Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees

Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees by Johnny Gruelle, 1924.

This book is part of the original Raggedy Ann series by its creator, Johnny Gruelle. Unlike earlier books in the series, this book is a single long adventure rather than a collection of short stories.

Raggedy Ann and Andy are lying in their doll bed in Marcella’s playhouse one night when they see a strange man sneaking up to the big house. They see him reach through a window, steal something, and run away. Wondering what just happened, they run to the house and talk the other dolls. The other dolls say that the thief just stole the French doll!

Raggedy Ann and Andy try to follow the man to rescue the French doll, but they can’t catch up to him because he flew away! As they try to figure out what to do, a fairy comes along. They explain the situation to the fairy, and the fairy says that they can fly if Granny Balloon Spider weaves a balloon for them. So, they go to Granny Balloon Spider weaves them a silken balloon, and they sail away into the air.

When Raggedy Ann and Andy decide it’s time for them to get off the balloon, they grab hold of a tree limb and untie the silken strings that have them tied to the balloon. When they jump down from the tree, they meet an old stuffed camel with wrinkled knees. They explain their situation to the camel, and the camel says that the man who took the French doll sounds like the one who kidnapped him from his owner, a small boy. The camel escaped from the man, but he thinks he could find him again, except that it was dark when he ran away, so he could find his way better if he couldn’t see.

Raggedy Ann and Andy tie a handkerchief around the camel’s eyes and climb on his back. At first, the camel just goes around in circles, but Raggedy Ann and Andy realize that he needs to run backward to retrace his steps, and then, they start getting somewhere.

Along the way, they meet a girl named Jenny who is trapped in a patch of snap dragons. The snap dragons won’t let her go. When they try to help her, Raggedy Ann and Andy get trapped by the snap dragons, too. They don’t know what to do until a tired old horse comes and rescues them.

Jenny explains that she was searching for her brother, Jan, who was kidnapped by a magical creature called a Loonie. The tired old horse says that he knows where Jan is now, so they decide to rescue Jan before continuing their quest to find the French doll.

The Tired Old Horse leads them to the tree where the Loonie lives, and the Camel recognizes it as the place that he escaped from. They discover that the Camel as the ability to get inside the magical tree when he’s blindfolded, and he carries the others inside. From there, they find a trap door that leads to Loonie Land.

In Loonie Land, they are captured and brought before the king of the Loonies, who is a very silly king. The king insists that they won’t let Jan go until they answer three riddles. The riddles are very silly and make little sense, but Raggedy Ann and Andy figure out that the king doesn’t know the answers himself, so as long as they give him some kind of answer, they will be answering the riddles. The king is astonished that they are able to come up with answers and tries to insist that he has to ask them three more riddles, but Raggedy Ann and Andy insist that they’ve fulfilled the bargain already and that they’re going to take Jan. Raggedy Andy tweaks the king’s nose, and the king summons his looniest knight to fight them.

The looniest knight comes riding up on a hobby horse, but he’s afraid of Raggedy Andy and pretends that his hobby horse is acting up and that it has thrown him off. Since Raggedy Andy has “vanquished” the looniest knight, the king decides that they can take Jan and go.

With Jan rescued, they are able to resume their quest to find the French doll. Going further, they meet Winnie the Witch. The witch says that the man with the French doll bought some magic medicine from her, but he gave her a lead dime. Since he cheated her, the witch says that the magic medicine she made for him won’t work. The tired old horse asks if she has some medicine that will make him less tired. When he has her medicine, he becomes more energetic.

When they ask the witch how to find the man with the doll, she has them close their eyes and count to ten. When they open their eyes, they find themselves outside the tent of the man who took the doll. It turns out that Babette, the French doll, was kidnapped by pirates! Getting away from them is also going to be difficult because the pirates have a jumping house boat!

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies – including an audiobook). The LibriVox audiobook is also available on YouTube.

My Reaction and Spoilers

This story is cute, and I’m sure that it would be amusing for young children. Actually, I found it amusing as an adult because there are some silly jokes in the book that adults can enjoy, like how Raggedy Andy keeps talking while trying to tell the camel that he shouldn’t talk because Raggedy Ann is trying to think. At one point, the camel also gets confused about why the French doll is French when she has a china head. (Ha, ha. Groan!) One of my favorite parts was the part with the king of the Looneys and his nonsense.

The ending is also pretty silly. The tired old horse convinces the pirates to reform by offering them lollipops. It turns out that the pirates are actually a bunch of girls in disguise! These girls apparently had a deprived childhood, but they always liked to read stories about pirates and pretend that they were pirates. When they had a chance, they bought this magical jumping ship and started playing out their pirate fantasies, trying to get all the things that they didn’t have when they were younger, which is why they’ve stolen toys and are easily bribable with candy.

The story has a happy ending where the pirates help Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, and the French doll get home. They reunite Jenny and Jan with their parents, and it turns out that the camel once belonged to Jan’s father. Jan’s father is happy to see his old toy and gives the camel to Jan.

Raggedy Andy Stories

Raggedy Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle, 1920.

This book is part of the original Raggedy Ann series by its creator, Johnny Gruelle. The first book in the series was just about Raggedy Ann, but this book introduces a boy doll named Raggedy Andy. The explanation behind Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy (according to the book, not real life) is that the two dolls belonged to a pair of childhood friends. One girl owned Raggedy Ann, and the other girl owned Raggedy Andy. At the beginning of this book, Raggedy Andy arrives by mail to join Raggedy Ann and the other dolls in Marcella’s nursery, supposedly sent to the author by the daughter of the woman who owned Raggedy Andy.

Every night when the humans in the house go to sleep, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy and the other dolls and toys come to life and have adventures. Each chapter in the book is its own short story. Some of the stories have morals to them about being generous and making others happy. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny also make appearances.

These stories can make good bedtime stories for young children because there is nothing at all stressful about them. The book makes it clear from the very beginning that dolls cannot be hurt, so whatever they go through in their adventures, no real harm is ever done.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Project Gutenberg (multiple formats) and Internet Archive (multiple copies – including an audiobook). The LibriVox audiobook is also available on YouTube.

Stories in the Book:

How Raggedy Andy Came

The package with Raggedy Andy arrives, and the author is sees that Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann are glad to see each other again. The dolls cannot talk to each other in front of humans, but the author senses that they have things to say to each other, so he leaves them alone together.

The Nursery Dance

Raggedy Andy is brought to Marcella’s nursery with Raggedy Ann and Marcella’s other toys. When Marcella plays with her toys, she talks for them, but the toys have private thoughts of their own that they can’t say in front of her. After Marcella goes to bed, the toys begin to move about on their own and talk to each other. Raggedy Ann introduces Raggedy Andy to the other toys. Raggedy Andy has been stored in a trunk for a long time. Although, he was friends with a family of mice during that time, he is glad to be among other toys again.

The Spinning Wheel

The dolls in the nursery have a pillow fight and get feathers all over the floor. They clean up the feathers, but one of Raggedy Andy’s arms fall off in the right. (This doesn’t really hurt him because, as the book explains, Santa Claus gives the toys he makes a special wish that prevents them from being hurt by anything.) Raggedy Andy says that his arm has been loose for a while. The dolls say that maybe Raggedy Ann could sew it back on, but they need to find a needle and thread first. The dolls go on a daring expedition to the sewing room to get them. As Raggedy Ann repairs Raggedy Andy’s arms, she tells the dolls about another time when she repaired Raggedy Andy’s arm.

The Taffy Pull

Raggedy Andy suggests to the other dolls that they have a taffy pull. At first, the others think it’s a new kind of game, but Raggedy Andy explains that it’s a way to make candy. This is a good time for them to do it because Marcella and her parents are away, visiting relatives, so there is no one home to notice the dolls using the kitchen.

(This story actually contains a pretty good description of making homemade taffy, although the dolls aren’t hurt by touching hot, sticky candy, and a human child would be.)

