is what they call show-and-tell once you move up to third grade. Stuart still struggles with his worries, his foremost being the fear that he will get stuck in the boy's bathroom, and his desire to make new friends. Sometimes I feel like adult writers make their child characters MUCH funnier, odder, more whimsical and more precocious than I ever remember my kids being. However, my suspicions were put aside, if only momentarily, when this happened to me at work the other day. I was walking past the bathrooms and a little boy was about to enter the men's room. He looked up at me and asked me if I worked at the bookstore. I said, "Yes. Can I help you?" He pointed to the handle on the bathroom door and told me he couldn't go in because it would lock behind him. Just as I was assuring him it wouldn't his mom came around the corner and told him to go in the women's room and of course it wouldn't lock him in! Actually, as an adult I am still sometimes scared of being locked in places... The absurd humor with roots in reality found in Stuart's Cape continues in Stuart Goes to School, one of my favorite plot developments being the day that Stuart, while digging a hole in an effort to find something really interesting to share with the class, something that will make them like him, digs a hole. When he is done digging, he notices that a hole is caught on the end of the shovel. Stuart folds it up and puts it in his pocket to take to school with him. This proves both disastrous and useful when his worst fear comes true...

Martin Matje's illustrations perfectly match the silly tone of the stories while at the same time conveying genuine childhood anxieties. At the end of the book as Stuart is riding the bus home he feels like something is missing, in a good way, though, "like if the poison ivy between your toes were finally gone." What's missing is his fear. With his crazy cape and his drawing skills, he has won over his classmates. The book ends with Stuart jumping off the bus, his cape streaming around him like a giant grin. Not only is Pennypacker a mater at coming up with brilliantly wacky ideas and situations - I may never forgive her for thinking up "toast seeds," which are on par with anything Roald Dahl ever came up with - but her writing is also sensitive and sympathetic to the lives of children, even if these books are almost 100% fantasy.

Sara Pennypacker is also the author of the Clementine trio of books, illustrated by one of my favorites and winner of the 2009 Caldecott Honor for A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, Marla Frazee. I initially turned my nose up at these books because Clementine seemed to be just a little bit too much like Junie B Jones. She speaks in "kid dialect" and gets in trouble often, even when she is trying to make things better. But, I love Stuart and his anxieties so much that I am sure I can overcome my preconceived prejudices and giver her a try!
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The Doll's House by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, 126 pp, RL 3

The Doll's House, written in 1948 by British author Rumer Godden, with illustrations that were added in 1962 by Tasha Tudor, is, along with Rachel Field's Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, a significant influence in the relatively small genre of books about dolls. Having read or reread The Doll People, Big Susan and Hitty, as well as many picture books featuring dolls and or doll houses, some themes seem to be universal: the dolls, for much of the time, are at the mercy of the children who play with them, much like children are at the mercy of the adults who parent them.

In The Doll's House, Emily and Charlotte Dane are the present owners of a motley group of dolls they have named the Plantaganet family. Tottie, the oldest doll in the family, once belonged to Emily and Charlotte'sGreat-Grandmother and their Great-Great-Aunt Laura. made of wood, she was purchased for a farthing. The sisters had chosen two other dolls to be Tottie's mother and father. Mr Plantaganet, who was rescued from the play room of some careless, cruel children, was "hurt and abused and lost" for a long time and was "still easily made afraid of being hurt or abused again. Really, you might have thought that Tottie was the father and he was the child; but there are real fathers like that." Mrs Plantaganet, who's first name was Birdie, was "not quite right in the head. There was something in her head that rattled." But, as Emily said, "There is something brave about this little doll. I don't usually like celluloid dolls," and Charlotte agreed with her. The little family was completed by Apple and Darner. Apple was as big as Emily's thumb and "plump and made of warm plush." As for the little boy doll, "Come fog, come fine, no one could be unkind to Apple." And Darner the dog, so named because a darning needle made up his backbone, was made of clipped wool with pipe cleaner legs and had "gone a little gray with the London grime." When Darner barked, which was only when he sensed danger, he went "Prrick! Prrriccckckckckck!"

