William’s Doll

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by William Pene du Bois, 1972.

A boy named William wants a doll to play with, like the one the girl next door has.  Other boys make fun of him and think he’s a little strange, calling him a “sissy,” but he likes the idea of having a doll to love that he could treat like it was a real baby.

William’s father buys him toys that boys usually like, like a basketball and a train set.  William likes the train set and gets pretty good at basketball, but he still wants a doll of his own.

When his grandmother comes to visit, William tells her about wanting a doll, and she decides that it’s a good idea and gives him one.  William’s father worries about it, but the grandmother reassures him that there’s nothing to worry about.  William’s desire for a doll is a fatherly instinct, not because he’s a “sissy.”  William likes having something small to love and care for, like a father would for a real baby, and it’s a good thing for a boy to learn the gentleness and responsibility that he would need to know as a future father.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

Further Thoughts and My Opinion

The book has two messages.  First, not everyone feels bound by gender when it comes to the things that they like, and there’s no reason to feel like they should.  Sometimes, people feel pressure to like what their friends like or what society think that they should like and to deny that they like certain things because they’re worried that people will think that they’re weird or uncool, which can be an uncomfortable position to be in.  Speaking as a childless adult who likes, collects, and reviews children’s books, I know how that is.  If it was going to stop me, I wouldn’t have maintained this blog for almost four years, and I wouldn’t have more than 600 books reviewed here, not to mention what’s hanging around my room right now. I’m not even halfway though my personal collection yet.

When you think about it, it does seem kind of unfair that even people who support a little girl’s right to play with traditional boys’ toys, like toy cars, can sometimes get uneasy about the idea of a boy playing with a doll.  People weren’t always so understanding when girls wanted to do “boy” things, like play sports, and there are times when they could be a little more understanding about boys who sometimes want to do “girl” things, too.  Some people might consider cooking to be more of a girl’s hobby than a boy’s hobby, but some of the most famous chefs in the world are men, and what woman wouldn’t be impressed by a boyfriend who can cook a romantic dinner?  People might think that sewing is a girl’s hobby, too, but many professional tailors and leather workers are men as well, and there are some guys who make their own costumes for historical reenactments.  To some people, poetry might sound girly and too sentimental for a boy, but try telling that to Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson (who wrote, among other things, poems for children), Percy Shelley (“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”), and all of the other famous men who have been authors and poets.  Sometimes, people just aren’t looking at the big picture.  I think that, partly thanks to books like this, people have been loosening up a little on some of the “shoulds” in life – what they think people “should” do or “should” like.

No one in the story says anything about sexual orientation, although that may be part of the father’s worry and possibly the root of the “sissy” accusations. In the story, William is too young to be concerned about sexual relationships, and his wish for a doll has nothing to do with who he might want to date or marry in the future.  He has very specific reasons for wanting a doll, which he explains, and they have nothing to do with sex or romance. I’m not going to speculate about William’s potential orientation because it’s outside of the range of this story, and actually, I think that the story is stronger if his orientation is completely unrelated to his wish for a doll. If the other boys and William’s father think that the doll automatically points to homosexuality, they may be overstepping.  Part of the grandmother’s point is that emotions like love and caring go beyond the idea of sex, and gentleness and nurturing qualities are good things to encourage.  Also, William’s efforts to stand up for what he wants, even knowing that others don’t agree with him, could be seen as a first step to becoming his own man.  Who’s really more of a “sissy,” the guy who lets his friends lead him around by the nose and tell him what to think because he’s scared of being called a “sissy,” or the guy who will stand up and defend his baby, taking care of it no matter what?

The grandmother’s explanation leads to what I think is the second message, that having gentle, loving, and nurturing qualities doesn’t make a boy less of a boy or, by extension, a man less of a man.  These are human emotions, and all humans have some desire for these feelings.  These are the feelings that real relationships are built on: closeness, gentleness, and nurturing. These are qualities that women look for in husbands.  These are also qualities that make a man a good father, which is ultimately what William wants to be when he grows up.  Children have male parents as well as female parents, and it’s fine for William to want to be a good parent someday.

We don’t know, at the end of the story, how long William’s interest in the doll will last.  Children sometimes go through phases where they’re really interested in something, and a few months later (maybe sooner, depending on the kid’s attention span), they put it aside when something new comes along.  William is trying out a concept in his life, which is a large part of growing up, and once he’s tried it out, he may either build on it or move on to other things.  Given William’s interests and character, I think he will probably remember the feelings he’s had and the lessons he’s learned even after he puts the doll aside.  When he’s a little older, perhaps he’ll earn some extra money by babysitting younger kids in the neighborhood.  Maybe he’ll combine his varied interests and end up coaching a kids’ basketball class at the local community center.  He might end up being a teacher as well as a father, since he likes the idea of nurturing young children.

People who grew up in the 1970s may remember the story of William’s Doll from the cartoon and song on Free to Be… You and Me.  There was also a short live action film of the story. In the live action film, it was a grandfather who bought William a doll, and the grandfather reminds the father that he also had a doll for awhile when he was small, reminding him that children grow and change, and this phase in William’s life is just part of his path of growing up. The short film was later parodied on Rifftrax.

The Mystery of the Backdoor Bundle

Three Cousins Detective Club

#28 The Mystery of the Backdoor Bundle by Elspeth Campbell Murphy, 2000.

