Module 8: The Doll People

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The Doll People starts with an interesting premise: What do our toys and dolls do when we aren’t around? In this book, they have a very active life, playing, reading, eating, cleaning and enjoying their family time. The Doll family has been living in a 50 year old dollhouse complete with parents, children, nanny, aunt and uncle all in Victorian style clothing with a lifestyle to match. They are quite content except for the disappearance of Aunt Sally, who has been gone for many years. Her husband, Uncle, has never been able to get over her disappearance, and wonders if they could have done more to bring her home. The dolls, though static whenever around humans, do get around quite a bit, living an active family life in their dollhouse. They don’t venture out, however, for fear of being seen by a human, thereby putting themselves in “Permanent Doll State”, meaning they will never again be animated, or for fear of the cat, Captain, capturing them and sticking them into a pile or a corner from which they will not be able to escape. The little girl, Anabelle Doll, has a more adventurous streak, and likes to venture out from her home, causing a great deal of concern to her parents. Anabelle is also fascinated by her missing Aunt Sarah, perusing Sarah’s journals for clues to her disappearance. Sarah seemed to have a fascination with spiders, and Anabelle wonders if that may have had something to do with her disappearance. Meanwhile, a new family has joined the household, The Funcrafts, with their modern plastic house complete with pool and bbq. The Funcrafts and the Doll family begin to visit with each other and the girls, Anabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft become close friends. The girls begin to explore the house, looking for Aunt Sarah.

This book moves incredibly slowly. Until at least ¾ of the way in, there is no action at all. Additionally, there is nothing meaningful happening up until that time. What could be a story about toys, growing up, imagination, etc. is nothing but a factual and dry account of this doll family, doing nothing at all but existing. The actions of Anabelle do shake things up, and the eventual discovery of Aunt Sarah rewards Anabelle’s stick-to-it-iveness and general pluckiness, but even that discovery is so bland as to be almost unnoticeable. The contrast between the older dolls and the newer dolls is also not really explored in any meaningful way, which could have been very interesting. I was really bored and disappointed by this book and couldn’t think of anyone to whom I would recommend it.

I would not use this at a library by my own choice. If I were compelled to do so, I would maybe do a display of dolls and dollhouse books and include this in that group. I think that this book is really of such a low quality that the only people I could imagine enjoying it would be those who are already interested in this genre of dolls and dollhouses.

Martin, Ann M. and Godwin, Laura The Doll People (2000) New York, Hyperion. 

Review One

Growing up, I had two handmade doll houses which I played with for hours on end. I think they are magical toys, and this book certainly works on that belief. The doll’s in Kate’s doll house are alive, but no human knows. They have been passed down for several generations within the family and are as beloved now as they were then. It’s a perfect life for a doll house doll, except that Annabelle has the secret desire to go out and explore beyond the doll house, to find her lost Auntie Sarah Doll, and perhaps to make friends with the new doll people who moved in to the next bedroom down the hall. Illustrations by Brian Selznick, which are always awesome. This was a great read aloud. It had my daughter, aged 5, gasping and giggling in all the right spots. In fact, to quote her after one very exciting chapter, “I have to remember to breathe!” A great quiet read for an older child too.

[Review of the book Doll People]. Goodreads. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/9950354-newbury-town-library-youth-services

Review Two
Of course, and for me especially, part of what make The Doll People Series such magical books are the amazing illustrations by Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of the innovative, Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Martin and Godwin are fabulous writers, but having Selznick along to bring the dolls to life makes all the difference. As with the front and back covers, the endpapers in the book are representative of the two dollhouses and families of dolls that inhabit them in this story.  The front cover of the book shows the antique dollhouse and dolls that were shipped from England in 1898 to be the playthings of the newborn Gertrude Seaborn Cox ancestor of the current owner, Kate Palmer.  A page from Wilson & Sons Catalogue No. 61, with a tear mysteriously deleting the image of the “Aunt Doll,” introduces us to the characters living in the antique dollhouse.  The last two pages of of the  book appear to be the instruction paper for the assembling of the FUNCRAFT Dream House Model 110 – REAL PINK PLASTIC – Includes Free Cat!  This house belongs to Nora, Kate’s younger sister who is NOT ALLOWED to touch the antique dollhouse, although she does, which is always hilarious and harrowing at once.
As the prologue begins, “It had been forty-five years since Annabelle Doll had last seen Auntie Sarah.”  But, on this day, Annebelle found something that belonged to Aunt Sarah and, “no one knew she had found it.  Not Kate Palmer.  Not any of the Dolls.  And keeping a secret in a house like Annabelle’s was awfully hard.  It might even be impossible, Annabelle thought, except for the fact that there was no one with whom Annabelle wanted to share a secret.”
This secret and the clues it reveals about the disappearance of Aunt Sarah, as well as the friend that Annabelle Doll finds to share this secret with make up the rest of the story.  Martin and Godwin create a complete world – both within the houses of the dolls and in the Palmer home as well.  Grandma Katherine, Kate’s namesake, lives with the Palmer family and has memories of Aunt Sarah Doll and is just as thrilled by her return as the rest of the dolls are. What drives the story, from start to finish, is Annabelle Doll’s wish for a friend and her questioning, determined nature that keeps her searching for Aunt Sarah.  It is this wish that ultimately brings together the Doll and Funcraft families, as well as sparring sisters Kate and Nora.
One of my favorite aspects of The Doll People is the creation of Doll State.  If a human sees a doll moving, or thinks she sees a doll moving, the doll is sent into Doll State, which Annabelle has been in “several times, more often than anyone else in her family.”  In Doll State, a doll is “rendered an ordinary doll” who can’t move for 24 hours.  Worse than Doll State, though, is Permanent Doll State, where you become an ordinary doll forever.  Annabelle is not even sure that Permanent Doll State exists, although she has been threatened with it many times by her cautious parents.  Part of what keeps the Doll Family from searching for Aunt Sarah is the belief that, in her many exploits, she has been put into Permanent Doll State and that the same fate awaits them…

[Review of the book Doll People]. Books For Your Kids. Retrieved from http://www.books4yourkids.com/2008/08/doll-people-by-ann-m-martin-laura.html

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