The White Marble

WhiteMarble

The White Marble by Charlotte Zolotow, 1963.

WhiteMarbleGoingToPark

It’s a hot night in the city, and John Henry’s parents decide that they should go to the park to cool off.  John Henry is a little thrilled to be out with his parents at night, stopping to pick up a beautiful white marble he finds as they enter the park, but disappointed when he realizes that he is the only child there.

Then, a little girl he knows from school, Pamela, comes to the park with her mother.  John Henry is pleased to see her because only another child could understand how magical this night in the park really is.  He calls to her to come run with him, and the two children run off to play in the park together.

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The children kick off their shoes and run barefoot in the cool grass.  They lie in the grass for awhile, drink water from a fountain, and have ice sticks (we always called them popsicles when we were kids) from the ice cream man.

John Henry shows Pamela the little white marble he found.  Pamela thinks it’s as beautiful as he does, and John Henry realizes that no adult could understand how beautiful a small, simple thing like that could be, only another child.  That’s what binds John Henry and Pamela together.  As children, they can still appreciate the simple pleasures of life and the beauty and magic of small, ordinary things that adults take for granted, like a small white marble someone forgot in a park or how nice an evening can feel as rain moves in after a hot day.

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When it’s time to go home, John Henry gives Pamela the white marble, a memento of this special night.

The pictures in this edition of the book are different from the ones that I remembered from the first time that I read it.  This edition of the book, available through Internet Archive, shows the pictures that I remember.  The pictures in the later edition of the book are black and white, but the ones in the original edition are done in three colors: black, white, and blue.  Of the two, I really prefer the original drawings.  They capture the magic of a lovely night shared with a friend.

Drac and the Gremlin

Drac

Drac and the Gremlin by Allan Baillie, pictures by Jane Tanner, 1988.

The great thing about this book is that you really need to look at the pictures in order to get the full story.  If you read the text alone, it sounds like a magical space adventure story, but when you see the pictures, you realize that it all takes place in a girl’s imagination as she and her younger brother play in their backyard.  The book never mentions the children’s names (or directly talks about reality at all).  The girl calls herself “Drac, the Warrior Queen of Tirnol Two”, and her younger brother “the Gremlin of the Groaning Grotto.”

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Drac begins by trying to capture the The Gremlin.  She pursues him across the jungles, but when she finally traps him, she receives a message from the White Wizard.  The White Wizard is being attacked by “General Min” (their cat, Minnie) and desperately needs her help!  Drac persuades the Gremlin to help her.

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The two of them get into Drac’s “anti-gravity solar-powered planet hopper” and race to the rescue!  They arrive just in time to save the White Wizard in her current form (a moth).

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But, they are soon facing another peril: “The Terrible Tongued Dragon” (their dog)!   Drac is almost overcome by the dragon, but the Gremlin saves her just in time!

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Their adventure ends at the palace, where the “White Wizard” (their mother) rewards them with “the Twin Crimson Cones of Tirnol Two” (ice cream).

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I love the way that the adventure unfolds in the children’s minds and the pictures show what is actually happening to the children, as their mother and everyone else sees them.  The pictures are beautiful and realistic.  The book was originally published in Australia, and I recognize some of the plants from pictures that a friend of mine there has sent me!

Amelia Bedelia Helps Out

Amelia Bedelia Helps Out by Peggy Parish, 1979.

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are loaning their maid/housekeeper, Amelia Bedelia, to a friend, Miss Emma to help her with a few things around her house.  Amelia Bedelia also has her niece, Effie Lou, with her to give her a hand.  Effie Lou doesn’t quite know what her aunt does for a living, but although Effie Lou’s first instincts seem to do the normal thing with the instructions that Miss Emma gives them, Amelia Bedelia quickly “corrects” her niece to do things in her quirky, literal-minded way.  For example, when Miss Emma tells them to weed the garden, Effie Lou starts to pull the weeds, but Amelia Bedelia convinces her that they are supposed to add more since Miss Emma didn’t say “unweed” the garden.

From there, Amelia Bedelia interprets Miss Emma’s order to “stake” the beans in the garden as tying bits of steak to them.  They also give the chickens Miss Emma’s quilting scraps instead of food scraps and sew grass seeds onto thread instead of “sowing” them into the ground.