The Rabbit Chase

Marcella’s dog, Fido, knows that the dolls can talk and also talks to them. One night, Fido hears a strange scratching sound. He wants to bark at it, but the dolls don’t want him to bark because it will wake the humans. They let Fido outside so he can see what the sound is. It turns out to be a rabbit, and the rabbit tries to hide from Fido by running into the house and hiding in the nursery. Raggedy Ann tells Fido to leave the rabbit along and asks the rabbit why it was scratching at their house. The rabbit explains that he is an Easter Bunny, and he only came to leave a basket of Easter Eggs for the children of the house.

The New Tin Gutter

When the house gets a new tin gutter, the dolls have fun sliding down it until a couple of penny dolls get lost down a drain pipe. Then, Raggedy Andy gets stuck trying to rescue them! The other dolls don’t know how to get them out and are afraid that they are lost forever. Then, it starts to rain, and when Marcella’s father notices that the drain seems plugged, he calls some workmen to figure out why the drain won’t work. The adults assume that Marcella must have put Raggedy Andy down the drain pipe when she was playing.

Doctor Raggedy Andy

Marcella sometimes likes to pretend that her dolls are ill and gives them medicine made out of water and brown sugar. However, one day, she leaves the French doll lying in bed after giving her medicine, and the medicine hardens so that her open-and-close eyes are stuck closed. The other dolls try to figure out how to help her, but it’s Raggedy Andy who figures out what to do.

Raggedy Andy’s Smile

Raggedy Andy’s smile is wearing off because Marcella’s little brother fed him orange juice. (Little Dicky isn’t sorry that he did this because he is only two years old, and as the book notes, two-year-olds don’t have many sorrows.) Raggedy Andy still feels like the happy doll he is even with only half a smile left, but Raggedy Ann says maybe they should wash Raggedy Andy’s face. The others don’t think it will do much good. They go downstairs and are surprised to see a man there. Immediately, the dolls act like they can’t move because the don’t want the humans to know that they come to life. However, this isn’t an ordinary man. This is Santa Claus! Santa Claus fixes Raggedy Andy’s face and smile and also gives the other dolls new painted faces and repairs other problems the dolls have.

The Wooden Horse

The children of the house get a new wooden horse on wheels for Christmas with a wooden wagon hitched to it. The horse takes some time figuring out how to move because he wasn’t used to moving when he was on a shelf in a toy shop. When the horse figures out how to move, he gives rides to the other dolls and toys. The other dolls think that the horse has more fun than anybody because people who make others happy are happier themselves.

Making ‘Angels’ in the Snow

Raggedy Andy has been away from the other dolls for a while because he got wet and frozen playing with Marcella in the snow at her grandmother’s house and needed to dry out and warm up. The others ask him how it happened, and he tells them about going sledding with Marcella and making snow angels. Then, Marcella left him outside on her sled, so he got frozen. In spite of this, Raggedy Andy thinks that it was an exiting time!

The Singing Shell

Marcella brings home a seashell from her grandmother’s house. At first, the dolls aren’t sure what to think of it. When the dolls listen at the mouth of the shell, they hear a whispering sound. As they listen, the whispering tells them the story of the shell and how it came from the ocean. The shell was found by a diver, who sold it to Marcella’s grandmother when she was young. The shell also sings, and the dolls enjoy hearing it sing.

Barbie and the Missing Wedding Dress

The Missing Wedding Dress Featuring Barbie by Karen Krugman, illustrated by Laura Westlake, 1986.

This Little Golden Book is a cute mystery with Barbie and her younger sister Skipper.

Barbie’s friends, Tracy and Todd, are getting married, and Barbie and Skipper are helping Tracy to get ready. Barbie is going to be Tracy’s maid of honor, and Skipper will be the flower girl for the wedding.

However, when they’re helping Tracy to get dressed for the wedding, Barbie’s cat gets loose and Skipper accidentally tears Tracy’s dress trying to catch the cat. The three of them take the dress to the dressmaker to be fixed.

After the dress is repaired, they stop at the shoe store to pick up Barbie’s shoes. However, when they leave the store, they suddenly realize that they no longer have the box with the dress in it. Instead, they have a box that contains several pairs of jogging shoes! Somehow, the boxes were switched, but how are they going to find the person with the right box?

Barbie, Skipper, and Tracy track the person with the dress across town, using the clues that the jogging shoes belonged to a woman in a floppy straw hat with a red van that says “Flo” on it.

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

My Reaction

I read this book when I was a kid and I liked to play with Barbies, and I thought that having them solve a kind of mystery was fun, although it’s a very simple sort of mystery, chasing down a lost object. I liked this book a lot when I was little.

Barbie fans might notice that Skipper doesn’t have her 2000s look, basically looking like a smaller version of Barbie herself, which was how she looked in the 1980s and 1990s, when I got my Barbie dolls. Since then, Mattel has changed Skipper’s hair. However, people who are younger than I am might not be aware that Tracy was also a doll from the 1980s, a friend of Barbie who came in a wedding dress. This 1982 commercial on YouTube shows bride doll Tracy with her groom, Todd. The Tracy and Todd dolls existed before this book was written, so the book was written to give the dolls a story, and the dolls weren’t created based on the book.

Two Are Better Than One

Two Are Better Than One by Carol Ryrie Brink, 1968.

This is a gentle coming-of-age story about two thirteen-year-old girls in Idaho during the early 1900s, but it’s told in a interesting format, as the reminiscences of one of the girls as an old woman and focusing on a story that the girls were writing together as teenagers. It’s like a story about a story within a story.

One Christmas, elderly Chrystal Banks receives a special present from her old friend, Cordelia Crump. The package contains two miniature dolls (she calls them “pocket dolls”) that Chrystal gave to Cordelia 60 years before. At first, Chrystal doesn’t remember giving her friend Cordy” these dolls but admits that her memory is starting to fail her. As she studies the little china dolls and their exquisite details, she begins to remember them and when she gave them to her friend. The dolls’ names are Lester and Lynette, and Chyrstal remembers how Cordy used to say that the little dolls were magical because any day she carried them seemed to become special and exciting. Even when Chrystal and Cordy grew older, supposedly too old for dolls, they still continued to love and believe in the magic of their special pocket dolls.

Before young Chrystal Reese (as she was known before her marriage) gave the dolls to Cordy, they were a Christmas present to Chrystal from her Uncle Dick. That was the Christmas when the girls were in seventh grade and were early thirteen years old. Uncle Dick had acquired a number of interesting presents for Chrystal on his trip to Europe. He doted on his niece because she had no parents or siblings, living only with her grandmother and Aunt Eugenia and their dog, Rowdy. All of the presents are wonderful, but the little dolls are something special. As she unwraps them, they are hidden within a small box inside another box inside of another box (not unlike the story itself). Chrystal loves the elegant, detailed, jointed dolls immediately and names them Lester and Lynette because they just seem like the right names for the dolls.

Immediately, she goes to see if the little dolls will work well in the dollhouse that she’s made out of orange crates. She has spent considerable time and most of her allowance money putting paint and wallpaper into the little house and making furniture for it. She made all of the dollhouse furniture to fit two small dolls that she already has, Elsie and Eileen. However, Elsie and Eileen are four inches tall, and Lester and Lynette are only about two-and-a-half inches tall, so they won’t work in the house. At first, Chrystal is unsure what to do with the tiny dolls. She loves them, but she’s going to have to figure out where to put them and how to play with them if they won’t fit into the doll house. Then, she gets the idea to give the little dolls to her best friend, Cordy. It’s a sacrifice to part with such a lovely present so soon after getting it, but she wasn’t satisfied that the little bottle of perfume she was going to give Cordy was really a good present. Besides, the girls are so close that they already share everything with each other, and as they like to say “Two are better than one.” Giving the dolls to Cordy won’t be like giving them so much as sharing them with someone who can help to make them even more fun.