Sarah-Jane’s mother owns a decorating business, but recently she and her business partner have started repairing dolls because he has discovered that he has a talent for it. One day, while the Sarah-Jane and her cousins, Timothy and Titus, are sitting in the kitchen, someone knocks on the door and leaves a basket with a doll inside it. There is a note with the doll that says, “Please help me!”

When the kids show it to Sarah-Jane’s mother and her business partner, the partner says that the doll is an antique. The question is why anyone would simply abandon the doll with a note asking for help. The only clues they have are some footprints, a button, and a scrap of paper outside with logo of a blue kangaroo.

The doll is hiding a secret, and it’s up to the cousins to learn what it is and to help someone who cannot ask for help directly. This person has done something that they can’t admit to doing, but they’re trying to do the right thing and need some help to make it right.

The theme of the story is Psalm 147:3, “[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Double Spell

Double Spell by Janet Lunn, 1968, 2003.

This book was originally called Twin Spell but was renamed in reprintings.

Elizabeth and Jane Hubbard, a set of twelve-year-old twins, can’t really explain what made them stop to look at the little wooden doll in the window of the antiques shop.  Ordinarily, they probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all, but something seemed to draw them to it while they were supposed to be going home to look after their little brother.  The woman in the shop wasn’t going to sell the doll to them, either, but for some reason, she said that she felt that she ought to do it because it seemed like the doll belonged with them.

Buying the old doll starts off a chain of mysterious events in the twins’ lives.  On impulse, still forgetting that they’re supposed to go home and baby-sit, the girls decide to visit their Aunt Alice and show her the doll.  Aunt Alice had been living in England, but she had recently moved back to Toronto to live in the girls’ grandmother’s old house.  Aunt Alice doesn’t know what to think of the doll, except that it might be worth something as an antique.  She shows the girls around their grandmother’s old house, but Elizabeth has a sudden fall down the stairs, breaking her leg.  Strangely, a week later, Aunt Alice suffers a similar accident, breaking her hip.

Because of her accident, Aunt Alice decides that the big old house is a bit much for her to handle, and she tells the twins’ parents that they can have it to live in instead.  With five children in the family, including the twins, they could really use the larger house, and the children are excited about going to live there.

The twins find themselves thinking of odd things, as if they were old memories.  They suggest taking a “sick basket” of goodies to their aunt, thinking that maybe their mother had done something like that for someone before or maybe they had dreamed something like it.  Their brothers can’t remember any such thing happening, and it would be pretty weird for both of the girls to have the same dream.

However, the children think that a basket of goodies for their aunt would be a good idea.  They put together some stuff from their kitchen and what they can buy with their money, and they decide to include a book that she can read while she’s recovering.  Unfortunately, the book they choose from their shelves turns out to be a rare copy of a book about the history of Toronto that their father was using for a research project, so they have to get it back.  They do, and Aunt Alice tells them that she enjoyed it and that she had forgotten that an uncle had written it.

As the family moves into Aunt Alice’s old house, the twins keep thinking that there is something strange about their doll, that it seems to be influencing them, giving them visions of the past.  Besides the “sick basket” dream they both had, they have visions of a house and a blonde girl in old-fashioned clothes.  They start to think that the doll, which they both have the impulse to call “Amelia,” might be magic or something.  Jane is the more sensible of the two, and she insists that there must be some other explanation, like imagination or coincidence.  Elizabeth, the dreamier twin, insists that it’s the influence of Amelia, that they’re somehow seeing Amelia’s memories of the past.

After the girls argue about the doll and the source of their odd visions, Jane starts ignoring Elizabeth.  Elizabeth continues thinking about what they’ve seen, and the blonde girl, who she is sure is called Hester and was the former owner of Amelia.  Eventually, Jane starts agreeing with Elizabeth about Hester being the doll’s former owner, but she is dubious when Elizabeth says that Amelia wants to find the house where she once lived with Hester.  Jane doesn’t know how the two of them can do that.

They ask their father for his advice, and he suggests that they start at the museum.  There, they learn by studying the styles of old clothes that Amelia is from the 1840s.  They find an area of town with houses similar to the one they’ve seen in their minds, where Amelia once lived, but they have trouble finding the exact house they’re looking for.

Jane becomes increasingly afraid, though.  More and more, she begins to feel like something is trying to take the doll away from them.  Something that is mean and doesn’t like her is in their attic.  Something like a ghost.  Jane has an awful feeling that something horrible is about to happen.

When the Jane looks at the history book her father has been reading, the one written by her great-great-uncle, Jane suddenly has a startling revelation. The house they have been seeking in actually their house, changed over the years by new additions. Amelia came from their house, and that is where she really belongs. Through the visions, they see an old tragedy in their family reenacted, a tragedy that puts Jane’s life in danger.

The book is available to read for free online through Internet Archive. There is no need to borrow this copy and no time limit; you can just read it in your browser.

Themes and Spoilers

The girls had made a mistake when they first started receiving their visions.  They had assumed that Hester was Amelia’s original owner, but she wasn’t.  The glimpses they got of Hester weren’t through the doll’s eyes, but those of the doll’s real former owner.  The doll was one of a set of two that originally belonged to another set of twins in the girls’ family, Anne and Melissa.  Hester was their cousin, and she was not a nice girl.  Both Jane and Elizabeth sensed it pretty early.  During an argument with Anne years before, Hester accidentally lit Anne’s dress on fire with a candle she was holding, causing Anne to die.  Hester hadn’t actually meant to harm Anne.  The whole thing was just an accident, but Hester’s guilt and Melissa’s anger and grief at her twin’s death had caused Hester’s spirit to linger in the house.  By learning the circumstances of Anne’s death and assuring Hester that they understand that she had not meant to kill her cousin, that it was all an accident, and that she couldn’t save Anne because she was just too frightened and didn’t know what to do, they help Hester’s spirit to finally rest and to reunite Amelia with her doll twin, which Hester had hidden years before.