Is Amelia Bedelia a bad influence on her niece?  Maybe, but once again, her baking skills come to the rescue.  Miss Emma asks her to bake a “tea cake” for some guests who will be coming over. 

Now, depending on where you live, “tea cake” actually can mean different things.  Sometimes, it’s just a small cake that’s served with tea, and other times, it’s a special kind of cookie or biscuit (the distinction is regional).  The way Amelia Bedelia interprets it is a cake that actually includes tea as an ingredient.  Surprisingly, though, everyone loves it, even more than the nut cake she also baked.

The Case of the Cat’s Meow

The Case of the Cat’s Meow by Crosby Bonsall, 1965.

Four neighborhood friends, who call themselves by the nicknames Wizard, Skinny, Tubby, and Snitch, have their own private detective club.  Their club meets in a backyard clubhouse.  One day, Snitch gives them a case when he becomes worried that someone might try to steal his cat, Mildred.  The other boys think that’s unlikely because Mildred is noisy, and the other boys don’t think that she’s that great, but Snitch loves her and is worried.  The boys decide to keep her in their clubhouse with a special booby trap rigged up in case anyone tries to abduct her.

However, the next day, Mildred disappears.  Snitch is convinced that someone stole her, although the others don’t believe it.  The boys start asking around the neighborhood to find out if anyone has seen her.  When that doesn’t work, they try putting food out for Mildred, but they end up with every cat in the neighborhood except Mildred.

Eventually, they realize that Mildred has been coming back at night to visit her food bowl.  When they keep a watch for her, they discover where Mildred has been hiding and the reason why. 

Seeing Mildred’s adorable new kittens makes the other boys discover a new love of cats and take back all the disparaging things they said about Mildred earlier.

Tell Me Some More

Tell Me Some More by Crosby Newell Bonsall, 1961.

I liked this picture book when I was a kid.  It’s one of those books that plays on the power of children’s imaginations.

Two friends, Andrew and Tim, are talking, and Andrew starts to tell Tim about a mysterious “place” he knows about.  Andrew doesn’t say right away what the place is, but he makes some amazing claims about it.

Andrew says that at this place, a person can hold an elephant under his arm and a camel in his hand.  With each new claim, Tim says, “Tell me some more.”

Many of Andrew’s claims involve animals, but he also says that in his place, he can be taller than a tree, that he can pick up a river without getting wet, and that there are all sorts of wonderful things there, like mountains, kings, trucks, and lakes.  Basically, this place has everything.

When Tim says that he doesn’t believe it, Andrew says that he’ll take him there and show him.  The “place” is the public library.  All of the amazing things that Andrew described are in the books.  You can pick up and carry around elephants, camels, and rivers easily when they’re in book form.

As the boys walk home, they talk about the giraffe, elephant, rocket, and steam shovel that they’re bringing home in book form as if they’re really full size.  When they get home, Tim starts talking to his sister, Tansy, like Andrew did to him earlier, introducing her to the library.

The Princess in the Pigpen

The Princess in the Pigpen by Jane Resh Thomas, 1989.

Elizabeth is the nine-year-old daughter of a nobleman in London in the year 1600, and she’s very sick.  However, while she’s lying in her bed with a terrible fever, she suddenly finds herself in a pigpen in 20th century Iowa with no idea how she got there. At first, she doesn’t even know where she is, and when she is found by the McCormick family, the family who owns the farm, they have no idea who she is or where she came from.  That she is very ill is obvious, so they take Elizabeth to the local doctor, who says that she has scarlet fever (what strep throat turns into when it’s neglected, it’s serious and life-threatening) and gives her penicillin, which helps her to recover.

However, there is still the question of how Elizabeth ended up on the McCormick farm in Iowa in the first place.  Elizabeth tells them that she is from London and insists that the year is 1600.  Ann, the McCormicks’ daughter, who is about the same age as Elizabeth, doesn’t believe that Elizabeth is really from the past.  The current year is 1988, and Ann thinks that Elizabeth is probably crazy, but obviously in need of some help.  The McCormicks tell the local sheriff about Elizabeth, and he begins looking through reports of missing persons to find one that fits her.