Cordelia Lark (her maiden name) grew up in a well-off family with mostly boys. Her father was president of the local bank and president of the school board and a civic leader in other ways, and Cordy had four brothers and no sisters. Cordy and Chrystal are kind of like the sisters neither of them ever had. They like to call each other “Tween”, which is their special pronunciation of “Twin.” They justify being twins because their birthdays are only two weeks apart, so they’re almost exactly the same age.

On the way to Cordy’s house to give her the special Christmas present, Chrystal passes by the courthouse. When she and Cordy pass the courthouse, they can see the barred windows of the jail, and they make up stories to spook each other about how one of the prisoners might escape. On this particular day, Chrystal sees one of the prisoners gripping the bars of his window and looking out. He’s the first prisoner Chrystal has ever actually seen. She’s a little afraid of him, and when he starts talking to her, she doesn’t know what to say at first. The man first asks her what she’s staring at, and then he wishes her a Merry Christmas, even though he’s not having one. Not knowing what else to do, Chrystal murmurs “Merry Christmas” back and hurries on.

When Chrystal gets to Cordy’s house, the two girls exchange presents. It turns out that each of them almost got the other some perfume, but each of them changed their mind at the last minute and decided on something better. Cordy’s present to Chrys (as she sometimes calls her) is a book, which makes Chrystal happy because she loves books and didn’t get any for Christmas this year. But, it’s not just any book. This is Chrystal’s first grown-up novel instead of a children’s book. (They mention the Oz books, the Little Peppers, and the Little Colonel series as books they’ve read.) It makes Chrys feel grown-up. It’s a romantic story about a Southern girl during the Civil War who falls in love with a Northern soldier and eventually marries him. Chrys says that Cordy shouldn’t have told her the ending before she’s read it, but she’s still thrilled at having her first grown-up book.

Chrys worries that, since Cordy gave her a grown-up present, she’ll think that the little dolls are babyish, but Cordy loves Lester and Lynette immediately. She says nobody gave her a doll this year, and she felt disappointed because she loves dolls, and it just didn’t seem like Christmas without one. Chrys explains that these are pocket dolls, and they’re meant to be carried around in pockets, so they can go everywhere with the owner. Cordy says that they’re so tiny and perfect that they must be magic, and she decides to keep the names that Chrys gave them, Lester and Lynette. Cordy thinks that the little dolls are perfect to take along on adventures.

When Chrys tells Cordy about the prisoner, the two of them are nervous, although they don’t really think he can escape. Chrys asks Cordy to walk her home, but after they pass the courthouse, Cordy realizes that she’d have to walk past the courthouse alone on her way home. So, Chrys and Cordy turn around and walk the other way again, but then, they realize that they still have the same problem. No matter which way they go, they have to pass the courthouse, and no matter who walks who home, one of them will have to go alone at least partway. After they go back and forth a couple of times, they pause in front of the courthouse, and Cordy has an idea. She gives Chrys the Lester doll, keeping the Lynette doll for herself. That way, each of them will have someone to keep them company, and it will be like they aren’t alone. It gives each of them enough courage to go the rest of the way home, and it’s the beginning of their adventures with the dolls.

Chrys is inspired by her first grown-up book, and she thinks that maybe she’d like to write novels when she grows up. When the girls are in school, they like to write notes and funny poems with each other when they’re supposed to be studying, and Chrys suggests to Cordy that they start writing a novel together. Cordy agrees, and they decide to take turns writing chapters. They decide that the story will be about Lester and Lynette, and Chrystal writes the first chapter. Chrystal calls the story “The Romantical Perils of Lester and Lynette.”

However, the girls get in trouble for goofing off and not paying attention in class. Their strict teacher, Miss Hickenlooper, decides that the two girls can’t sit together anymore, and she confiscates Lester and Lynette and locks them in her desk. The girls are devastated. If the teacher wanted them to move desks, that was disappointing but justified, but she had no right to just take the dolls. The girls think that they’ll have to wait until the end of term to get them back, but they continue writing the story about the dolls. Chrystal had been going to write the first chapter about an elopement, but because the dolls are now imprisoned in the teacher’s desk, she decides to write it as a prison escape instead.

In the new version of the first chapter of the story, Lester and Lynette are brother and sister, and they are imprisoned in a castle overlooking the Rhine river in Germany (part of the the girls’ geography lesson in school) by their evil guardian, Baron von Hickenlooper. Lynette is rescued/kidnapped by a Viking pirate named Oskar, who carries her away from her brother, who still remains in the castle.

From this point on, the events in Chrys and Cordy’s lives alternate with new chapters of their tandem story about Lester and Lynette. Pieces of the girls’ lives work their way into the story. When the girls are ready to trade turns writing the story, they give each other what they’ve written so far and say “Muggins!” (The word comes from playing games like Dominoes and Cribbage where, if one player spots that another has missed a score or failed to count something properly, they can call “Muggins!” and add the overlooked points to their own score. I think what they’re implying is that this story is a game where one person picks up whatever the other one has left unfinished.) The girls also continue adding verses to an unflattering poem that they started writing about their teacher.

By accident, the girls loose track of the mean poem about their teacher, and Miss Hickenlooper finds it. At first, the girls are terrified that Miss Hickenlooper is going to be furious with them and do something horrible in punishment, but to their surprise, she starts crying. Miss Hickenlooper end up having a heart-to-heart talk about the girls’ experiences in Miss Hickenlooper’s class, what Miss Hickenlooper hoped for when she started teaching, and why she took Lester and Lynette from them. Miss Hickenlooper had wanted to be a teacher for a long time and was looking forward to it, but she had been away from it for a long time because she had to take care of her mother during a lengthy illness. Since she started teaching again, she can tell that her students haven’t been happy with her, but after reading the poem, she realizes that it’s worse than she thought. Even strict teachers can be respected by their students as long as they’ve taught their principles well and the students are learning valuable lessons. Miss Hickenlooper feels like she’s failed as a teacher because she hasn’t managed to connect with her students at all, and she’s making them miserable. The girls come to the surprising realization that their teacher really does care about her students and what they think of her.

The talk between the girls and Miss Hickenlooper was a little uncomfortable because the girls realize that they’ve done an injustice to Miss Hickenlooper by writing the mean poem about her, but I actually liked this part of the story because it’s the kind of honest communication that I often find missing in stories. Rather than anyone blustering or dodging or trying to save face, the girls and their teacher honestly discuss what happened and how they feel, and everyone involved learns something from the experience. The girls appreciate having this “human” communication with their teacher, and it earns their respect, more than any angry tirade or show of strength on their teacher’s part ever would have. It’s this very kind of open honesty and humanity with real feeling behind it that’s been missing from the class so far, and it’s what has prevented Miss Hickenlooper from really connecting with her students.

The girls apologize to Miss Hickenlooper about the poem, and Miss Hickenlooper admits the justice of some of their complaints. Miss Hickenlooper admits that maybe she went a little far in making Cordy turn out her pockets and taking her dolls from her for an extended period of time. Getting into someone’s pockets and taking personal possessions is a kind of invasion of privacy, and Miss Hickenlooper says that she only did it because the girls weren’t paying attention in class, which is true. In return, Chrys and Cordy acknowledge that they only wrote the poem to blow off steam because they were angry, but they also went too far, and they really should have considered their teacher’s feelings. The girls promise not to write any more poems like that, and Miss Hickenlooper gives Lester and Lynette back to them. Miss Hickenlooper says Cordy can keep the dolls in her pocket if she wants as long as the girls pay attention in class from now on. To further apologize, the girls make cards for their teacher and give her the two bottles of perfume that they almost gave each other for Christmas (“Two are better than one.”), and they start going out of their way to be nicer to her.