Like many dolls in books, the Plantaganets are a stoic lot and they suffer their lack of a true home admirably. Living in shoe boxes is inconvenient and not at all cozy, but they manage. Emily and Charlotte save their pennies to buy a house, but they are scarce and expensive. When Great-Aunt Laura dies and the house is discovered, dusty and grimy, in her attic, it is decided that it should stay in the family and Emily and Charlotte are thrilled to receive it. When this news reaches the dolls, they beg Tottie to tell them everything she remembers of the house. The dolls ask her if there were other dolls living in the house with her. Tottie responds slowly, "I remember one. Yes, I remember her." Her name was Marchpane, and when the family asks what that name means, Tottie answers, again very slowly, "Marchpane is heave, sweet, sticky stuff like almond icing, very old-fashioned. You very quickly have enough of it. It was a good name for her." Her name and possible return is indeed an omen of things to come.

Marchpane is a beautiful doll made of china and kid (leather) and dressed in a delicate white wedding gown and her head is filled with thoughts of nothing but herself. A few important events occur between the arrival of the doll house and the eventual inclusion of Marchpane (she is sent out to be cleaned professionally and then makes an appearance at an exhibition of antique dolls) in the Plantaganet family, of which she insists she is not a member. The dolls, it seems, can make wishes and the family wishes for things they desire - like being moved to a different room or receiving a new paper parasol. While the Plantaganets wish for benign things, Marchpane wishes to be mistress of the house with the family as her servants and Emily falls prey to her desires, acting them out, much to Charlotte's unease. When Marchpane realizes how much the family loves Apple and how willful he is, she invites him to spend time with her in the parlor where she encourages his daredevil nature. As the family fights to keep him in their fold, a war of words ensues between Marchpane and Tottie. When Marchpane insists that she is not interested in little girls, the Plantaganets are thrown into confusion. As Mr Plantaganet asks, "Not like to be played with? Then what is she for? Why was she made? I should be sooner broken or thrown in a toy cupboard, than never played with at all. You are not a doll, you are a thing."

I realize that this review has gone one much longer than a short book usually warrants, but Godden has tucked so many important ideas into the sleeves of this story that I need a bit more space to ramble on about it. As they fret over the cruel power that Marchpane is exerting, Tottie encourages the dolls not to waste time hating, but to wish, noting that Charlotte is on their side. Mr Plantaganet points out that "Emily isn't, and Emily is the one who does things far more than Charlotte." To this, Tottie responds,

Emily has the ideas, she thinks of things and does them while Charlotte is far behind. If you go ahead like that, sometimes you must go wrong. Think if you were ahead, walking, on a road by yourself, and there were not any signposts. Sometimes you must make a mistake. It is easy for the one to come behing and say, 'This was wrong, that was wrong.' they only know it was wrong because Emily went there first. They know the right way. They don't have to choose. Emily often chooses wrong things but I know Emily. She has plenty of sense. We must be patient, and go on wishing. One day Emily will find out she is wrong."

This paragraph seems so encompassing of any relationship, but perhaps most of all, that of siblings who are close. The story goes on to end with a bit of sadness and an act of bravery. Marchpane gets what she deserves (and wishes for) in the end. This little domestic story can be read on more than one level. It is short enough to be a wonderful bedtime story over a handful of night or read solo by an emerging reader and makes a nice precursor to The Doll People.

Here are two older covers for The Doll's House - notice the more accurate use of the apostrophe?

This is a picture of celluloid dolls and what I imagine the doll house bed to have looked like.

It seems that in the 1980s The Doll's House was turned into a stop-motion movie. Here is a brief clip from that show.

Seeing that reminded me of one of my favorite short films from Sesame Street, which went on the air the year after I was born. I thought those dolls were amazing and was thrilled to receive a Madame Alexander Doll when I was a handful of years older. Sadly, I was told that the doll was NOT for playing with, NOT for undressing, just for admiring. When I had a daughter, I made sure she had a Madame Alexander doll to play with...