Still, it’s hard to explain Elizabeth’s strange clothing (Ann is sure that Elizabeth must be rich because her dress is obviously very fancy) or the antique toys that were found with her (a doll and a music box).  When Ann goes to school, Elizabeth stays at home with her mother, Kathy, and asks her about all the strange things that she’s been seeing around her, like cars and electric lights.  Kathy assumes that Elizabeth is merely confused and that her memory has been affected by her illness.

By coincidence, Kathy is a historian, teaching at a nearby university, and has studied English history.  She is aware of Elizabeth’s family, including her father, Michael the Duke of Umberland.  When Elizabeth asks her if she knows what happened to her mother, who was also ill when she last saw her, Kathy says that she was still alive in 1605, which means that she must have survived her illness.  Kathy quizzes Elizabeth in English history, and Elizabeth knows the correct answers because they are all current events to her.  Kathy thinks that someone must have taught Elizabeth history but notices that Elizabeth really seems to believe everything she says and knows a surprising amount of detail.

Further research into history and Elizabeth’s family tells Elizabeth the years when her parents and other people she cares about will die, which is distressing to her.  Ann begins to believe Elizabeth about her life when Elizabeth describes her home to her, and the description matches one in a book.  In the same book,there is also a portrait of Elizabeth’s family from 1605.  In the portrait, Elizabeth is a little older than she is now, and her mother has had another baby.  Elizabeth’s doll and music box are also in the painting.  The book also contains an account of the fire that later destroyed the manor house.  According to the book, Elizabeth managed to save the lives of her family by alerting them to the fire and also managed to salvage a couple of valuable books.

Now that Ann is convinced that Elizabeth is really from the past, they must find a way to help Elizabeth to return home to that she can save the lives of her family!

At one point in the book, Ann makes a reference to the book A Wrinkle in Time, about other children who get “lost in space and time.”

The Court of the Stone Children

The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron, 1973.

Nina and her parents have recently moved to San Francisco from Nevada.  Nina doesn’t like living in the city, but the move was necessary because her father has been ill and in need of a job.  Still, Nina misses her friends, and her parents don’t understand how difficult Nina has found it to make friends in their new home.

One of the most popular girls, Marion Charles, nicknamed Marnychuck, and her friends like to tease Nina at every opportunity. Nina doesn’t think that she even wants to try to be friends with them because hanging out at Marnychuck’s house would mean always having to be on her guard about every little thing she says, knowing that they would twist every innocent comment she makes into some sort of joke so they could laugh at her.  They could never be friends because there would be no way that Nina could ever open up to them about anything.  (Sadly, I know the type all too well.)  For example, one day, while the girls are walking home from school, they start talking about things they want to be when they grow up.  Nina says that she wants to be “something in a museum,” momentarily forgetting the word “curator”, until a boy nearby helpfully supplies the word. Of course, Marnychuck and her friends ignore the helpful word and just laugh about “something in a museum” as they walk away.

However, the boy who was listening turns out to be genuinely curious about why Nina wants to work in a museum, saying that it sounds like an unusual ambition.  Nina tells him that, until she had come to San Francisco, she’d never been in a big museum before, and she describes how the one in the park impressed her.  She used to work in a small one in her home town. The boy understands the way she feels and shares her love of the past.  He tells her about Mam’zelle Henry, a local woman who owns a private museum called the French Museum.

Nina visits the French Museum and loves the rooms with old-fashioned furniture.  They give her a strange feeling of timelessness, and before she knows it, she finds herself in a room with another young girl who says, “I knew you’d come.”  Nina isn’t sure who this mysterious girl is, but she asks her to come back another time.

When Nina returns to the museum the next day to return an umbrella that she borrowed from Mrs. Staynes, the registrar at the museum, she speaks to the girl again in the museum courtyard.  The courtyard is full of stone statues of children, and the girl tells Nina that when she was young, she used to wish that they would come to life.  The girl’s name is Dominique, although she says that people usually call her Domi. The two girls begin talking about their lives, although Domi oddly talks about her past in the present tense. Domi tells Nina about her emotionally-distant grandmother and her loving father, who was imprisoned and shot.  The news of Domi’s father being shot comes as a shock to Nina.  Domi tells Nina that, after her father was (“is”) imprisoned and shot, she had a dream about Nina in which her father said that Nina would help them.  Domi also says that the rooms at the museum are from her home in France, which was taken apart to be “modernized”and some of the pieces were sent to the museum. Nina finds Domi’s story confusing, but Domi says that they will talk more later.