The scene where the girls see Anne’s death is a little scary, but mostly sad.  Hester lived on after the incident, but it was not a happy life.  She ended up having to live in Anne and Melissa’s old room, where Anne died, because she never married and had to live with family.  Aunt Alice remembers knowing her as a young child, when Hester was a bitter old woman.  Perhaps if Hester hadn’t been carrying that guilt around for so many years, her life would have been much happier, although being a nice person had never particularly been her nature.  However, the twins’ acceptance of Hester’s tragedy and assurance that they understand and forgive her for what happened set her spirit at peace.

The genealogy in the story is a little confusing, partly because certain family names repeat through the generations, but there is a chart in the back of the book to help.  There are some other loose ends in the story which are also never completely clarified.  The girls admit that they will probably never know how the doll Amelia came to be in the antiques store, but it doesn’t particularly matter because Hester, Anne, Melissa, and Amelia all seem to be at peace now.

Ginnie and the Mystery Doll


Ginnie and the Mystery Doll by Catherine Woolley, 1960.

Ginnie and Geneva’s families have rented a house on Cape Cod for the summer, so they’ll be sharing their vacation at the beach. Their next door neighbor at Cape Cod is Miss Wade, a nice older lady. Miss Wade’s house is very old-fashioned, and when the girls make friends with her, she shows it to them, allowing them to see some of the neat old things in her attic on a rainy day. The girls have fun trying on the old clothes in the attic, and then they find an old diary belonging to Miss Wade’s mother when she was a girl. In the diary, the girl talks about the special doll that her uncle gave her, which has a “precious jewel.”

GinnieMysteryDollDiaryAtticThe girls ask Miss Wade about the doll, and she says that she knows the one they mean, but she no longer has it. Her mother’s uncle was the captain of a ship and used to bring her presents from around the world. The doll, called Lady Vanderbilt, was very fancy, and Miss Wade describers her costume to the girls. However, she says that the doll disappeared after she rented her house out to a family one summer while she was traveling. She never found out what happened to the doll, but she assumed that the children of the family probably found her and either took her or broke her. Miss Wade said that she didn’t think that the doll was worth making a fuss about, so she never asked the family about it. The girls note that Miss Wade doesn’t seem to know anything about a precious jewel in the doll, but they decide not to say anything about it since Miss Wade doesn’t have the doll anymore.

The girls decide to concentrate on enjoying their summer vacation, picking beach plums and digging clams with Miss Wade on the beach. Then, when they go to see a local auction, they spot a doll that looks exactly like the Lady Vanderbilt that Miss Wade described! The girls try to bid on the doll at the auction, but someone else buys her instead, and that lady leaves the auction before the girls can talk to her.

GinnieMysteryDollJewelThe girls tell Miss Wade and their mothers about the doll, but when they try to ask the people in charge of the auction where the doll came from and who bought her, they learn that the woman who was in charge of organizing the toys has already left on vacation. The only clue that the girls have is that the woman who bought the doll left the auction in a red Jaguar.

The girls make it their mission to track down the doll and its buyer, asking questions all over town about who might own a red Jaguar. Then, at an art exhibit at the Historical Society, they make a surprising discovery: a painting of the very doll that they’re looking for!

But, just when they figure out who has the doll and where she is, she disappears again when the red Jaguar is stolen with Lady Vanderbilt inside! Was it just an accident that the doll was stolen along with the car, or does someone else know that Lady Vanderbilt might be hiding a valuable secret?

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Katy Comes Next


Katy Comes Next by Laura Bannon, 1959.

Ruth is little girl whose parents own a doll hospital. She has always been proud and fascinated by how her parents can make old or damaged dolls beautiful again.


However, Ruth’s own beloved doll, Katy, is in need of repair herself. As her parents rush around repairing dolls for their customers, they keep assuring her that Katy’s turn will come next.


After being put off repeatedly, Ruth starts to think that poor Katy will never get the attention that she needs.


When Ruth’s parents realize how discouraged she is, they decide to take a day off for Katy to come first.


This was one of absolute favorites when I was little!  The pictures alternate between black and white and color and show the process that Ruth’s parents go through to repair Katy, repaint her body and features, and give her new hair and eyes.


Ruth also gets to pick out an entirely new wardrobe for Katy. I was always fascinated with the description of how Ruth’s parents fixed the doll, and I enjoyed imagining the doll clothes that I would have selected from the ones they showed in the pictures.  Making the choices is half the fun!


When Katy is finally finished, she looks beautiful, and Ruth is happy!  This is one of the many out of print children’s books that I wish would come back into print!


Hitty, Her First Hundred Years


Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, 1929.

Sometimes, I debate about how much detail I should use when describing the plots of books, but since this is such an old book and a more recently released version has altered the events in Hitty’s life significantly, I’ve decided to cover it in detail.  I do not have the updated version and haven’t read it, so what I describe below is the older version.  The book is episodic in nature, following the life and travels of a small doll named Hitty.  This book is a Newbery Award winner and is currently available online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

These are the memoirs and adventures of a hundred-year-old wooden doll, which she writes as she lives in antique shop. She doesn’t recall exactly when she was made, but she knows that it was about a century earlier and that she was carved by a peddler in Maine for a little girl named Phoebe Preble.