Tasha Tudor's illustrations are perfectly suited to the book, and dolls (and Corgi dogs) were always favorites of hers. For me, as a child, Tudor's illustrations were as magical and imagination inspiring as Beatrix Potter's have been for many others. The delicate, flower strewn, old fashioned world she created in her books with her watercolor illustrations was a place I wanted to visit, much like the photograph of Tudor walking (barefoot, as was her way) in her garden, above. Despite her appearance and the world she creates in her artwork, Tudor was born in 1915 and died in 2008 at the age of 92. She chose, however, to live "off the grid" before that was even a term and has often been called a "unconventional Martha Stewart" because she made so much from scratch and valued the art of crafting over buying. She raised her four children on a farm in New Hampshire without electricity or even running water for most of that time. Her last home was built by her son using only hand tools and resembles a home from the 1830s, her favorite time period, and was stocked with working antiques. Interestingly enough, not all four of her children, now in their 60s, valued and prospered from their unique upbringing. Since her death, the children have been fighting over her estate, contesting the will and even forcing a judge to rule on where her ashes could be scattered. As an article from February of this year notes, her children have said that they didn't like wearing homespun clothes, getting their hair cut by their father or living in solitude, miles away from playmates.


The Dollhouse Fairy written and illustrated by Jane Ray

Jane Ray's The Dollhouse Fairy is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a little girl! Ray's illustrations, which are a combination of paintings and collage, bring to life the cardboard dollhouse of the title. While I had a "real" dollhouse as a child, I also built my own from cardboard boxes and school glue, using scraps of fabric, napkins, magazines and whatever else seemed to fit. I even built an orphanage out of a huge box and made all sorts of dolls from my mom's old pantyhose to fill it. Jane Ray has captured this DIY essence in her artwork, knowing just when to use a photograph of a clock, patterned fabric, a tea set or a cake to enhance the beautiful paintings of the dollhouse. Ray's book begins, "Rosy loved her dollhouse. It was her favorite thing in the whole world because her dad had built it just for her. Rosy and Dad made all the furniture together and collected all sorts of things to put in the different rooms."

The Dollhouse Fairy is also special because of the characters in the book. I realize that dads get a lot more play in picture books these days, and not just as the fun guys who throw you up in the air. But, I still think it is very special that it is Rosy and her dad who have built this dollhouse together and it is Rosy and her dad who get up early every Saturday morning to make new creations for the dollhouse. The other really special aspect of The Dollhouse Fairy is that Rosy and her family are not white. This is amazing. As someone who reads many, many picture books, I can tell you that it is rare for characters in a picture book (when they are humans and not animals) to be something other than white. And, even more rare, the story is not being told in order to express something culturally important to the characters in the book. Rosy is just a beautiful little girl with brown hair, brown skin and big, brown eyes. And mom and dad and Grandma are all kinds of brown as well. I love this quality in Jane Ray's art, especially in the illustrations she did for Berlie Doherty's Classic Fairy Tales, published by Candlewick Press last year, which are about as far from Disney Princess as you can get. I hope that we can move away from white as the default color of characters in books in the very near future.

There really didn't need to be a plot for The Dollhouse Fairy - I could have happily looked at pictures of Rosy, her Dad, the dollhouse and the fairy for 32 pages with nothing more happening than a new bed, bookshelf or tiny quilt being made for the dollhouse, but Ray has crafted a story as wonderful as the dollhouse that is central to it. One Saturday morning Rosy wakes up and everything is different. Grandma is in the kitchen and Dad is in the hospital. Ray does a wonderful job presenting this a serious situation in a way that is both understandable and only peripherally upsetting to a young child. With her text and illustrations she lets us know that Rosy is worried and sad, but also that she is safe and loved. When Rosy decides to play with her dollhouse, hoping it will cheer her up, she finds her toy house in chaos and a fairy named Thistle tucked into the little brass bed. I absolutely love how Thistle has a bit of the look of a savage about her. She can run with the Lost Boys or take tea with the Queen and her dress is straight from the House of Ellwand!

Rosy helps Thistle to mend her injured wing, keeping her a secret and feeding her raspberries, rose petals and, Thistle's favorite, potato chips. Soon, Thistle is feeling better and Rosy helps her to practice flying again. Even though Thistle was "funny and noisy and full of mischief" and even though she "bounced on the bed and drew on the walls," Rosy loved her.
Finally, one sunny afternoon, the door opens and Dad is home. The happy family sits down to tea and the special cake that grandma has made. Afterward, Rosy snuggles up with her Dad and tells him her secret. They head up to Rosy's room and look in the dollhouse, but Thistle has gone. Although Rosy and Dad can't see it, the reader can see her just outside the window, waving goodbye. Rosy and Dad tidy up the mess that Thistle has left behind, leaving a piece of special cake just in case she returns.

