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The Secret Life of Dolls

The African-American dolls on display at the Headquarters Library in Fredericksburg include a ballerina, Raggedy Ann and Andy, and an African queen.  Collector Myra Dicks even has a Jackie Robinson action figure in its original box.  Kids who are fascinated by the dolls will enjoy meeting Miss Hickory, Tottie, Traction Man and other great doll characters from children’s books.   

Rumer Godden’s classic The Doll’s House introduces a family of dolls as real as you and I.  Mrs. Plantagenet, known as Birdie, is a light little celluloid doll with something in her head that rattles – she is happy and flighty, unlike her serious husband.  Mr. Plantagenet had been sadly neglected before Charlotte and Emily, the dolls’ owners, rescued him.   Apple is a chunky little doll made of warm plush, and Darner the dog is made of clipped wool with a darning needle for a backbone.  Tottie is a small Dutch doll made of wood, and she is the “chief person” in the story.

Only Birdie remembers living in a doll house, a long, long time ago, and the rest of the dolls urge her to retell its glories:  a sitting room with real wallpaper, a fire of shining red paper, a lamp with a white china shade that would really light up if you used a birthday candle.  Meanwhile, the dolls and the girls who own them long for a real dollhouse of their own.

Then, to the dolls’ astonishment, Birdie’s old doll house turns up.  Soon after, the china doll Marchpane that used to live there returns, too, and that’s when the trouble starts.

Godden makes her doll characters so real that the danger posed by Marchpane, a vain, empty-headed, nasty creature, will curl your hair.  Children eight and up who like friendship stories will like this as much as doll-lovers will.

Made from an apple tree twig, with a hard nut for her head, Miss Hickory is a doughty New England doll. Her tidy little house made of corncobs, complete with a quilt made of sumac leaves and a cup and saucer made from an acorn, is tucked under a lilac bush. She spends the harsh winters on the kitchen windowsill of her owner’s house, but this year disaster strikes: the family is spending the winter in Boston, leaving Miss Hickory behind. 

In Carolyn Sherwin Bailey’s Newbery Award-winning Miss Hickory, the little doll struggles through the winter with the help of the pheasant, the deer, the groundhog and the crow she meets in her new home, a nest in a tree.  But in the final chapter, a surprising twist finds the hard-headed doll surviving in a most unexpected way.  Give this to animal fans and doll lovers with a taste for the quirky.

In Mini Grey’s Traction Man is Here!, the much-anticipated doll – sorry, action figure – appears on Christmas morning “wearing combat boots, battle pants, and his warfare shirt.”  Soon enough he is saving the farm animals from the evil pillows, searching the kitchen sink for the “Lost Wreck of the Sieve,” and befriending the plucky Scrubbing Brush, who becomes his pet.  But when Granny outfits him with “an all-in-one knitted green romper suit and matching bonnet,” even the macho Traction Man quails.  This and the sequel, “Traction Man meets Turbodog,” will find a ready audience among four- to seven-year-olds.

First published in the Free Lance-Star on February 9, 2010.