Do-It-Yourself Magic

Do-It-Yourself Magic by Ruth Chew, 1987.

Rachel and her younger brother, Scott, stop by the discount store on the way home to admire the model kits.  Most of the model kits are too expensive for them to buy, but one kit has been put on discount, The Build-Anything Kit.  The kids think it’s a good deal because they can use it to build more than one kind of model. 

When they get it home and begin to play with it, they are confused at first.  Scott tries to build a model stock car racer, but all the wheels and other pieces are all different sizes.  Then, Rachel finds a double-headed hammer labeled, “sizer.”  The kids discover that when they hit the model pieces with the hammer, they can make them bigger or smaller.  Besides working on pieces, the sizer can also make people bigger or smaller.  Rachel makes Scott smaller so that he can drive his stock car model around the room.  Then, when he drives outside, she makes both him and the car bigger, so the car is the size of a normal car.  A neighbor spots them in this strange car and calls the police, so the children are forced to shrink the car again quickly. 

When they get home, they discover that they left the door open and that a man is trying to steal their tv set.  Without thinking, Rachel hits him with the sizer and shrinks him.  Now, they have to decide what to do with him before the situation gets worse!

At first, the kids keep the thief in a glass, but then they let him out and allow him to drive around in the stock car model.  While they are trying to decide what to do with him, they take a look in the model box again and notice some pieces that weren’t there before.  They look and feel like stone blocks, so they begin building a castle with them.  To their surprise, the man they shrunk runs into the castle.  They are worried about him, so they hit the castle with the sizer to make it bigger.  Suddenly, the castle is as large as life, and they go inside to discover that they are back in medieval times. What will happen to the thief in the past, and will the kids get back home?

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Old Bear

Old Bear by Jane Hissey, 1986.

A group of stuffed animals remember that an old friend of theirs, Old Bear, was put up in the attic because he was an old toy and the children of the house were too rough with him.  The other stuffed animals miss him and worry that the humans in the house have forgotten about him, so they try to think of a way to get him out of the attic.

The problem is that the entrance to the attic is in the ceiling, high above their heads.  The stuffed animals try various tricks to get up to the attic, from building a tall tower of blocks to jumping on the bed.

Eventually, they are successful when they use a toy airplane.  After Little Bear finds Old Bear in the attic, they use parachutes made of handkerchiefs to parachute back into the playroom to rejoin the other stuffed animals.

Old Bear says that he spent most of his time in the attic sleeping, but he is glad to be back with his friends.

One of the things that I like about this book is the detailed pictures.  The stuffed animal’s schemes to reach the attic are also fun and clever.

The book is part of a series. It is currently available online through Internet Archive. (To borrow a book through Internet Archive, you have to sign up for an account, but it’s free, and then you read the book in your browser window.)

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 – 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)

FourDollsHollyIvy

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)

FourDollsCandyFloss

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

Ira Sleeps Over

IraSleepsOver

Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber, 1972.

Ira, a young boy, is happy when his friend, Reggie, who lives next door, invites him to sleep over at his house. Then, his sister asks him if he’s going to take his teddy bear with him. At first, Ira says no, but his sister points out that he’s never slept without it.

Ira starts to worry about whether he should take the teddy bear with him or not. He worries that Reggie might laugh at him for having a teddy bear. His parents say that he won’t and that Ira should go ahead and take the bear with him. However, his sister says that Reggie probably will laugh.

IraSleepsOverWorry

Ira tries to talk to Reggie and sound him out on the idea of teddy bears to see if Reggie will laugh, but Reggie ignores Ira’s questions. Reggie is excited about all the things that he and Ira can do at the sleepover and eagerly explains his plans. It all sounds like fun, but Ira gets nervous when Reggie mentions ghost stories.

IraSleepsOverReggie

Ira continues to debate about whether or not he should take his bear with him. Before going over to Reggie’s house, he decides to leave his teddy bear at home.

The two boys have a lot of fun playing together at the sleepover. At bedtime, Reggie starts to tell a ghost story, and both of the boys are a little spooked. That’s when Ira discovers that Reggie has a teddy bear of his own.

IraSleepsOverTeddy

It’s a nice story about how the things that we worry other people will find ridiculous or embarrassing are often more common and less embarrassing than we think. At first, Ira worries (because of what his sister said) that Reggie will think that his teddy bear, named Tah Tah, is silly and childish, but after discovering that Reggie has a teddy bear named Foo Foo, Ira realizes that Reggie will understand how he feels about his bear and decides to run home and get it.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

Hitty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josephine’s Toy Shop

JosephineToyShop

Josephine’s Toy Shop illustrated by Roger Nannini, 1991.

Josephine the Cat lives in a toy shop that bears her name.  The toy shop is full of all kinds of wonderful toys, but Josephine’s favorite toy is Toy Mouse.  There is also a real mouse in the shop, and Josephine is looking for it.