Bedsides being a wonderfully told dollhouse and fairy story, Jane Ray's The Dollhouse Fairy manages to accomplish something that is very rare and ambitious - the feat of telling a story that is more than just a story. The parallel between the disruption in Rosy's family with her father being in the hospital and the messy little fairy who moves into her dollhouse is brilliant and, although it easily could have been, not the least bit coy or whimsical. Ray's twofold story conveys the understanding that, although it may seem bad and frightening, illness, absence and disruption are a natural part of life and can be lived with and lived through. I applaud Ms Ray for taking on such momentous themes and presenting them in such a gentle, artful manner. The artist who can also write a brilliant book (or, the writer who can also illustrate a gorgeous book) is a magnificent and unique wonder.


The Doll People by Ann M Martin & Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brain Selznick 288pp RL 4

When I started this book review blog in August of 2008 I was rushing to get as much content printed as possible and started with skimpy reviews of some of my favorties.  Hitty: Her First Undred Years by Rachel Field  and The Doll People by Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin were the first books I reviewed, however the content of these reviews did not reflect the excellence of the books. While The Doll People trilogy of books is hugely popular and surely does not need yet another person touting it, it remains one of my favorites and I would like to do it justice in a review, especially since I am featuring reviews of books about dolls all this week.

Of course, and for me especially, part of what make The Doll People Series such magical books are the amazing illustrations by Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of the innovative, Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Martin and Godwin are fabulous writers, but having Selznick along to bring the dolls to life makes all the difference. As with the front and back covers, the endpapers in the book are representative of the two dollhouses and families of dolls that inhabit them in this story.  The front cover of the book shows the antique dollhouse and dolls that were shipped from England in 1898 to be the playthings of the newborn Gertrude Seaborn Cox ancestor of the current owner, Kate Palmer.  A page from Wilson & Sons Catalogue No. 61, with a tear mysteriously deleting the image of the "Aunt Doll," introduces us to the characters living in the antique dollhouse.  The last two pages of of the  book appear to be the instruction paper for the assembling of the FUNCRAFT Dream House Model 110 - REAL PINK PLASTIC - Includes Free Cat!  This house belongs to Nora, Kate's younger sister who is NOT ALLOWED to touch the antique dollhouse, although she does, which is always hilarious and harrowing at once.

As the prologue begins, "It had been forty-five years since Annabelle Doll had last seen Auntie Sarah."  But, on this day, Annebelle found something that belonged to Aunt Sarah and, "no one knew she had found it.  Not Kate Palmer.  Not any of the Dolls.  And keeping a secret in a house like Annabelle's was awfully hard.  It might even be impossible, Annabelle thought, except for the fact that there was no one with whom Annabelle wanted to share a secret."

This secret and the clues it reveals about the disappearance of Aunt Sarah, as well as the friend that Annabelle Doll finds to share this secret with make up the rest of the story.  Martin and Godwin create a complete world - both within the houses of the dolls and in the Palmer home as well.  Grandma Katherine, Kate's namesake, lives with the Palmer family and has memories of Aunt Sarah Doll and is just as thrilled by her return as the rest of the dolls are. What drives the story, from start to finish, is Annabelle Doll's wish for a friend and her questioning, determined nature that keeps her searching for Aunt Sarah.  It is this wish that ultimately brings together the Doll and Funcraft families, as well as sparring sisters Kate and Nora.

One of my favorite aspects of The Doll People is the creation of Doll State.  If a human sees a doll moving, or thinks she sees a doll moving, the doll is sent into Doll State, which Annabelle has been in "several times, more often than anyone else in her family."  In Doll State, a doll is "rendered an ordinary doll" who can't move for 24 hours.  Worse than Doll State, though, is Permanent Doll State, where you become an ordinary doll forever.  Annabelle is not even sure that Permanent Doll State exists, although she has been threatened with it many times by her cautious parents.  Part of what keeps the Doll Family from searching for Aunt Sarah is the belief that, in her many exploits, she has been put into Permanent Doll State and that the same fate awaits them...