HittyMemoirsThe peddler did some odd jobs for the Preble family on their farm that winter, while the weather was too bad for him to travel. They named the doll Mehitabel (a Biblical name from the Old Testament), and Phoebe nicknamed her Hitty. At her mother’s insistence, Phoebe made clothes for Hitty and embroidered Hitty’s name on the doll’s petticoat. Phoebe’s mother says that as long as she has her name on her clothes, she’ll always know what it is, whatever happens to her. Phoebe doesn’t see what could happen to Hitty because she wants to keep her forever, but Hitty is destined to live an adventurous life.

Phoebe misplaces Hitty more than once during their time together. The first time, she accidentally leaves her at church (when she wasn’t even supposed to bring her there in the first place). Then, Phoebe takes Hitty out to play one day, but she and her brother are frightened when they see some American Indians. (Phoebe lives in the early 1800s.) When they run away from the Indians, Phoebe accidentally leaves Hitty behind. Then, Hitty is picked up by a curious crow and carried to the tree next to the Preble house. She hangs from a tree branch for awhile before they realize that she is there and rescue her.

HittyShipwreckedThen, Phoebe’s father, who is the captain of a whaling ship, convinces his family to join him on a voyage. Life aboard ship turns out to be both exciting and perilous. One day, the ship catches fire, and the Preble family and all the crew abandon it. Hitty, once again, is unfortunately left behind. Although Hitty sees Phoebe gesture back at the ship and knows that Phoebe wants to return for her, it is too late for that.

However, luck is with Hitty, and instead of being burned, she is washed overboard as the ship goes down. Miraculously, she is washed ashore and found once again by the Preble family, who are now castaways on an island. They hope for rescue but fear the “natives” on the island. (Yep. “Savages”, “natives”, etc. These are sadly a common feature in vintage children’s literature. See Edward Eager’s Magic by the Lake for a funnier spoof version. The scene in this book is the sort of generic “savage natives” or “native savages” scenes he was making fun of, except that nobody tries any silly ooga-booga talk to communicate with them, and they don’t turn out to be cannibals. But, it does occur to me that if this book had been written in modern times, people would have insisted that the author give the proper name for the civilization on this island instead of just calling them “natives” and thoroughly research their actual habits and customs and present them in an informative, realistic way for the education of children reading this book, while writers and parents during this period didn’t seem to care about any of that.  Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you that younger generations are lazier and not as well-educated.)

One day, the natives come to have a look at the castaways, and their leader catches sight of Hitty and demands (through gestures) that she be handed over to him. Phoebe doesn’t want to give up her doll, but her father tells her that she has to. It turns out that the natives think that Hitty might be an idol that gives the castaways power, which is why they want it for themselves. Hitty is taken back to the natives’ village, and they use her as an idol themselves, making a little shrine to house her.

Hitty probably would have remained there if she had not been stolen from the temple by some curious monkeys and once again found by members of the Prebles’ party, who return the doll to Phoebe. Fortunately, the family sees a passing ship and manages to get rescued before the natives can come after Hitty again.

However, Hitty’s adventures are still not over. The ship that rescues them is going to India, and unfortunately, this is where Hitty and Phoebe are permanently separated when Phoebe loses her in a bazaar. Instead of being found by Phoebe or her family again, Hitty is found by a snake charmer, who uses her in his act, positioned near the snake. Even though Hitty is made of wood and not vulnerable to snake bites, she still finds the experience frightening.

From this point on (we’re about halfway through the story), Hitty changes hands repeatedly, gaining and losing owners every few years or so. Most of her new owners give Hitty a change of clothes, but they always keep her petticoat with her name still embroidered on it so, as Mrs. Preble once said, Hitty and her new owners always know her name.

An American missionary couple spot Hitty with the snake charmer and realize that her design looks like dolls in America. They have no idea how she got to India, but they buy her from the snake charmer and give her to their daughter, Thankful. Hitty lives with Thankful for a couple of years, and she enjoys her time with her, even though she really misses Phoebe.

HittyOtherDollsThen, Thankful gets sick, and her parents decide that it might be time to send her home to the United States to stay with her grandparents. Thankful takes Hitty with her when she goes home to Philadelphia. Because Thankful’s early life was spent entirely in India, she has been unaccustomed to spending time with American girls her age, and she doesn’t know how to behave around the American children she meets when she first arrives in Philadelphia.  When the some of these (still 19th century) American girls first meet Thankful and Hitty, they think that Thankful is strange and make fun of her for her unusual habits and the way she dresses, telling her that her doll is ugly, too. Hitty has to admit that she isn’t as fancy as the other girls’ dolls. Thankful is so embarrassed by what the other girls say that she decides to hide Hitty in a sofa. After that, the sofa is taken up to an attic for storage, so Hitty remains hidden for a number of years.

HittyQuakerDuring her time in the attic, Hitty resents Thankful for abandoning her, in spite of all the charitable talk of her missionary parents. However, when Thankful is grown, Hitty is finally found by one of Thankful’s younger cousins, Clarissa Pryce, who really appreciates her. She doesn’t know how Hitty came to be in the attic, but thanks to the name still embroidered on Hitty’s petticoat, knows what to call her. Clarissa is a quiet, conscientious girl in a family of Quakers. She dresses Hitty as a Quaker girl, and Hitty lives with her for many happy years, learning to write as Clarissa goes through her schooling.