The girls’ talks with Miss Hickenlooper through the rest of the school year give her feedback that helps her to improve as a teacher. Later, when the girls are watching a lightning artist (someone who paints pictures very fast, not the more modern definition of someone who works in animation) at work and happen to see Miss Hickenlooper in the store as well, they point out that one of the artist’s pictures reminds them of the Rhine that they studied in class. Miss Hickenlooper doesn’t think much of the quality of the painting, but she admits that it does look like the Rhine and that another painting the artist did reminds her of Switzerland when she was there. The girls are amazed that Miss Hickenlooper has been to Europe because, other than Chrys’s Uncle Dick, they don’t know anyone who has. They ask her why she never talked about it in their geography lessons because that would have made them much more exciting, hearing about other countries from the perspective of someone who was actually there. Miss Hickenlooper is surprised. She says that she was only focused on teaching the lessons that she was assigned to teach and just never thought about including anything personal because she didn’t think her students would be interested in her personal stories. Again, it’s that personal element that Miss Hickenlooper needs if she wants to connect with her students on a personal level.

As the story continues, the girls also start to consider their attitudes about boys and men and future husbands. So far, most of their knowledge of boys has come from the boys at school and Sunday school and Cordy’s brothers, all pretty immature and rowdy. But, the girls are growing up, and so are some of the boys. New young men also come into the girls’ lives.

A friend of Chrystal’s grandmother asks her if she would be willing to rent a room to her 19-year-old son, who is looking for a place to stay as he takes his first teaching job at the local college. (That sounds young for a college teacher. In modern times, a nineteen-year-old would be a college student himself. Remember, this is the early 1900s, and education in the United States was very different then. Back then, teachers didn’t need to have the advanced degrees that they do now, and Mr. Banks later explains that he skipped grades when he was younger to get through school faster.) Chrystal’s grandmother agrees, although Chrystal isn’t anxious to have a teacher living in her house after her problems with her own teacher at school. Chrys also isn’t sure what to expect from a man living in the house because there’s never been a man in this house before. Cordy’s brothers are pretty rowdy. However, their new lodger, Mr. Banks, turns out to be quiet, polite, and very nice. (His last name is an indication that he’s going to be Chrystal’s future husband. There’s six years’ difference in their ages, but as times goes on, and Chrystal gets older, that’s not going to seem like as much of a gap.) He is the first person to ever address Chrystal as “Miss Reese”, which makes her feel grown-up.

Cordy’s family also has a boarder, Mr. Crump, who is attending the local college (obviously, Cordy’s future husband, based on her future last name). Mr. Crump is working his way through college by selling pots and pans, and Cordy goes with him to help carry things, bringing along Chrys because “Two are better than one.” The girls end up giving him some advice on his sales patter that helps him make more sales.

Meanwhile, the girls’ Sunday school class, which calls itself the Dorcas Club, decides to host a masquerade party with the boys’ class (who have dubbed themselves the Armored Knights) as their guests. Chrys and Cordy think of the boys as immature and uncouth and roll their eyes at the older girls who are boy-crazy. Then, because the party is on Presidents’ Day, all of the girls in the group want to go dressed as Martha Washington, and there’s a big argument about it. Originally, Chrys and Cordy wanted to be Martha Washington, too, but since that’s what all the others want, they decide that they want to do something completely original. Inspired again by the dolls, they decide to go dressed as dolls. However, because they don’t want to be like the prissy girls trying to be pretty and impress the boys, they decide not to go as elegant dolls but as old rag dolls in patched clothing.

The girls do win prizes for both the funniest and most original costumes at the party because they’re the only girls who don’t show up as some version of Martha Washington. However, the triumph turns against them because the girls who are in charge of the main entertainment for the evening have decided to turn it into the girls’ very first dance party with the boys, something that Cordy and Chrys weren’t expecting. Rag doll costumes are good for fun and games, but not so much for serious dancing and the possibility of budding romance. While all of the boys are wearing various fanciful costumes themselves, like pirates and clowns and cannibals, it turns out that they’re only interested in the girls who dressed in pretty clothes as Martha Washington, and none of them want to dance with the rag dolls. Chrys and Cordy were proud of themselves for being more original than the other girls, but it seems that the boys prefer “pretty” to “original.” At the end of the evening, none of the boys even want to walk Chrys and Cordy home. Chrys and Cordy feel embarrassed because their efforts to be “original” seem to have strayed a little into the outlandish at a time when the other girls and boys are starting to seriously get interested in each other.

Fortunately, their families guessed that something of the sort might happen and asked the young men boarding with them to go to the house hosting the party and walk the girls home if they had no one else to walk with them. Mr. Crump confirms to the girls that boys would prefer to walk with girls who made an effort to look pretty instead of girls who look like rag dolls. Mr. Crump says that there will be other parties, and next time maybe they’ll go as something more elegant, like Martha Washington, but the girls aren’t too thrilled about doing this type of party again. Mr. Banks takes a different view and says that he actually thought that the rag doll costumes were rather clever and that it was really better for the girls to be different instead of trying to be like every other girl in order to not stand out. “Sometimes it may hurt, but I think it’s better to be original.” Mr. Banks the college teacher is more mature than Mr. Crump the college student, and I think he has the right idea. Looks and clothing styles change, and people have different priorities when they get older, but original thinking and an interesting personality are hard to replace and never go out style. When Chrystal says that she doesn’t even know how to dance, Mr. Banks offers to teach her, so she can be more confident at future parties.

Having the boarders walk them home actually turns out to be an unexpected victory for Chrys and Cordy because, while the other girls were making fun of them for not having any of the boys dance with them or walk them home, Chrys and Cordy ended up being escorted by young men. Getting boys is all well and good for young girls, but being escorted by young men makes Chrys and Cordy look like young women, putting them on a higher level than mere girls. Chrys and Cordy don’t see it that way at first because Mr. Crump and Mr. Banks are just their families’ boarders and friends and treat them like younger sisters (at this point in their lives, anyway), but the other girls notice that the young men are more mature than the Sunday school boys, and it causes them to look at Chrys and Cordy with a little more respect for having their attention. In some respects, Chrys and Cordy might seem less mature than the girls who are excited about wearing makeup and getting boys because they’re into outlandish costumes and dolls and “romantical” stories, but in other respects, they may actually be a little more mature than the other girls for being confident in their individuality and the new awareness they’re acquiring of other people’s feelings. In the end, girls want to marry men, not little boys, anyway.

Through the spring, the girls have other adventures and continue writing their story with their dolls. Along the way, there are other signs that the girls are growing up. They notice that this is the first year when they’re more interested in getting new Easter bonnets than they are in their Easter eggs. Cordy’s family is heavily involved in the social life of the local college because two of their boys are students there, and Cordy even gets to go to some of the campus parties. She helps to serve punch there and sometimes gets to dance. She eventually arranges for Chrys to come with her to help with serving and have her first dance, too. Miss Hickenlooper also discusses the girls’ future with them, suggesting that they take exams to see if they can skip the eighth grade and go straight into high school because she thinks they’re smart enough to pass. The girls are uncertain if they want to go on to high school so quickly. They know they’re growing up, but they haven’t thought about high school yet (and this is a time period when not everyone even attended high school). There is also the horrible thought that one of them might pass the test while the other didn’t, and they might end up going to different schools and being in different grades. Miss Hickenlooper says that they don’t necessarily have to go on to high school yet, if they feel that they’re not ready, even if they’re offered the opportunity, but she urges them to take the tests anyway to see if they have the option. It makes the girls start questioning their future lives, what they really want, and where their education will take them.