One interesting, if obvious, theme that I have noticed as I read and reread books about dolls for this week of reviews is the idea that dolls remain constant and unchanging while the world changes around them.  A girl doll will always be a girl doll, she was never a baby and will never be a woman.  This gives the dolls both a timeless perspective on the world (their world, anyway) and perhaps a stoic one.  The little slights and injuries of everyday existence that plague us all are nothing to the dolls.  At the same time, as Rumer Godden writes in her book published in 1948, The Doll's House, Tottie, the hundred year old doll, often says, "I wouldn't be a child for anything. . . First you have to be a baby, then a little child, then a bigger child, then a schoolboy or girl,  then a big boy or girl, and then a grown up."  However, Tottie also knows that, "there is no power of growing in dolls, and she knew that was why, for instance, any live little girl, however stupid, had power over her."  We all know that playing with dolls is important for girls and boys, who play with "action figures" in ways that are not always necessarily violent but can reflect the concern and connectedness that we hope our daughters will learn when they play with their dolls.  In fact, I heard my 5 year old utter this while playing with his Star Wars Lego mini-figures after their craft had crashed:

Mini-Fig 1:  "Are you ok?"
Mini-Fig 2: "Yeah, I'm ok.  Are you?"
Mini-Fig 3:  "Yeah. Are you?"

I think that's a pretty good sign of concern and connectedness coming from a little boy...

I posit that, in addition to playing with dolls, reading stories about dolls is helpful in the development of essential emotional and intellectual components in children.  Really, I suppose most books with meaningful content can fulfill this ideal, but somehow I think that books about dolls create these parallel worlds that allow children to understand childhood and their place in it as well as the idea that there is a world beyond them - for dolls, it is the world of the living and for children it is the world of adults.  And, in a book with dolls as the characters,  this world of adults is revealed in measured and careful dollops.  

If your little girl isn't big on playing with dolls, read this out loud to her before she hits second grade. Otherwise, it is the perfect book for any girls reading at an advanced level. This book is part of a trilogy. Book two is The Meanest Doll in the World and book three is The Runaway Dolls, both of which are in paperback.

If your child likes this book (and dolls) suggest

Hitty: Her First Hunudred Years by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop 206pp RL4

First published in 1929, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years won the Newbery Award in 1930. Narrated in the first person by Mehitabel, or Hitty, herself, she tells how she went from a sturdy piece of Mountain Ash Wood in Maine in the early 1800s to a carved doll and playmate to Phoebe Preble. Hitty's adventure begins when she and Phoebe join Captain Preble aboard his whaling ship. From there, she finds her way from a tropical island, to India, to Philadelphia then to New York. She travels with a snake charmer, attends the opera, meets Charles Dickens, has her daguerreotype taken, becomes a doll of fashion and sits as an artist's model.  Sometimes she is a child's plaything.  Sometimes she is loved, sometimes she is ignored and sometimes she is treated badly.  And, for long periods of time, she is lost to the world whether it is underwater or in a hayloft.  As children's book author and illustrator Rosemary Wells says of Hitty, a childhood favorite of hers, she loved Hitty's "indomitable spirit and the time carried her from owner to owner like a river.  Hitty didn't mind being stuck in a hayloft for twenty years.  Hitty also made American history come alive for me."
Hitty's perspective as a doll, the sweep of history that she travels through and the Newbery award have ensured that this book has stayed on the shelf for over eighty years. However, there is some dated language and attitudes that may rub parents the wrong way, although probably go right over most children's heads. Sadly, because children, girls especially, mature at such a young age these days, they are not interested in reading Hitty by the time they are able to read it. For this reason, I highly recommend it as a read out loud for younger children or as a great book for an advanced reader.
Hitty's first owner is Phoebe Preble, the daughter of a sea Captain living in Maine.  In her first few months with Phoebe, Hitty is left behind at church, cold and alone except for some bats roosting under the pew.  She is also bounced out of a berry picking basket and scooped up by a mother crow who tries to feed Hitty to her chicks.  Unhappy with their meal, the chicks toss her out of the nest, which just happens to be in a pine tree in the Preble's yard.  Hitty crashes through the pine needles but snags on a branch before hitting the ground.  Hitty thinks of her predicament, "Suppose I have to hang here till my clothes fall into tatters.  Suppose they never find me till Phoebe is grown up and too old for dolls."  It is this stoic outlook that sees Hitty through many difficult times, including being left behind on Captain Preble's whaling ship as it is consumed by flames.  Chapter V of the book is titled, "In Which I Join the Fishes and Rejoin the Prebles."  Flipped over by a wave, Hitty recalls that it was, "rather less pleasant, but I was still in no mood to be critical when I remembered my narrow escape from the flames."  Fortunately for everyone, Hitty finds herself washed up on the same island that the Prebles and crew take refuge on.
Hitty PrebleFor girls who are interested in dolls, collecting, dressing and exhibiting Hitty dolls is quite the hobby for adults. The doll, a picture of the original is seen below, was purchased by Rachel Field in an antiques store in New York City in the winter of 1927 and inspired her to write her story.