By now, the time of the Civil War is approaching, and Clarissa’s family are abolitionists. Hitty doesn’t really understand what the war was about, but she remembers being with Clarissa and watching soldiers march off to war. (This is where the updated version of the book differs greatly.  In the older version, Hitty doesn’t witness the war directly, but in the newer one, she does when she is sent to Charleston.)

Eventually, Clarissa gets older and is sent away to boarding school. Hitty is put into storage for awhile and then sent to the Pryces’ relatives in New York, along with some other things. However, Hitty’s package is misdirected and ends up being delivered to the wealthy Van Rensselaer family by accident. There, she is found by Milly Pinch, a seamstress doing some sewing for the Van Rensselaer family. Miss Pinch makes some stylish new clothes for Hitty, although she still lets her keep the petticoat with her name on it.

The Van Rensselaers’ young daughter, Isabella, sneaks into Miss Pinch’s room one day and finds Hitty, and a debate ensues about who really owns her. Mr. Van Rensselaer, on hearing where Miss Pinch found Hitty, says that rightfully, Hitty belongs to their family but that the clothes she is wearing are obviously Miss Pinch’s because she made them. Miss Pinch is gratified that he is being fair about it, but because Isabella really wants both the doll and clothes together, the family purchases them from Miss Pinch and gives her an excellent employment recommendation for her sewing.

Isabella is rather spoiled and has several dolls already, but she genuinely likes Hitty and takes care of her. Unlike Thankful, she even speaks up for Hitty when others say disparaging things about her plainness. While living with Isabella, Hitty even gets the chance to meet Charles Dickens. However, Hitty is stolen from Isabella by a gang of mean boys.

One of the boys in the youth gang takes the doll home with him and gives her to his younger cousin, Katie. The family is poor, but Katie loves her and gives her plenty of attention. When Katie gets sick and goes to live in the country for awhile, Hitty is accidentally lost in some hay and spends a long time in the barn, living with the mice.

When she is finally found, a pair of traveling artists are staying at the farm, and one of them keeps her to use as an artist’s model. He uses her to amuse children when he paints their portraits and even adds her into still life paintings. Hitty worries about how her painted features have faded, but the artist thinks that she’s much easier to paint than newer china dolls because the light doesn’t glare off of her. She stays with him for many years while he travels around the country, but he eventually leaves her with a pair of spinster ladies, Miss Hortense and Miss Annette, in New Orleans when he rents a room from them.

HittyBrideWhile living with these ladies, Hitty learns that Miss Annette’s fiancé died young, fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and she still feels bitterly toward the North because of it. From her time with Clarissa, Hitty knows that many people in the North could say the same about the South, but of course, she can’t actually say so out loud. The ladies make new clothes for Hitty, dressing her as a bride, with her clothes made from an heirloom handkerchief, and put her on display at the Cotton Exposition (aka the 1884 World’s Fair). From there, Hitty is stolen by a little girl named Sally, whose father is the captain of a riverboat that carries cotton up and down the Mississippi River.

Hitty learns that Sally is a lonely child who travels with her father frequently because her mother is an invalid and cannot always take care of her. Sally knows that it was wrong for her to steal Hitty, but she so badly needs a companion that she is even willing to risk jail if it means that she can keep Hitty. However, after attending a revival meeting where there are warnings against the evils of theft and getting caught in a sudden thunderstorm, Sally panics, thinking that God may be about to strike her down for her sins, and throws Hitty into the river. (I found this scene a little disturbing because, when Sally fears that God will smite her with lightning for stealing, she not only makes a desperate apology but asks if anyone has to be struck, couldn’t it be one of the newly-baptized kids, who are sinless and would know that they were going to heaven? The fearful apology is understandable, but it’s a little disturbing to hear this little girl try to throw someone else under the bus like that.)

From the river, Hitty is rescued by a couple of black boys (the book says “Negro” because it was written in the 1920s) who are fishing. One of them gives Hitty to his sister, “Car’line.” (Her name is probably really Caroline, but Hitty just says the name as she hears it, and the boys have a Southern accent. This is one of those books where they try to give the impression of accents with odd spellings like, “How you come by dat doll?” It’s not the worst example I’ve seen of this, but I have to admit that I’ve never really liked the use of odd spellings like that.) Car’line’s family is the poorest one that Hitty has ever lived with, with a fairly sizable family living in a small cabin. However, Hitty likes the way Car’line treats her and how close her family is, and she loves the music that they sometimes play and the old spirituals that they sing.

At Christmas, Car’line’s family goes to a big party at a house that was apparently once an old plantation. The wealthier owners of the house give presents to the poor children of the area, like Car’line. While they are at the party, one of the women at the house, Miss Hope, recognizes Hitty from a newspaper report that a doll in heirloom clothing had disappeared from the Exposition in New Orleans. Car’line is upset when Miss Hope tells her that the doll really belongs to someone else and should be returned, but Miss Hope understands Car’line’s feelings toward Hitty and soothes her by giving her the doll she had played with as a child, a fancy French doll named Mignonette, as a replacement for Hitty.