At one point, Cordy’s brothers find their unfinished novel in Cordy’s room, steal it, and use it to make fun of the girls. The story isn’t really very well written because Chrys and Cordy are only thirteen years old. As readers will have noticed, there are spelling mistakes all through the story, and the girls also get mixed up about geography because they’re just focused on making the story exciting instead of really thinking about the setting. After their characters’ adventures on the Rhine, the girls send them floating in a boat to a tropical island with coconuts and palm trees because they don’t think about just how far away the tropics actually are. (Being shipwrecked on an island is also a common trope of vintage and antique children’s books, so they’ve probably read this type of story themselves. Just scroll through my lists of children’s books from the 1900s and earlier, and you’ll see what I mean.) Although Mr. Crump was laughing at the girls, too, he rescues the story from Cordy’s brothers and gives it back to them when he sees that the joke is going too far. However, the girls are somewhat dispirited, thinking that their story might be deeply flawed. At first, they don’t know if they really want to continue writing it, but in their desperation, they turn to the one person they know will be honest with them about what they’ve written and can not only tell them whether or not the story can be fixed but how to do it – their teacher, Miss Hickenlooper.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

Themes, Spoilers, and My Reaction

The story is one of those gentle, calm stories with a few funny episodes and some genuinely touching moments. Fans of slice-of-life historical books like the Betsy-Tacy series will like this book. It is a coming-of-age story for Chrys and Cordy, as they begin to develop new attitudes and come to a deeper understanding of themselves and other people and start thinking about the future. However, the girls’ adventures also teach other people around them some lessons.

One of the themes of the book involves how people let their personalities show. Although the girls were originally thought silly for their outlandish rag doll costumes at the party, they were more bold and creative than the girls who just wanted to look like everyone else. Even though their creativity wasn’t fully appreciated at first, it ends up working in their favor in the long run.

One of the biggest developments in the story is the relationship between the girls and their teacher, and the keys to that relationship are learning how to see other people as people, how to be open about showing their personal sides, and how to appreciate people with different personalities. The girls begin as thoughtless students, and their teacher is a strict disciplinarian with little patience for their goofing off, which is why the girls see her as their antagonist. However, the girls’ eventually realize that, through their mean and complaining poem, they’ve hurt their teacher’s feelings as much as she’s hurt theirs, maybe more. It leads them to see her in a new light, as a person and just just their jailer (the role of her alter ego in the girls’ story). The honest talks between the girls and their teacher not only helps the girls to become more thoughtful and considerate of others’ feelings but also show their teacher that the key to improving her teaching and developing a better relationship with her students is to be a little more personal with her students. She gradually learns that letting her students see her as a person with interesting life experiences earns their respect more than just acting like an unfeeling drill sergeant enforcing discipline. Inspired by the girls’ interest in her travels when she was younger, Miss Hickenlooper starts bringing postcards and souvenirs from her travels to class to show during geography lessons. The students are fascinated by her souvenirs and stories and start thinking of her as an a kind of intrepid explorer or sophisticated world traveler instead of a dull woman who focuses on dry memorization and gets mad at them for daydreaming in class. As she tries new ways of approaching her lessons and adding in personal experiences, Miss Hickenlooper takes on a whole new role in the children’s lives and sparks all of their imaginations. All of the students, not just Chrys and Cordy, start behaving better because they become genuinely interested in what Miss Hickenlooper has to say and show them. They don’t want to make her angry because she’ll stop telling the interesting stories if they don’t get their work done. Just because she’s gotten more interesting and personal doesn’t mean she’s gotten soft. Don’t be afraid to be interesting and different!

The girls never actually show Miss Hickenlooper their story because they’re a little embarrassed by what they’ve gotten wrong, but they ask her questions about some of the things that they put in their story to find out what’s right. They do end up finishing the story and giving Lester and Lynette a grand wedding, but they also acknowledge that they are getting too old and busy with other things to continue playing with dolls, even Lester and Lynette. They plan to put Lester and Lynette away for now as souvenirs of their childhoods. Later, they do tell Miss Hickenlooper about their novel, and while she hasn’t read it, she has the feeling that she knows what it’s like from knowing the girls and their writing. (The girls wrote about scenes from their novel when asked to describe places they know for their high school entrance exams.) She tells them that she appreciates their imaginations but that they should remember to focus on the real world around them and gaining real experiences to write about in the future.

There are also themes that focus on what growing up and maturity mean. Because the story focuses on one school semester in the girls’ lives, there are many questions that the book leaves unresolved about what happened in the girls’ later lives, but it seems that their lives turned out well, and they look back on their experiences with Lester and Lynette as a turning point when they really started growing up. Toward the end of the story, the girls begin appreciating some of the possibilities of life and the wider world that they never considered before. Through it all, there is also the girls’ constant friendship. At the very end, elderly Chrys writes a letter to elderly Cordy, thanking her for sending the dolls and reminding her of this special time in their lives.

The author of this book, Carol Ryrie Brink, was also a child around the time that Chrys and Cordy were children. There is a picture of her as a child above her biography on the dust jacket of the book. She is also the author of Caddie Woodlawn, which is better known than this book.

I love books that contain details about life in the past, and there are a lot of fun details included in this story. I’ve mentioned some above, but that’s just scratching the surface. At one point, Chrystal says that the only paper she has that’s good for painting pictures is the pieced of paper that separate pieces of Shredded Wheat in the box. The lined paper from the notebooks she uses for school isn’t as good. When she’s out of those pieces of paper, she has to eat more Shredded Wheat to get more. I don’t remember seeing any similar kind of paper in shredded wheat boxes in my lifetime, so this must be something that existed before modern packaging.

At the college dances, the girls have dance cards for the young men to write their names and initials in to secure spots for dances. There are also occasional mentions of food, and Chrys mentions having floating island pudding for dessert, which I’d never heard of before. It’s a kind of meringue that floats on a base of vanilla custard.

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World by Phyllis McGinley, 1950.

Dulcy is a little girl who is rarely satisfied by anything. She has a big imagination, and is always wishing for something better than what she has. Dulcy has an impressive collection of dolls, but even though she loves all of her dolls, she can’t help but think sometimes that some of them would look better with a different hair color or with different clothes or with some other small detail changed. No matter how good something is, it’s never completely perfect.

Then, one day, an elderly friend, Mrs. Primrose, gives Dulcy a doll named Angela. Dulcy likes Angela, although her immediate thought is that Angela would be even better if she had dark hair instead of blonde, finding a tiny fault as she always does. But, by accident, Dulcy loses Angela on the way home. She sets Angela’s box down when goes to help rake leaves into a bonfire, and when she goes to retrieve her, she can’t find her.

Once Angela is gone, Dulcy’s attitude changes. Dulcy is upset about the loss of Angela, realizing that Angela really was a precious and special doll. Her mother offers to get a replacement doll that looks like Angela, but Dulcy can’t imagine that any doll would be as special as Angela. As Dulcy describes the doll to her mother, she says that Angela was blonde with a blue dress and pinafore and eyes that could open and close. Those aren’t terribly unusual qualities for a doll, but Dulcy also adds that Angela had shoes with heels and could say “Mama” and “Papa” and sing Rockabye Baby. Those are more unusual, and Dulcy’s mother agrees that she probably won’t be able to find a doll that does all that.

However, readers soon begin to notice that Angela becomes increasingly wonderful each time that Dulcy describes her. When her father offers to buy her another doll, Dulcy adds that Angela could also walk and wave her hand. Dulcy tells her teacher about Angela’s little purse and gloves. She tells her friend Margery about Angela’s raincoat and umbrella.

The more Dulcy thinks about and talks about her wonderful doll, the less satisfied she is with her other dolls. None of them can compare to the amazing Angela! When her Aunt Tabitha gives her a skating doll, suddenly the missing Angela acquires the ability to skate as well. No doll that Dulcy has or ever could have could compare to the missing Angela!

Other children at school are fascinated by Dulcy’s descriptions of Angela and all of the marvelous things Angela had and Angela could do, which get more and more wonderful every time Dulcy tells the story. Then, people start getting tired of hearing about Angela. Dulcy’s friends don’t like hearing that their dolls aren’t as good as Angela, and people stop giving Dulcy dolls as presents because she always says that they’re not as good as Angela.

Then, one day, when Dulcy is playing with a new girl in the neighborhood, they find the box with the missing Angela. When Dulcy sees how the real Angela compares to the one that she dreamed about and imagined when she was lost, Dulcy comes to a greater understanding of the power of her imagination and the need to appreciate things being just the way they are.