There is also a Hitty paper doll and outfits can be printed out to dress her!
original Hitty sitting

 For those of you who like these kinds of connections, it is rumored that the nameless doll in the antique shop who befriends the wayward rabbit at the end of the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, is actually Hitty herself.
In 1999, Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers published Rachel Field's Hitty:  Her First Hundred Years.  As Rosemary Wells writes in her "Note to the Reader," both women loved the book as children and, when Jeffers decided to "illustrate it with bright, new, colorful pictures" she asked Wells if she could shorten the book for a new audience.  Fully aware of the passionate following Hitty and her Newbery Award winning book had, Wells was unsure about this venture.  But, as she spoke to booksellers and librarians about the proposed project she realized that, despite the vocal opposition, "no one I spoke to had actually read Hitty in at least thirty years, and that seemed a real shame."  Wells "pruned and weeded" the book as well as encouraged "new live branches"to flower by taking an "almost happened" from the book and making it happen, sending Hitty to a little girl in the South who's doll had been lost in the war. 

I love what Wells does with the story, and Jeffers' illustrations are magnificent.  And, while I consider myself a purist when it comes to classic, award winning children's book, I really believe that Hitty poses a special case.  Despite the popularity of American Girls Dolls and their related books, I believe that there are many distractions and influences in the world today that cause most girls to lose interest in dolls, if they ever had an interest in a doll that does not look like a full grown adult woman, in the first place, long before they have the skills to read Hitty., or even a magnificent newer book like The Doll People Series.  For this very reason, I support and encourage Wells and Jeffers in their efforts to keep this exceptional book relevant in today's world.  Sadly, their book has gone out of print but can be purchased used...



I loved dolls when I was a kid.  Madame Alexander, Barbie, baby dolls, cloth dolls.  I even went through a period where I made dolls out of my mom's old pantyhose.  I made an orphanage out of a cardboard box, furniture, bookshelves, books and all, and stocked it with kids.  I made dolls with papier-mâché heads and arms and loads of yarn hair.  Surprisingly, I did not turn out to be a collector of dolls as an adult, however I did indulge my daughter pretty seriously, sinking a lot of money into American Dolls...
Now that my seven and a half year old niece is becoming interested in her mom's old dollhouse and sewing, I started thinking about all the books about dolls that I also loved and decided to do a week of reviews of the wonderful picture and chapter books that have dolls and/or doll houses as their main characters.  Boys, don't feel left out.  Most of the stories are universal, ofen adventurous and surprisingly not as pink as you would expect!

[This is the very set (minus the tags) of Madame Alexander Little Women Dolls I collected as a kid.  Didn't get around to reading the book until I was an adult, despite the dolls...]
I am sure that I have overlooked or just don't know about some of the other incredible doll books out there, so I am hoping that you all will write in with enough titles for me to do another whole week of doll stories in the future!

For those of you who are interested, the New York Times ran this article back in April Modern Design, in Miniature, is Growing.  There are links to some interesting blogs by miniaturists that your kids might get a kick out of.


Great Books for Summer!

I published this list a year ago to the day, almost and thought I'd re-post it and maybe add to it. However, I could not come up with any newer, better titles in the activity books section, although I did find a few good summer-themed chapter books to add!

Here is a collection of titles that are great for summer vacation! Some are activity books, some are novels and a handful are general non-fiction. All are sure to keep a reader busy in a plane, train or automobile, hammock or beach chair...

Need to keep the kids occupied during a long, hot summer?

Bart King is the man for you (and your kids ages 9 and up)! Author of the superb The Big Book of Boy Stuff and the Big Book of Girl Stuff he has also written these little gems. All of these books will get kids out of the chair and even out of the house doing something nifty and creative, but, I have to tell you that it is IMPOSSIBLE to read any of Bart King's books without turning to the person next to you and reading a paragraph or two out loud to them. The information inside is the kind you (and your kids) will want to share!