Nina meets up with the boy who introduced her to the museum, whose name is Gil, at the cottage of Auguste, who lives on the museum property.  As she talks with the two of them and Mrs. Staynes, Mrs. Staynes brings up the subject of the ring that Nina saw Domi wearing and which also appears in a painting in the museum.  Earlier, Mrs. Staynes had told Nina that she couldn’t possibly have seen anyone wearing that ring, and Mrs. Staynes now explains that the reason why is that she owns the ring herself.  At first, Nina thinks that she must own a ring which is similar to Domi’s, since the two of them couldn’t have the same ring,but then, it turns out that the cat that Domi said was hers also belongs to Auguste.

The answer, as Nina discovers the next time she meets Dominique, is that Domi is a ghost.  Mrs. Staynes does own Domi’s ring now because Domi died a long time ago. Nina faints when Domi’s hand goes right through hers.  When Nina recovers, Domi is gone, and Mam’zelle Henry gives her a ride home.  The two of them bond as they discuss Nina’s ambition to become a curator.

Mam’zellelets Nina borrow a journal that she found in the garden that belonged to Odile Chrysostome in 1802.  Odile was one of the names of the stone statues in the courtyard, according to Dominique, and Nina learns that the others are also named after members of the Chrysostome family.  The people at the museum say that they don’t know which of the statues is supposed to have which name, but thanks to Dominique, Nina does.

Gil becomes Nina’s first friend her own age, and he’s been working on a project involving time.  Someday, he wants to write a book about the concept of time. Time is important because Domi needs Nina’s help to resolve problems that occurred in the past.

Domi was young during the time of Napoleon.  Her mother had died in childbirth along with Domi’s younger sibling.  After her mother died, her grandmother moved into the house to oversee things and help care for Domi.  However, Domi’s father had protested some of Napoleon’s policies of conquest, and it led to his downfall.  One day, Domi discovered her father’s valet,Maurice, murdered in her father’s bedroom. She had thought that her father was there the night before, having returned from being away for a time, but he was nowhere to be found.  A short time later, her father was charged with conspiring against Napoleon and executed. Domi knows that her father was innocent of the charges, and she suspects that Maurice was killed because he knew something important, but she needs Nina’s help to find the missing pieces.  Domi knows that Mrs. Staynes is working on a book about her father’s life, and she doesn’t want the false accusations against him to be printed.

I thought that the book started out a little slowly.  It takes quite a while before Nina discovers that the boy’s name is Gil or learns anything about him, and it’s about halfway through the book before Nina learns that Domi is a ghost, although there are hints before it.  I knew that Domi was from the past, although I thought at first that she might be a time traveler of some kind.  Even after Nina learns that Domi is a ghost, it takes a while before Domi tells Nina her full story and what she really needs her to do.  The first part of the book dragged a little for me, and I was a little confused at first about why Odile’s diary was so important, but it turns out to contain the vital clues that Domi needs.  Domi’s father was with the Chrysostome family at the time that he supposedly murdered his valet and was conspiring against Napoleon. There is a piece of physical evidence that proves it, and finding it convinces Mrs. Staynes to change her book. 

One of Nina’s strengths is her power of imagination, and she helps Mrs. Staynes not only to see the truth about Domi’s father but to see him as a living, breathing person.  Before, Mrs. Staynes’ book was mostly facts with little sense of the feelings of the living people behind it, but Nina’s discoveries and imagination help breathe life into the work.  At the end of the book, the past remains unchanged (Domi’s life and that of her father are what they were before), but having the truth known gives Domi peace. Nina also makes peace with her new life in San Francisco, having discovered new opportunities and friends there as well as a nicer apartment for her family to live in.

This book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Fog Magic

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer, 1943.

Greta loves fog and always has, although other people can’t understand it.  When she is ten years old, she begins to get the sense that there is something in the fog that she should find.  One day, when she goes looking for a lost cow from her family’s farm, she sees a house in the fog that isn’t there when the fog is gone.  Apparently, there used to be a house on that site, but it’s gone now.  Except when there’s fog.