Dulcy doesn’t completely give up imagining things and dreaming of perfection, but she does learn that part of growing up is remembering the difference between what she imagines and what is real. She realizes that when she was moping about the doll she didn’t have, she kept herself from having fun with the dolls she did have and discouraged people from giving her other nice dolls. Dulcy saves all the of the amazing qualities that she dreamed of for Angela and gives them to an imaginary doll called Veronica. Dulcy keeps Veronica as her perfect doll in her imagination, and she knows that Veronica is imaginary. As long as she can have her imaginary doll to be as amazing and perfect as she wants, she can be happy with her other dolls being just the way they are, and they make her happy, too.

The book is a Caldecott Medal winner. It is available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive.

Mystery of the Secret Dolls

Mystery of the Secret Dolls Cover

Mystery of the Secret Dolls by Vicki Berger Erwin, 1993.

Bonnie Scott is visiting her great-aunts, Nell and Mollie, in Callaway County over the summer. Aunt Nell invited her to come and help set up her new doll museum, but Bonnie also wants to take advantage of the trip to work on a project about family history. Aunt Mollie has a restaurant, and Bonnie wants to talk to her about old family recipes that she uses and make a book about them. Unfortunately, when Bonnie arrives in her aunts’ town, she learns that Aunt Mollie has closed her restaurant and is helping Aunt Nell with her doll museum. From Bonnie’s awkward arrival, when no one comes to meet her at the bus stop and Marc, the grandson of the local doctor, Dr. Allen, has to help her find her way to her aunts’ house, she begins to see that things aren’t quite what she thought they were in her family and in her aunts’ town.

The reason why no one came to meet Bonnie is that Aunt Nell accidentally injured herself when she fell off a table she was standing on in order to change a light bulb. She broke her leg and had to go to the doctor. Now that Aunt Nell is in a wheelchair, she says that she will especially need Bonnie’s help, although Aunt Nell and Aunt Mollie also have a young black girl, Lynette Key, staying with them and helping out. Lynette is the daughter of an old family friend, and her family’s history is intertwined with Bonnie’s family. Through her aunts and Lynette, Bonnie comes to understand a little more about her family’s history with dolls and the relationship between Aunt Nell and Aunt Mollie.

Aunt Nell is the older of the two sisters, and she’s been bossing Aunt Mollie around for years, and she’s apparently the one who convinced Mollie to close her restaurant and help her with the doll museum project. The old family home belongs to both of them, although Mollie lived in another house while her husband was still alive. Now that both women are childless widows and Mollie has moved back into the family home, Nell has gone back to her old ways of bossing Mollie around. Bonnie is alarmed when Mollie reveals that there has been a break-in, vandalism, and a fire, apparently deliberate, at the museum, and she thinks that Nell should put off the opening, but Nell is trying to ignore the situation and charge ahead with the project, dragging Mollie and Bonnie with her. The aunts are going to have a security system installed at the museum.

Aunt Nell says their family, the Scotts, have made dolls for about 150 years. She shows Bonnie her doll collection, including the portrait dolls, startlingly realistic dolls made of every member of their family, including Bonnie’s ancestors, like her great-great-great-grandfather who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Aunt Nell apparently strongly identifies with the South and Confederacy because she keeps trying to blame the troubles at the museum on “some Yankee.” Not in a specific sense and not necessarily with any particular person in mind (although there is one person who is also labeled as a Yankee who is a suspect for awhile), it’s more that she just generally associates Yankees with bad stuff, and she says that she hopes that Bonnie hasn’t turned into a Yankee from living in a big city like St. Louis. Although the dolls belong to both of the sisters, Aunt Nell really thinks of the dolls as being hers, and she’s determined to make Bonnie’s family history project about the dolls, whether Bonnie wants it to be or not. Aunt Nell says that Lynette’s grandmother used to work for her, making dolls, and she’s pleased that Lynette shares her interest in dolls, but Lynette privately tells Bonnie that the situation goes deeper than that.

As you might have guessed, Aunt Nell’s mental version of history, including the history of her own family, isn’t entirely accurate. Marc lends Bonnie a history book about the area written by his grandfather, but Lynette tells Bonnie not to let Aunt Nell see it because she and Dr. Allen have very different views about history, and Dr. Allen is a “Yankee.” Bonnie asks her what she means by that, and Lynette says that the Scotts have never gotten over being on the losing side of the Civil War. Dr. Allen, by contrast, believes that the Civil War turned out just fine with the South losing, which makes him a Yankee. It matters because Aunt Nell’s interpretation and attitude toward the past is affecting life in the present.

Although Aunt Nell is mentally on the side of the Confederacy, she doesn’t say anything in support of the idea of slavery and doesn’t seem to have bad feelings about Lynette being black. Nell is actually very fond of Lynette, treating her almost like a young niece, and I suspect that Nell probably mentally replaces the word “slave” with “servant” in her head, as some of the other characters in the book do until Lynette reminds them that there’s a difference and it matters. Nell’s attachment to her family’s grand history (which may not be quite what she makes it out to be) and her feeling that the doll-making business must pass to a blood relative keep her from fully seeing the potential that Lynette has to continue the doll-making traditions that their families both share, something that Lynette really wants to do.

Lynette says that women in her family have worked for the Scott women for generations, making dolls. They were originally slaves belonging to the Scott family, and they even shared the same last name because slaves were sometimes given the surnames of their masters. (In my home town, I’ve met black people with the surname White, which might seem a little odd and contradictory, but this is the probable reason why they have that last name.) Some slaves changed their last names after Emancipation, but not all. Lynette says that even after her ancestors were freed from slavery, one of her ancestors, Rosa, chose to keep the last name Scott because of her connection to the doll-making business.

Lynette points out a section in Dr. Allen’s history book about the Scott dolls having a connection to the Underground Railroad because some of them seemed to have been used as signals for escaping slaves. Margaret Scott, an ancestor of Bonnie’s, used to make black dolls, each with a distinctive little red heart sewn on the chest, and after she made one, a slave would mysteriously disappear. She eventually had to stop doing it because people in the area were getting suspicious of her and put pressure on her to stop. In fact, Lynette says Margaret’s own father, the Confederate colonel, tried forced her to stop, saying that he’d close down her doll-making business if she didn’t, but that Margaret and Rosa actually continued making the black dolls in secret, something that Aunt Nell doesn’t believe. The history book notes that the dolls are rare and valuable collectors’ items. Lynette says that Aunt Nell only has one of these black dolls, and she keeps it locked up for safe-keeping, denying that there even are others, but Lynette is sure that there are more, possibly hidden somewhere. Lynette wants to find these dolls, not only because they are valuable but because they can help prove her family’s connection to the Scott doll-making business. Lynette says that her ancestors never got the credit for the beautiful dolls they made because they were only ever slaves or employees of the Scotts, and the entire doll business was in the Scott family name.

Lynette wants to become a doll maker herself, but Aunt Nell really wants Bonnie to take over the family tradition, even though Bonnie has never really been interested in dolls and would prefer to talk cooking and recipes with Aunt Mollie. The realistic dolls portrait dolls actually kind of give Bonnie the creeps, but Lynette has a sentimental attachment to them because she’s been around them all her life, since her grandmother was a doll maker. Once Bonnie understands the history between her family and Lynette’s and Lynette’s doll-making ambitions, she sees why Lynette seemed a little cold to her at their first meeting, but she isn’t interested in learning the doll business or competing with Lynette to be Aunt Nell’s successor. Even though Aunt Nell is bossy and doesn’t understand Lynette’s deep desire to be a doll maker and continue the Scott doll-making business, Lynette kind of likes her and wants to show her that she is just as attached to the doll-making traditions as she is. Lynette and Bonnie make a deal that Lynette will help Bonnie get the recipes she wants from Aunt Mollie if Bonnie will talk to Aunt Nell about the black dolls and try to get more information about them.