As the end of the book draws closer, Hitty changes hands more often than before, and she doesn’t describe her time with new owners in as much detail, partly because her new owners tend to be adults and mostly display her, not play with her. Miss Hope attempts to return Hitty to the ladies in New Orleans, but since the heirloom handkerchief clothes are ruined, they decide that she should really be returned to the artist who had her before. When they try to mail Hitty to his address in New York, it turns out that he has moved without leaving an accurate forwarding address. Hitty spends some time as a package in the postal service, ending up in the dead letter office, where she is sold off, along with other undeliverable packages, to people who are willing to take a chance that there might be something interesting or valuable in them. She doesn’t spend much time with the man who bought her because her package is accidentally left behind at a tobacconist’s shop, where she is accidentally delivered to a house with an order of pipes. The lady of the house has been wanting to try a craft project for turning a doll into a pincushion, so she adds padding to Hitty and puts some pins in her (terrifying but not actually painful for Hitty). From there, Hitty is sold at a craft sale, where she is bought as a present for someone’s great aunt. The great aunt doesn’t think much of the pincushion, but her friend collects dolls and recognizes that Hitty is a collectable. For awhile, Hitty lives happily with the friend as part of her collection, until she is lost out of a car on her very first automobile ride. Then, she lays alone in the countryside, fearful that this is going to be the end for her, until she is found and rescued by some picnickers.

HittyCollectableIt is at this point that Hitty learns something astonishing: not only is she now about a hundred years old, but she has actually managed to make it back to her home state of Maine. To her further astonishment, she even returns to the Preble house where she originally lived, which is now the summer home of an elderly woman. Hitty knows that it’s far too late for her to have any hope of seeing Phoebe Preble again, and she never learns what exactly happened to Phoebe in her later life (which I thought was kind of a shame, bu it fits with the story of a doll, drifting from one owner to the next, unable to control her destiny or ask any questions of the people around her). The elderly lady collects antiques, and Hitty becomes a part of her collection, although the lady has no idea that this is Hitty’s original home.

Eventually, the elderly lady dies (it’s implied, but not stated – one summer, she simply never comes back), and her collection is auctioned off. Hitty is again surprised when she discovers that people view her as a valuable antique now. An Old Gentleman buys her at the auction, and when he takes her with him to New York, he comments that he supposes that it’s probably the first time she’s been outside of Maine and that her travels are about to begin. Hitty is amused.

At the end of the story, it is revealed that the Old Gentleman has purchased her for Miss Hunter’s antique shop, which is where she is now writing her memoirs. Miss Hunter and the Old Gentleman are delighted by Hitty and consider her a “museum piece.” Even though they could sell her, they don’t seem anxious to do so. She has become their shop’s mascot, and many people who visit the shop like to say hello to Hitty. Still, Hitty knows from her experiences that change is a part of life, and she is looking forward to seeing more changes in the world around her and the new adventures she may have with future owners!

My Reaction

In some ways, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  The length may seem a little daunting at first (262 pages about the adventures of a doll!), but the reading time is faster than you think, partly because of the episodic nature of Hitty’s life.  Books that are episodic can sometimes be a drag because, no sooner are the characters out of one situation, they plunge straight into another.  If it isn’t done right, it can leave the reader feeling like it’s all getting tiresome and repetitive and wondering where it’s all heading.  It’s a little different with Hitty, partly because the writing quality is good and partly because her owners and their lives are so varied.  I didn’t think much of the whole “natives” episode (because I never like “savage native” scenes in anything), but her other owners are a eclectic range of people, young and old, who have different interests and uses for Hitty.  Hitty ends up in some worrying situations, but you can feel reassured that she is going to be all right in the end because you know from the beginning that these are her memoirs that she is writing during the course of the story.

Hitty is unable to move around much on her own, which is part of the reason why she moves from place to place because of accidents or intentionally being carried or shipped by people.  However, she does seem to have the ability to move by herself in some small ways, such as writing her memoirs and when she tries to imitate Isabella’s dancing lessons, only to discover that she can’t quite do it because a doll’s legs aren’t jointed in the same way that human ones are.

Apart from the “savage native” scene, I don’t think the book was too bad, racially speaking.  I can’t recall any really objectionable terms being used.  Black people, when they appear, are called either “black” or “Negro”, and nothing insulting is said about them.  They are not treated cruelly in the course of the story.  Hitty enjoys her time as Car’line’s doll and doesn’t think badly of her or hold her in lesser esteem than other owners because she was poor.  The people in India aren’t described too badly, either, although Hitty thinks that the snake charmer was weird, and she seems to think well of the Indian nurse who took care of Thankful.  Thankful’s parents never discover that the Indian nurse gave her additional herbal remedies when she was ill, but Hitty appreciates the nurse’s devotion to the girl, doing everything she could to help her.  Hitty even says that she doesn’t know which medicines helped Thankful the most or if it was really the combination of all of them that saved her from her illness.

Some of Hitty’s owners are obviously nicer than others, with Thankful being arguably among the worst of them.  Even though Thankful’s upbringing is very religious, she and her new American friends are apparently rather shallow and thoughtless.  Even though her new “friends” in Philadelphia aren’t even nice to her, Thankful still worries about how she looks to them and is ready to chuck her beloved doll to please them.  Even spoiled little Isabella takes better care of Hitty and is more loyal to her, standing up to mean people as best she can instead of trying to appease them.

Mostly, Hitty prefers to be owned by young girls because she likes it when they play with her and carry her around, but she does enjoy being with adults who pay attention to her and treat her as a personality instead of as a mere object.  I was glad that none of the children Hitty lives with dies young, which could have been a risk in real life but would have been tragic.  Even with the elderly owner who presumably died, which was probably why her collection was being auctioned, Hitty never sees her die and doesn’t explicitly know that she is dead.  Whether Hitty will ever be owned as a child again now that she is considered an antique is unknown, but the author leaves the end of the story open, so just about anything could happen in Hitty’s future.