From then on, Greta loves to walk in the fog.  When she does, she meets people from the past.  One day, she meets a woman named Laura Morrill, who recognizes her as being from the Addington family and says that her name must be Greta.  According to Laura, there’s always a Greta in every generation of Addingtons and that there’s always a child in every generation who has a great love of fog.  Greta’s ability to use the fog to travel back in time and see her town as it once was is apparently inherited.

Greta makes friends with Retha Morill, Laura’s daughter.  However, when Mrs. Morrill gives her a piece of pie to take home, it disappears, making Greta realize that she can’t bring things from the past to the present.  Retha’s parents seem to realize it, too.  When Retha offers her a little silver egg cup to take home, Mrs. Morrill suggests that perhaps it would be better for Greta to leave it at their house and use it when she comes.  Greta also has the feeling that, when the fog starts to lift, she needs to go home, and Mrs. Morrill agrees.

On another day, Greta and Retha spot an older girl in the woods.  Retha seems to know who she is and calls out to her, but she runs from them.  They try to catch up to her, but she gets away, and Retha is upset.  It turns out that the girl is named Ann, and she was falsely accused of theft.  When it was discovered that she hadn’t stolen anything, the townspeople had tried to find her, but she’s been hiding from them ever since, too afraid to come back.  At first, people had thought that maybe she had gone to another town to find work, but now that they know that she’s been living alone in the woods, they’re worried about her.  The story also upsets Greta because she has heard a local ghost story about a girl who haunts the woods after being falsely accused, and Greta takes that to mean that Ann will die.  The Morrills assure her that they will look out for Ann.

Greta is tempted to talk to Retha about her mysterious time traveling in the fog, but Retha stops her from talking about it.  Retha says that even her mother doesn’t want to talk about where Greta goes while she’s not with them, only saying that both men who go to sea and the women who wait for them on shore “have to learn to be content and at peace shut in by their horizon.”  To Greta, that means that she should be content with wherever she is while she’s there and with the fog that allows her to see her friends in the past.

The more Greta visits the Morrills, the more she gets caught up in the lives and troubles of the people living in the past.  At one point, Greta and Retha talk about some of the sad things that have happened to people the Morrills know, and Retha asks Greta if there is sorrow where she lives.  Greta has to admit that there is.  People generally do have their troubles, no matter when they live.  Retha says that her mother says that living and dying are both natural things, so there is no use being sad about them, except when the death is an unnatural one, like in a war.  There is no war going on in Retha’s time, but Greta lives during the time this book was written, in the middle of World War II.  Greta is aware of the war and says that sometimes people have to fight whether they want to or not, but Retha doesn’t think so.  Greta realizes that she can’t make Retha understand the circumstances of the world in the future.

However, as Greta’s twelfth birthday approaches, she has the feeling that things are changing.  Her birthday will be the last time that she can visit her fog friends, but they give her a special present to remember them by.  Greta’s father seems to know what Greta has been doing in the fog, and he reveals to her, without actually saying it, that he once did the same thing himself.  He says that when people grow up, they leave the things of childhood behind, but each of them is able to keep a special birthday gift from the past as a reminder that some things do last.

The ending of the story implies that, although Greta’s adventures in the fog were real, not purely imaginary, she has to give them up to make room for the new things that will enter her life as she grows up.  Her life lies in her present and future, so she can’t keep going back to the past.  However, her experiences with her friends in the past are part of what has made her more mature, and they will stay with her forever.