Bonnie thinks that hunting for the long-lost dolls sounds exciting. It occurs to her that the valuable dolls might be the reason why someone broke into the doll museum. The aunts’ old house is spooky, right next to a graveyard, and on Bonnie’s first night there, someone leaves Margaret’s portrait doll (which looks a great deal like Bonnie) in Bonnie’s room with a note that says, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” What does the note mean? Who left the doll, and is it connected to the other strange things happening around the doll museum? Is someone trying to scare Bonnie? Are the missing black dolls still somewhere nearby, and can Bonnie and Lynette find them? What is the real truth about the dolls and what happened in Callaway years ago?

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

My Reaction and Spoilers

Although this story doesn’t quite deal with racism in the sense of people hating other people because of race, there is a lot in here about the nature of prejudice, on several levels. Aunt Nell has many preconceived notions about her family and how things in her family ought to be. She assumes from the beginning, when Bonnie contacts her aunts to talk about family history, that Bonnie will do her project about the dolls and the family’s doll-making history and that Bonnie will help her with her doll museum and eventually take over the dolls from her. Aunt Nell started out their relationship with a lot of assumptions, and her assumptions about Bonnie have blinded her to the possibility that Lynette could be the successor to the doll-making business and doll museum that she really wants because they share a common love of dolls and skill in making them. Lynette has already started learning the doll-making business, first from her grandmother and then from Nell, because she loves it, and she is willing to work at developing her skills. She has a similar vision to Nell about the doll business and museum, and the two of them get along well, in spite of Aunt Nell’s bossy personality. It’s only Aunt Nell’s narrow vision of family and sense that the doll-making business should pass to family that keep her from considering the possibility at first. Meanwhile, Bonnie and Mollie are both being forced to go along with Nell’s plans because of what Nell thinks they should do as family, while they both have very different interests and would like the freedom to pursue them. Aunt Nell also has been assuming many things about her sister Mollie for years.

Over 100 years earlier, Margaret Scott also belonged to a family that did not share her interests and her vision of the future. Although she used slave labor in building her doll-making business, she and Rosa found a way to use their craft to help escaping slaves. The Scott family took pride in the doll-making business for generations, but there were sides to Margaret and the dolls that they didn’t understand and appreciate. Before the end of the book, Aunt Nell comes to understand that their family has more variety than she had ever considered and that her goals might not be everyone’s goals.

The ending of the story makes sense and is realistic, but I’ll admit that there were a couple of points that I might have clarified or done differently if I had written the ending. Sometimes, when I’m not entirely satisfied by the ending of a book, I like to say what I would have changed about it, but it’s difficult to do that here without giving too much away. Part that I can say is that I wished that Nell and Mollie had thought of more creative ways to combine their separate interests, like how Bonnie’s final family history project ends up being a combination of both – a cookbook of family recipes, illustrated with pictures of the portrait dolls that represent the people who invented or enjoyed the different recipes. In fact, a cookbook of historical recipes with pictures of historical dolls sounds like a book that many people would actually be interested in buying if they published it professionally and even sold copies through the doll museum, and I found myself wishing that one of the characters would mention that before the end of the book.

The story ends with the impression that Lynette will keep working with Nell and the dolls because, while Bonnie says that she’ll come back and visit, she doesn’t have the interest in doll-making that Lynette does, but I also kind of wished that they would clarify more definitely that Lynette would be continuing the doll-making business. The girls are young yet, so maybe they didn’t feel the need to decide their futures definitely, and it’s enough just to show that’s how things are looking at the end of the book. I had half expected that it would turn out that Lynette and Bonnie are actually related because sometimes slave owners did have children with their slaves, and I suspected that one of the Scott family secrets might have been that Rosa was actually a blood relative and that was part of the reason why she was so close to Margaret and why she kept the Scott family name. The story doesn’t bring up that possibility, focusing on a different secret relationship instead, but I’m still keeping it in mind as a private theory. I like the idea because, if it was true, then it would strengthen Lynette’s ties to the doll-making business she loves, and I think that Nell would appreciate the idea of bringing her more fully into the business as a relative. But, perhaps it’s enough that they just both share the same interest in life

Four Dolls

FourDolls

Four Dolls by Rumer Godden, 1983.

This is a collection of four stories about different, special dolls.  Each of the stories is from the perspective of the dolls themselves, talking about their owners and their adventures.  A common thread through all four stories is the bond between the dolls and their owners and how they make a difference in each other’s lives.

Even though the collection of stories is from 1983, each of the individual stories in the book was written separately, in different years.  You can find each of these stories as their own individual books as well as part of other collections.  I give the original years of each story next to their titles.

The pictures in the book are wonderful, some of them in black and white and some in full color.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The four dolls and stories are:

Impunity Jane (1955)

FourDollsJane

The word “impunity” basically means freedom from harm, and it’s an apt nickname for the doll Jane.  She’s a very sturdy little doll, the kind that can stand up to the rough play of children and last for a long time.  From the time when she is first bought, she stays with her original owner’s family, passed down through the generations and enjoyed by various girls in the family.  However, they mostly keep her in the family doll house and play with her in different ways.  One girl likes to sew clothes for her and another, who wants to be a teacher, gives her lessons.

There is just one problem: Jane is frequently bored.  More than anything, she wants to be a pocket doll, carried around in her owner’s pocket, seeing the world and experiencing everything.  She doesn’t get much excitement in the doll house where the girls keep her, and her latest owner doesn’t seem interested in playing with her at all.  But, unexpectedly, a boy in the family comes to her rescue, the younger cousin of her current owner.  Although most boys aren’t interested in playing with dolls, Gideon likes to use Jane as his “model”, taking her outside, carrying her around in his pocket, and giving her rides in his toys, giving Jane the adventurous life she’s always dreamed of!

At first, Gideon borrows the doll without his cousin’s permission, and Jane dreads the day that he will give her back, even though she hates to see Gideon feel guilty.  Fortunately, when Gideon does take her back, it turns out that his older cousin is getting rid of a lot of her old toys because she’ll soon be heading off to boarding school. She tells Gideon that he can have anything he wants, so he keeps Jane, who continues being Gideon’s model and good luck charm.

The Fairy Doll (1956)

FourDollsFairy

Elizabeth is the youngest of her siblings and feels like she can’t do anything right.  She’s always making mistakes and can’t even ride a bicycle.  Everyone is used to telling her what to do, and she receives a lot of criticism from teachers and parents and teasing from other children, giving her poor self-confidence.  She is clumsy and break things, she forgets things, and she is frequently punished for every little thing she does.  The more they all scold her, the more mistakes she makes, and they can’t seem to figure out why.

(It’s painfully obvious while reading it – Elizabeth’s family makes her live in a constant state of nervousness, and she’s afraid of really trying many things because they keep telling her that she can’t do anything.  Her siblings seem more outright abusive rather than simply teasing, and her parents seem clueless, not punishing the older siblings for their terrible, bullying behavior.  I think that the family is meant to seem merely impatient with Elizabeth because they forgot how much younger she is than the other children and perhaps thoughtless to the effect that they’re having on her, but it seriously looks like they’re actually gaslighting the poor kid, purposely and systematically undermining her self-confidence for their own sick amusement, even the girl’s father.  Seriously, I hated all of them (except Elizabeth, whose only real problem is being a little kid) before I was very far into the story.)

However, the Fairy Doll that has been passed down in their family seems to have a kind of magic effect on Elizabeth.  No one knows quite where the doll came from because it’s been around for so long, although they use her as a Christmas decoration every year, at the top of the tree.  Only Elizabeth’s mother and great-grandmother seem concerned about Elizabeth at all, and it is at the great-grandmother’s insistence that Elizabeth be given the Fairy Doll to play with all year, after Elizabeth accidentally breaks a crystal bowl. (Which she only did because her bratty sister Josie shoved her from behind while she was holding it. Why did the parents never notice and properly punish the little brat Josie like they should?  I’m telling you, they’re clueless and useless, and possibly gaslighting her.  It really looks like that.  The father even makes a big deal about what use it is to give Elizabeth Christmas presents like the other children when she doesn’t ride the bike he gave her. Look, she’s just a little kid, and it takes some kids longer to learn to balance than others.  What a weird, oddly vindictive father.)