In a way, though, Hitty’s fate is already known.  Great Cranberry Island is the part of Maine where Hitty is supposed to have come from, and the Preble house is based on a real house. The story was based on a real doll that the author found in an antique store.  This doll is now at the Stockbridge Library Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. There is also a cafe that is named after Hitty. There are fan sites dedicated to Hitty, some of which have tips for creating a doll very much like her.

The Surprise Doll


The Surprise Doll by Morrell Gipson, 1949.

Mary is a little girl who lives by the sea. Her father is the captain of a ship, and he travels to different countries all over the world. Sometimes, he brings presents for Mary from his voyages. So far, he has brought six dolls for her:

SurpriseDollTeresaSusan – from England, with rosy cheeks

Sonya – from Russia, with a cute turn-up nose

Teresa – from Italy, with brown eyes

Lang Po – from China, with raised eyebrows

Katrinka – from Holland, with blonde hair

Marie – from France, with a smile that brightens her whole face

Mary loves her dolls, but she realizes that if she had a seventh doll, she would have a doll for each day of the week. She asks her father if he will bring her another, but he says that she already has enough dolls.

When her father refuses her request, Mary pays a visit to the local dollmaker. She takes along her six dolls and explains to the dollmaker why she wants one more. After studying Mary and her dolls, the dollmaker agrees to make one for her as long as she’s willing to leave her other dolls with him for a week. At the end of the week, Mary returns to collect her new doll and receives a surprise!


The “surprise” isn’t much of a surprise to the readers because the “surprise doll” is shown on the cover of the book, but it’s a cute story about how people around the world have many things in common. What the dollmaker notices about Mary and her dolls is that Mary shares certain qualities with each doll, the ones listed in the dolls’ descriptions above. So, he makes a doll for Mary that looks just like her by using her other dolls and their shared features as models. Her new doll, Mary Jane, is an American doll, but she has features in common with Mary’s other dolls from around the world, just like children in America can share qualities with children in other places. It’s a soft message about diversity and finding common ground.


Magic Elizabeth


Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, 1966.

Young Sally’s parents are away on a business trip, so she’s been staying with Mrs. Chipley, but now Mrs. Chipley has a family emergency to tend to. Mrs. Chipley’s daughter is ill, and Mrs. Chipley needs to go and help her with her children. While Mrs. Chipley is gone, there is only one other person for Sally to stay with: her Aunt Sarah, an elderly woman who Sally doesn’t really know. Aunt Sarah moved to California when Sally was just a baby, and the only reason why she has returned is that she has decided to sell her old house.


Sally is a rather shy girl. She’s uneasy around Aunt Sarah, who is obviously unaccustomed to spending time with children, and Aunt Sarah’s creepy cat, Shadow. The house is old, chilly, and filled with strange things. However, Sally is enchanted with the bedroom that Aunt Sarah gives her and the portrait of a girl and her doll that hangs on the wall. The girl looks very much like Sally herself, and Aunt Sarah tells her that the girl was also called Sally and lived in that bedroom as a child, many years ago.


Fascinated by this earlier Sally and her beautiful doll, modern Sally decides to try to find the doll. Although her aunt tells her that she shouldn’t go poking around in the attic, Sally can’t help herself. She finds a trunk with Sally’s name on it full of girls’ clothes, just the right size for modern Sally to wear. There is a doll in the trunk also, but it’s not the same doll as the one in the portrait. When Sally reads the diary in the old trunk she learns the reason why. The doll in the picture, Elizabeth, was lost many years ago, when the earlier Sally was still young. As modern Sally plays dress up with the earlier Sally’s old clothes and studies herself in the mirror, she finds herself taken back in time, seeing the house through earlier Sally’s eyes. In the past, it was a busy and happy household with parents, an elderly aunt, earlier Sally, Sally’s little brother, and Sally’s pet cats.

A short time later, Aunt Sarah wakes modern Sally on the floor of the attic, and they assume that it was all a dream, but this look into the past changes Sally’s feelings about the house and her aunt’s cat, who suddenly seems friendlier and reminds her of the mother cat she saw in the past. Aunt Sarah also seems a little less stern as they discuss earlier Sally and her lost doll. Aunt Sarah says that no one ever saw the doll again after it disappeared on Christmas Eve all those years ago.  Earlier Sally had put the doll on top of the Christmas tree, like an angel, and after the family finished singing Christmas carols, the doll was gone.  They could never figure out what happened to her.  Modern Sally thinks that sounds very sad and wants to investigate the mystery of the missing doll, although Aunt Sarah isn’t very enthusiastic. She says that if the doll could be found, it would have been found long ago, and the earlier Sally has long since grown up and no longer needs it. Although, oddly, Aunt Sarah remarks that the earlier Sally had always thought that Elizabeth was “a little bit magic.”

Modern Sally continues to look for the doll anyway and also continues having moments when she sees the past as the earlier Sally did many years ago, especially when she looks into the mirror in the attic. One day, she invites a neighbor girl named Emily over, and while the two of them are looking around the attic, Emily finds Elizabeth’s old doll bonnet. The girls are excited because they now know for certain that Elizabeth is still in the house, waiting to be found. The girls are running out of time to find her. If Aunt Sarah agrees to sell the house, it will be torn down to build apartments. But, Sally falls ill with the flu, and it isn’t until Shadow gives her an important clue that Sally realizes where Elizabeth must be.