The idea of magic and magical adventures ending at a certain age, as the person begins to grow up, is a classic idea in children’s literature. Sometimes, in other books, it’s implied that the reason this happens is because the “magic” was all imaginary, and the child in the story grew out of that particular kind of imagining, but that isn’t the case in this story. The explanation in this book for why the magic has to end is simple but makes sense. The characters don’t really analyze the issue too deeply, simply taking it in stride. We never find out why this particular family seems to have this tradition of going back in time in the fog as children, and the characters seem to decide that there is no reason to find out why. Unlike in some modern books, there doesn’t seem to be any particular mission for Greta (or her father or any other generations before her) to fulfill in her time traveling. She is mostly an observer of the events in the past, not really participating in them directly or changing them in any way. She doesn’t even seem to influence the thoughts or attitudes of people in the past much. When she talks about the concept of war with Retha, she doesn’t try to change Retha’s mind about it or tell her about World War II and other future events because she realizes that each of them really belongs to two different times and sets of circumstances, and each of them needs to live in their own time, dealing with their own situations. It is their differing situations which give them their attitudes. The Morrills seem to be aware that Greta comes from the future, but they treat the subject carefully, never directly stating where she is from, just hinting at it. From they way they act, it seems as though they’ve met other members of Greta’s family before, but again, the ties between their two families (if any) are never explained, and none of them seems to want to delve too deeply into the matter. For the most part, they just seem to take the whole situation as being a natural part of life in their families and in the area where they live, something just to be enjoyed and not questioned. In fact, some of their attitudes seem to imply that they fear questioning too deeply, as if that in itself might end the magic too soon.

Although the story leaves the reasons behind the time traveling very open and unresolved (probably, other children in Greta’s family will be doing this in the future, also not really knowing why), it is really a very calm story. Not having a special mission to complete in the past leaves Greta free to simply enjoy the company of the people in the past, observing their lives without the stress of needing to solve their problems for them, and readers can similarly enjoy the ride without worrying that anything really bad will happen. You do end up being interested in what happens to some of the characters, like the woman who is in danger of losing her family’s home, but events unfold in the way Greta knows they will. She’s sad when she knows that certain people are going to die (not the woman whose home was in danger, that works out well) and there is nothing she can do about it, but it all seems to be part of the natural circle of life, something that matures Greta when she realizes it.

One of the fun things that I liked about the book were some of the unusual first names of the characters, like Retha, Eldred (Retha’s father), and Ardis (Mrs. Stanton).

The book is a Newbery Honor Book. It is currently available online through Internet Archive.

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)

FourDollsJaneThe 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)

FourDollsFairyElizabeth 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 – her 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?  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.  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 were so busy bullying her – she 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.  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 seriously disturbed me.  What kind of father is that hateful just because a very young child has some trouble riding a bike?  He makes it clear that he does not care about Elizabeth’s feelings at all.  She has to buy 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)


FourDollsHollyIvyHolly 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)


FourDollsCandyFlossCandy Floss the doll belongs to Jack, who runs a carnival game, a “cocoanut 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 Polar Express

PolarExpress

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, 1985.

One Christmas Eve, a young boy is lying awake in bed when he hears strange sounds.  When he looks out of his window, he is astonished to see a train outside of his house, where there aren’t any train tracks.  He goes outside to investigate, and the train conductor tells him that the train is heading to the North Pole and asks the boy if he wants to come.

PolarExpressTrainRide

The boy (who is never named) believes in Santa Claus even though some of his friends no longer do, and he gets on board the train.  The train is filled with other children, singing Christmas songs, eating candy, and drinking hot cocoa.

PolarExpressSantasCity

After a long trip over mountains and through forests, they arrive at Santa’s city at the North Pole, where they get to take part in a ceremony to give the first gift of Christmas.  Out of all the children from the train, the boy who narrates the story is chosen to receive the first gift.  He can ask for anything he wants for Christmas, but he asks for a bell from Santa’s sleigh as proof of his adventures and Santa’s existence.

PolarExpressGift

When the children get on the train to go back home, the boy seems to have lost the bell because of a hole in his pocket, and he is sad.  However, the bell reappears on Christmas morning as a mysterious extra present under the tree.  The boy’s parents can’t hear the bell ring, and they think it’s broken, but the boy and his sister, Sarah, can hear it.  The boy says when he and his sister grew up, Sarah eventually reached the point where she could no longer hear the bell, but he still can because only people who believe in Santa can hear the bells on his sleigh.

PolarExpressChristmasMorning

The book is a Caldecott Medal winner, and it has become a Christmas classic!  Some places that have trains hold special Polar Express train rides where they decorate the trains with Christmas decorations and try to re-create the ride from the book.  There is also a movie version of the book, although the story in the movie includes incidents which weren’t in the book to make the movie longer and more dramatic.  The original story was very calm and low-key, although still magical, the kind of thing that you could easily read to a child in bed on Christmas Eve.