The Fairy Doll seems to suggest things to Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth doesn’t quite know how to do something, the Fairy Doll gives her hints.  When Elizabeth is in danger of forgetting something, the Fairy Doll reminds her.  In other words, the Fairy Doll does what a family is supposed to do and what her family could do if they weren’t so busy bullying her. The Fairy Doll offers Elizabeth help, support, and guidance.  Elizabeth is only seven years old at the oldest in the story, and Elizabeth’s family is too busy yelling at her for doing little things wrong or not knowing things to properly teach her anything.  They say that they tried to teach her to ride a bike, but I wonder how much “teaching” actually happened and how much it was really just yelling and mocking her for not already being able to do it.  I think they also get kind of a kick out of seeing Elizabeth look bad because they think it makes themselves look better. 

(The father in the story seriously disturbed me.  What kind of father is that hateful just because a very young child has some trouble riding a bike? Also, what’s the hurry in her riding it right away? Bikes don’t come with an expiration date, so it’s still going to be there when she grows a little more and learns to balance better.  Taking a little while to learn to ride a bike is hardly a sin, but Elizabeth’s father makes it clear that he does not care about Elizabeth’s feelings at all.  She has to buy his affection by . . . learning to ride a bike?  Because only bike riders are truly worthy of love?  Elizabeth’s family is really useless and weirdly vindictive.  I still hate them.  They are that horrible, just hearing about them.)

Little by little, Elizabeth’s small successes add up, and Elizabeth slowly crawls out of her shell, becoming more confident while her nasty, bratty, horrible siblings (yeah, I’m still angry, and I wonder if the father’s favorite little darling is the little psycho Josie) marvel at how she changes.

Little by little, Elizabeth comes to realize that she can do more than she thinks she can.

The Story of Holly and Ivy (1959)

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Holly the doll doesn’t like being in the toy shop.  Abracadabra the owl frightens her, and she wishes that someone would buy her and give her to some girl as a Christmas present.

Meanwhile, Ivy is a troubled orphan who dreams of a new home with a grandmother who could take care of her.  When other children from the orphanage are taken to spend Christmas with families and Ivy is left behind, she tries to take matters into her own hands and find a family for herself.  Is there someone who could make wishes come true for both Holly and Ivy?

I worried about Ivy during this story, even though I knew that she and Holly would eventually end up together and okay.  She is lucky that she didn’t freeze to death.  Abracadabra the owl is also kind of a disturbing character, but they also get rid of him by the end of the story.  Apparently, the assistant in the toy stop doesn’t like him, either.

Candy Floss (1960)

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Candy Floss the doll belongs to Jack, who runs a carnival game, a “coconut shy,” where people try to throw balls at coconuts to knock them down and win a prize.  She enjoys living with Jack and his dog.  Jack has a special music box with a little horse on top, and Candy Floss sits on the horse while the music box plays and Jack’s dog begs nearby.  In this way, Candy Floss and the dog earn a little extra money.  When Jack is done working, he takes his dog, Cocoa, and Candy Floss the doll with him to see the rest of the carnival, and both of them enjoy it.

One day, a spoiled girl named Clementina attends their carnival.  Although Clementina is from a wealthy family, and her parents give her all sorts of things, she finds that she is frequently bored and unhappy.  When Clementina sees Candy Floss, she wants her, too, and is angry when Jack says that she can’t have her.  It’s the first time in her life that anyone has said “no” to Clementina about anything.  Clementina steals Candy Floss just to prove the point that when she wants something, she gets it.

However, Candy Floss wants to return to Jack.  She refuses to accept Clementina as her new “owner,” resists Clementina’s efforts to play with her (much to Clementina’s surprise), and finds a way to teach Clementina a lesson about greed.

In the end, Clementina not only returns Candy Floss but helps Jack to run his carnival game for awhile.  Part of Clementina’s unhappiness is caused by the fact that, even though she has many toys to play with, she doesn’t have much to do that is really meaningful to her.  She is surprised when she discovers how good it can feel to really earn something, like the coins that Jack gives her for helping him.

One of the cute things about this story is that it includes the music and words for the tune in the music box.

The book, which contains all four of these stories, is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Katy Comes Next

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Huggins and Kisses

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Huggins and Kisses by Susan Creighton, illustrated by Ron C Lipking, 1985.

Mary has been wanting a dog for some time. She admires her neighbor’s dog, Sugar, who is so well behaved.

When her parents finally give her the puppy she’s been wanting, Mary is thrilled, and names the puppy Kisses. However, taking care of a dog and training it turns out to be a lot more work than Mary expected! Kisses doesn’t know how to walk on a leash, and he sometimes chews things he shouldn’t.

One day, Mary gets angry with Kisses for ripping the arm off of her favorite doll and yells at him. While Kisses is hiding under Mary’s bed, and Mary is crying, one of the Hugga Bunch, Huggins, appears to comfort them. Mary is surprised to see Huggins, and she explains to Mary that she is from Huggaland, which can be reached through her bedroom mirror. She invites Mary to see it for herself, and Kisses follows them.

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In Huggaland, Huggins repairs Mary’s doll, which makes her feel better. Then Kisses knocks over the birdbath at Huggins’s house, and Mary gets angry again. Huggins points out to Mary that Kisses hasn’t actually broken anything and that he was probably looking for water because he was thirsty. Huggins gives Kisses more water and a hug.

Mary asks Huggins how she can hug Kisses when he’s been bad, and Huggins explains the importance of gentle discipline. Dogs may be naughty sometimes, but what they really need is love and training. Mary just hasn’t been patient with Kisses and given him the time he needs to learn how to behave.

Mary remembers how much that she really loves Kisses and resolves to give him the time and attention he needs to learn to be a good dog.

It’s a cute picture book, and a nice story about learning to care for pets, giving them the training they need and the time to learn.

A Hugga Bunch Hello

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A Hugga Bunch Hello by Phyllis Fair Cowell, illustrated by Ron C Lipking, 1985.

Bridget likes having her grandmother living with her and the rest of her family. Her grandmother always has time for her and is willing to give her a hug. Her parents are often too busy, her brother thinks hugs are just for girls, and her Aunt Ruth is too fussy.

Then, Aunt Ruth tries to persuade everyone that Bridget’s grandmother should go live in a nursing home. Bridget doesn’t want her grandmother to leave, but she doesn’t know what to do about it.

While she worries, a strange little person steps out of her bedroom mirror. This little person is Huggins, one of the Hugga Bunch. She says that she knows about Bridget’s problem and thinks that she can help. She invites Bridget to come with her to Huggaland.

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In Huggaland, the Hugga Bunch take Bridget to see the Book Worm, who may have the solution that Bridget seeks. Both the Hugga Bunch and the Book Worm say that aging can be slowed by affection and “the knowledge that they are needed,” but Bridget thinks that the only solution is to find a way to actually make her grandmother young again.

The Book Worm says that if that’s what Bridget wants, then her grandmother must eat fruit from the Youngberry Tree. Unfortunately, the tree is in the territory of the Mad Queen of Quartz. Although the Hugga Bunch are afraid of her, Bridget is willing to face her for her grandmother’s sake.

Getting there involves going through a few obstacles, including walking sideways on a sideways sidewalk and facing a frightening beast who turns out to be a baby elephant who was under a spell. When they reach the tree, the mad queen takes them prisoner and turns Bridget into a statue. Fortunately, the others manage to break free and save her.

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Bridget is happy at being able to bring the Youngberries to her grandmother, but as she passes through the mirror into her room, she accidentally drops them, and they disappear.

Not knowing what else to do, Bridget runs to give her grandmother a hug before she leaves, encouraging her brother to do the same. Bridget’s father wasn’t happy about her grandmother leaving, either, and seeing how much the children will miss her, he declares that she should stay.

This book was made into a made-for-tv movie.  It is currently available on YouTube.  It follows the plot of the book pretty closely.