This book is currently out of print, but it’s one that I’d dearly love to see in print once more!  It is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction and Spoilers

Adults reading this story will probably realize before the children do (spoiler) that Aunt Sarah herself was the earlier Sally, the one who lost her favorite doll many years ago. “Sally” is a nickname for Sarah, like “Molly” can be for Mary and “Peggy” can be for Margaret, although any of those names can also be used by itself.  (In the Middle Ages, it was common for popular names to get different variations of nicknames by changing one sound in the original name and then changing one more sound in the first nickname to get another one, and sometimes even moving on to change one more sound to get yet another nickname that was very changed from the first. Those nicknames that look significantly different from their original names are a holdover from that practice, having lasted even into modern times.  John/Jack works on the same principle.  Fun fact!)  When Aunt Sarah grew up, she stopped using her childhood nickname, but the name was passed on to modern Sally.

At first, modern Sally sees her stern aunt as being witch-like, all dressed in black and fussy, but gradually, the memories of the past, her new relationship with young Sally, and the finding of her slightly-magical doll soften her. There are hints of Aunt Sarah’s youth in the attic, although Sally at first dismisses thoughts that some of the lovely things there could have belonged to her cranky old aunt because she has trouble thinking of her aunt as once having been young, pretty, and sweet. However, part of the theme of the story is that everyone was young once. Aunt Sarah is is bent and achy from arthritis, giving her the witch-like appearance and making her short-tempered at times. She also hasn’t been around children much for years, and part of her fussiness comes from forgetting what it was like to be young herself. Modern Sally, with her resemblance to her elderly aunt, and Elizabeth the doll both work their magic on her, reminding her what it was like to be a young girl and helping to revive a more youthful spirit in her.

I was happy that (further spoiler) Aunt Sarah decides not to sell the house after all, not just because she and Sally will get to spend more time together, but because old houses like that are rare these days. I like the idea that the old family heirlooms in the house will now be preserved, like the sleigh out in the old barn and the melodeon, a type of small organ.  I liked the way the book described the melodeon making musical sounds as people walk past it because of the way the floor boards move.  I also loved the description of the gas plant that Sally sees in earlier Sally’s memories.  If you’d like to see what a gas plant looks like when it’s lit, have a look at this video on YouTube.MagicElizabethMelodeon

Felicity’s Surprise

American Girls


Felicity’s Surprise by Valerie Tripp, 1991.

FelicityChristmasBenProtestThis is part of the Felicity, An American Girl series.

Christmas is coming, and Felicity is excited. She and Miss Manderly’s other students, Elizabeth Cole and her older sister, Annabelle, have all been invited to the Christmas party at the Governor’s palace! Miss Manderly is a friend of the dancing master who has been giving the governor’s children dancing lessons, so she was able to get invitations for her students. There will be a special dance lesson for all the children who come. With food, music, and dancing at the party, Felicity and Elizabeth are looking forward to dressing up like grown-up ladies going to a ball.

However, Ben, her father’s apprentice is against the idea of Felicity going because the Governor sides with the King and the Loyalists against the Patriots. He can’t understand why Felicity would want to attend a party with people who have treated the colonists so badly and have even boycotted her father’s store because he refuses to sell the taxed tea. However, Felicity’s father understands that the invitation was meant kindly and that it would be a special event for Felicity, so he tells her that she can go if she likes. Christmas should be a time for peace and enjoyment.

FelicityChristmasMotherIllAt Miss Manderly’s the girls start having dancing lessons, and Felicity wishes for a new gown, like the one on the elegant doll at the milliner’s shop. Since Felicity is usually not very interested in clothes, her mother decides to grant her wish.

When Felicity’s mother falls ill, not only do Felicity’s Christmas dreams seem dashed, but she worries about whether her mother will recover from her illness. Everything that Felicity was concerned about before, the dress, the dancing, the party, all suddenly seems unimportant and silly in the face of something more serious. However, miracles come to those who work for them, and Felicity receives some unexpected help from friends.

There is a section in the back with historical information about how Christmas was celebrated in Colonial America.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet


The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola, 1983.

This is a story about the Comanche People in what is now Texas, based on an old folktale.

There has been a severe drought and famine in the land for a long time, and many people have died.  The survivors pray to the spirits for help in ending the drought, and they receive a sign that it will not end until someone among the Comanches makes a sacrifice of the thing that is most dear to them.


The people debate about who is supposed to make the sacrifice and what object the spirits could want, but one young girl thinks that the spirits are talking about her and her doll.  The girl is called She-Who-Is-Alone because she is the last of her family.  Her parents and grandparents are dead, victims of the famine.  The only thing she has left to remind her of them is her doll, a warrior with blue feathers in its hair, that her parents made for her before they died.

Desperate to end the drought and famine and to save her people, the girl makes the difficult decision to sacrifice her doll by burning it.  Her sacrifice is rewarded not only by the end of the drought but by the sudden appearance of a field of flowers as blue as the feathers in her doll’s hair.  The girl receives a new name from her people, acknowledging her sacrifice on their behalf.


A section in the back of the book explains a little about the Bluebonnet flower, which is the state flower of Texas, and the origins of the story in the book, which is based on a folktale.  This is also a little information about the Comanche People.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).