The Pocket Guide to Games brings you games your kids can play without computers, joysticks, game boards or even game pieces, in some cases. Most of what you'll need you can find around the house, or at the nearest hardware store. Contents include chapters on Miscellaneous Active Games, Quiet Games, Contests, Feats and Tussles (how can you not be intrigued by that chapter???) and finally Bean Bag and Ball Games. AND there is an INDEX so you don't have to go flipping through the book five times before finding that great game you saw, be it the Human Arcade or Toilet Tag (which does not involve actual toilets but the impersonation of them...) Just reading the game descriptions out loud was amusing for the kids I was with.

Your kids may spend more time reading The Pocket Guide to Mischief than actually making it . . . if you're lucky. There is a lot of great collected information in this book, including stories of pranks played throughout history and lots of funny responses to everyday situations. There are chapters titled, Choosing Your Target or Nemisis, Mischief Quiz!, Harmless Trickery 101, Oldies But Goodies, Bodily Mischief, Lessons From Stravinsky and Spy Games. My favorite chapter is titled, Inspired by the Oxford Dictionary and begins with one of the great historical quotes that heads each chapter (this one is: "No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately." -Michel de Montainge) then goes on, "The Oxford Dictionary of English states that there are 350 useful one-word insults in English." Brilliant!

Gathered from The Big Book of Girl Stuff, which was written with the help of his five sisters and fifty other girls, Bart King brings his great sense of humor and wealth of knowledge to this The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff. In addition to topics like baby sitting, family, hair and girl emergencies, King also includes a super cool way to determine your Star Wars Nickname in the excellent chapter titled, Nicknames, Handwriting, Words and Doodles, which kept me riveted from start to finish. There is information about celebrity names, celebrities' real names, how to make up your own celebrity name, the meanings attached to letters, how to analyze handwriting and more. In case you were wondering, my Star Wars nickname is Turta Noiri!

Gathered from The Big Book of Boy Stuff, the Pocket Guide to Boy Stuff is full of super cool facts and finds that actually made me a little jealous. Parents, if you are interested in gender equality and well rounded daughters, buy this book for them as well as the Pocket Guide to Girls Stuff! All chapters end in exclamation points, which means they must be excellent, and cover topics like, Activites!, Experiments!, Flying Things!, Gadgets, Tools, & Toys!, Gross Stuff!, Riddles!, Slang!, Weapons! The chapter on Gadgets, Tools and Toys! includes interesting historical information on toys like LEGOS and GI Joes. And, as a word of warning, there is a chapter titled, Fireworks & Explosions! which begins with safety. I was born and raised in the always flammable Southern California and was lucky that I saw sparklers on the 4th of July. My kids, raised here also, have NEVER seen a sparkler. So, naturally I was very concerned when I saw this chapter title and read it through. I know that there are places in this country where kids still get to set off fireworks and hoard them after the 4th passes. My 94 year-old grandmother-in-law who lives in Illinois still has a drawerful in her house and delights my kids with them they visit. So, while this chapter made me really nervous, I think that Bart King handles the topic very seriously and evenhandedly. And, best of all, he has a few little goodies for those of us living in the tinderlands, which include hand grenades made from baking soda and vinegar.

Something to keep your kids busy and creative for most of the summer...

For kids (ages 10 and up) with a slightly more creative and philosophical bent, check out these incredible, interactive, guided journals. We will be bringing (and completing) one on our family summer vacation this year and I know that all three of my kids, ages 16, 11 and 4, will find pages to do.

The amazing Keri Smith, who says, "Everything is interesting," manages to find artistic, creative ways to look at everything from the stickers on fruit - a page in How to Be an Explorer of the World is dedicated to the collection of these, to Exploration #21: Go to your favorite street. (If you can't go there physically, then you can visit in your mind.) Map it out on a piece of paper. Then describe or (otherwise document) everything in detail: the shops, houses, street signs, trees, etc."

If you visit Keri's website there are some great clips of people completing/wrecking pages in their journals. One shows someone completing the page that reads, "Create a drawing using a piece (or several pieces) of your hair." The clip then shows the creative person, equipped with a hot glue gun and a bag of hair left over from a haircut, make a very furry likeness of Big Foot on the journal page. Another clip shows the creative person following the instruction, "Climb up high drop the journal" by flinging it off the 7th floor of a building.