JosephineToyShopFlying

Readers follow Josephine and Toy Mouse through the shop, spotting them and the real mouse, hiding in the busy, colorful pictures.  This is also a lift-the-flap book so kids can look behind doors and pull tabs to move objects.

JosephineToyShopNap

In the back of the book, there is a fold-out model of the toy shop that readers can put together with the front of the book forming the front of the shop.

JosephineToyShopBack

The Surprise Doll

SurpriseDoll

The Surprise Doll by Morrell Gipson, 1949.

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

SurpriseDollTeresaSusan – from England, with rosy cheeks

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

Teresa – from Italy, with brown eyes

Lang Po – from China, with raised eyebrows

Katrinka – from Holland, with blonde hair

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

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

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

SurpriseDollDollmaker

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

SurpriseDollSeventhDoll

Mystery Dolls From Planet Urd

KleepDollsUrdMystery Dolls from Planet Urd by Joan Lowery Nixon, 1981.

This is part of the Kleep: Space Detective series.

Kleep’s grandfather is an inventor, and she loves it when she’s included in the gatherings of other inventors that her grandfather hosts.  They come from many different planets, and she loves to hear them talk about their work.  However, there are some other inventors that Kleep doesn’t like at all.  Slurc, who is from the planet Urd, takes no notice of Kleep until he overhears another inventor telling Kleep about something he has recently learned about that comes from the planet Earth.

Earth is unaware of other planets, like the planet Astarr, where Kleep lives, but people do visit Earth secretly to study the people and their habits.  Kleep’s own parents mysteriously disappeared on a mission to Earth, and Kleep is determined to find them one day.  Pili, an inventor from Ruel, knows that Kleep is interested in anything about Earth, so he gives her an Earth doll.

Children on Astarr do not play with dolls, so Kleep doesn’t really understand what purpose they serve, and it makes her nervous that it looks so much like either a small person or robot but is not alive and does not do anything.  Then, Slurc, listening to their conversation, tells her that children on Urd play with dolls, but theirs are much better, and he promises to send her some that she can share with her friends.  Although Kleep does not really like Slurc, she thanks him for the offer just to be polite.

KleepDollsUrdPic1Sure enough, the dolls from Urd soon arrive, but they make Kleep even more nervous than the doll from Earth.  They seem a little too life-like, and one night, Kleep wakes up, certain that she heard them whispering to each other!

At first, her grandfather and her best friend, Till, think that she’s just imagining it because the dolls make her nervous.  However, when she gives a couple of the dolls to Till, he experiences the same thing!

The dolls from Urd are not normal, and Kleep is sure that they are there for a sinister purpose.  She and her friend must discover what it is and fast!

The setting and inventions on Kleep’s world are imaginative.  I especially like the idea of the learning devices that can send knowledge directly into your mind (maybe a little creepy, but certainly a time-saver).  The plot might seem a little far-fetched, but I liked it when I was a kid, and it’s still entertaining.  It’s my favorite book in the series.  I think of this book every time someone mentions Furbies or any similar sort of electronic toy that is supposed to speak to another.  Furbies especially talk to each other, and they look like they’re from outer space.  Who’s to say what sinister plots might be hatching in their furry little minds?

 

Toying With Danger

toyingwithdangerToying With Danger by Drew Stevenson, 1993.

Sarah Capshaw is lamenting to her friend Clark that she hasn’t had an interesting case to solve since she and her parents moved to Wilsonburg when their friend Frog tells them that the local bully saw a monster at the old Harley farm outside of town.  Rumor has it that a mad scientist bought the place.  Naturally, Sarah wants to investigate.

It turns out that the “mad scientist,” Dr. Becker, is actually an eccentric toy inventor.  The “monster” is an electronic Frankenstein monster.  Dr. Becker is actually pretty nice and is even interested in seeing the detective board game that Frog is trying to invent.

Even though the monster wasn’t a real monster, there are still strange things happening in the woods surrounding the old farm where Dr. Becker’s workshop is.  The local bully is hanging around in the woods and trying to scare everyone away.  The kids also see a mysterious man hanging around, and Sarah wonders if he could be spying on Dr. Becker in order to steal his designs.

toyingwithdangerpic2It seems that Sarah is right that someone is trying to spy on Dr. Becker.  The kids learn more about the money involved in buying and selling toy designs when they visit the Too Wonderful toy company for a tour with Sarah’s grandfather.  Making toys is serious business, and companies guard their designs very carefully.  The Too Wonderful toy company wants to purchase some of Dr. Becker’s designs, but one of the members of the company says some strange things about Dr. Becker.  Can the kids trust him?  Can they trust the strange Dr. Becker?  Can Sarah catch the spy before it’s too late?

This is part of the Sarah Capshaw Mysteries series.