By Keri Smith and published by American Girl, Tear up This Book!: The Sticker, Stencil, Stationary, Games,Crafts, Doodle and Journal Book for Girls! is all of Keri's creativity combined with American Girl's great packaging and suitability for younger kids. Perfect for kids 7 and up.

Somewhere between art and activity is . . . DOODLES!

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Humorous and imaginative doodle prompts, perfect for backpacks and, of course, pockets.

Taro Gomi, author and illustrator of the classic, Everyone Poops, has recently published a line of excellent, high quality, very thick (and pricey) doodle books. Doodle All Year happens to be the most compact of the series. Worth checking out for any kids who love to draw and color, ages 4 and up.

We brought a pad of these on our family trip last year and had a great time with them, especially my then three year old who has a fascination with post-it pads... Although these pictures are big, these "Doodle Stickies" are probably the smallest activity books I have listed here.

If you have a long car trip ahead of you, consider these books:

Rand McNally, the atlas giant, also makes travel books
for kids, including, of course, a road atlas. It's never too early to teach your kids, boys especially, how to read a map! At $3.95 each, these books are a great buy.

This book is more than just karaoke. Of course is comes with a CD of 15 songs and three bonus tracks, that is just the music and no words, it also includes a book of song lyrics ( plus three more for the backseaters) and musical activities, trivia, games and choreography. Songs include, "Proud Mary," "The Star Spangled banner," "Kookabura" and "When the Saints go Marching In."

Top-ten quizzes, puzzles,games and tips - all travel related and guaranteed great American Girl quality. Suitable for kids age 7 and up.

More than just a book of crossword puzzles, word searches and tic-tac-toe grids, this Everything book includes creative things to do like design your own post card and invent a new automobile as well as interesting factoids like, "What makes your foot go to sleep?" and "why do we daydream?" At $6.95, this is a great price for so much to do.

The usual combination of puzzles, games, riddles, fill-in-the-blank stories, crossword puzzles, number, license plate games and travel bingo and pages to keep a journal of every trip. Comes with an erasable pen.

Last but not least, a travel-size, paperback edition of Where's Waldo. This book is a compilation of Waldo's world famous excursions compiled from all five of Martin Hanford's engrossing Waldo books. Like all the books, Waldo isn't the only thing you look for on each page, making for hours of searching!

The pressure is off, for now, have some fun and read a
These are just a few of the excellent graphic novels I have reviewed this past year.

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga is THE BOOK for a plane/train/car ride. With over 3, 856 possible endings, you will definitely get your money's worth...

Copper by Kazu Kibuishi takes you on a journey through Bolt City with Copper and his dog Fred as they bounce across giant mushrooms, build and fly their own aircraft and race a lobster... Each comic is a page spread, two at the most. Perfect for picking up and putting down as demanding summer activities require.

The Secret Science Alliance has it all - science, inventions, friends, enemies, action & adventure!!! A book your kids will read again and again.

And, last but not least, some great books about summer and/or vacations to READ!!!

By Mary Louise Gay, Travels with My Family. Semi-autobiographical and told from the perspective of her young son, these stories of family vacations are great for read out loud at the end of a busy day, or in the plane or the car while in motion.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. Four sisters and summer vacation combine to make this timeless, instant classic.

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. Summer is a great time to dive into a great series with books of doorstop proportions and this one will not disappoint. If you really think you (and, really, adults will love this as well) will read this, you probably want to skip my gushing, raving review of the book in which I reveal more than I should have...

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies has it all - summer camp, aliens, crafts, SPAM!!

The Magic Half is set during the summer and is a great mystery, suspense, time travel story that is hard to put down. I could almost smell the dust in the barn where Horst hid the.... I'll let you read it and figure it out!

Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath is the sequel to My 100 Adventures. Both are great summer adventure stories, Northward to the Moon, as the cover indicates, has a very long, great car trip that takes up most of the book.

Leepike Ridge another great, suspenseful summer story - with treasure! This would be a super read-out-loud on a camping trip, especially around the campfire at night...

Operation Redwood is yet ANOTHER great summer adventure story. Julian lies to his aunt and uncle so that he can head north to an old grove of redwood trees and protect them from clear cutting! S Terrell French's book is exceedingly well written, her characters are fully formed and the action is great.