Book Review: The Doll Shop Downstairs

The Doll Shop Downstairs Cover Image

 

The Doll Shop Downstairs is fiction, but it is loosely based on one of my heroines in the Doll Industry; Beatrice Alexander A.K.A. Madame Alexander.

As an adult, I liked The Doll Shop Downstairs, I also think it’s a nice read aloud story for the 5 and 6 year olds.

Beatrice Alexander and her sisters did in fact grow up above their parent’s store, and that store really did do doll repairs. That’s the truth behind the story. Most of the rest of it is fiction. I had fun when I found this book and tried to trace the connections between fact and fiction.

The Madame Alexander Doll company got its start during WWI, when, because of the embargo of German goods, her parent’s business couldn’t get doll repair parts easily. Worried about her parent’s financial hardship, Beatrice came up with some cloth doll designs, recruited her sisters and family to help her make them, and voila, the Madame Alexander Doll Company was born.

Beatrice Alexander

Beatrice Alexander with her dolls (courtesy Alexander Doll Co.

Madame Alexander made beautiful dolls, and started her own company in an age when women entrepreneurs were few and far between. And to be honest with you, it amazes me that almost a 100 years later, Madame Alexander is still in business and thriving. Very, very few companies last that long!

Book Review: The Doll in the Garden

I truly treasure my collection of storybooks that have a ‘connection’ of some kind to a doll. I find that most of them fall into two different categories… the doll is the main character and the story is about their adventures, or the story is about a child, and their love for a doll.

The Doll in the Garden Book Cover

But of course there are always exceptions, and this week’s book review is one of those exceptions. This doll story is about a doll… who belongs to a ghost! And the ghost wants her doll back!

Moonlit nights, time travel and a magical cat are all elements in the story, but the basic plot revolves around the little girls in the present, who find the doll, discover the mystery of how it came to be buried in the garden, and are trying to give the doll back to it’s rightful owner, a little girl who lived and died seventy years in their past!

‘It’s china face was pale and smudged with dirt. One eye was half open and the other was closed, its nose was chipped, but it was still beautiful. I held it toward Kristi. “It’s an old doll,” I whispered.’

That’s the description in the book, but in my imagination, I’ve always thought she looked a little bit like the doll we sell at Pattycake Doll Company called Sarah Rose. (Maybe because she was found buried in the overgrown rose bushes?)

Written in 1989 by Mary Downing Hahn, The Doll in the Garden is a delightful ‘Happily Ever After’ charmer of a ghost story. But the story also sensitively touches on death and loss, as well as forgiveness. To tell you any more would spoil the story for you and your daughter or grandaughter, so I’ll just stop here and encourage you to get your own copy!

PS: Please be sure to check out our other ‘Doll’ Book reviews!

“William’s Doll” Every cliché in a book

William's Doll Cover

“William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotow is basically a book of cliches.

But that’s because it was written in 1972. In 1972 they weren’t cliches, they were a new kind of wisdom. Too bad it didn’t take.

The Pattycake Doll Company sells a lot of boy dolls, and dolls for boys. But not as many as we should, considering the population of boys in America. Too many people still believe the cliches:

If you give a boy a doll he’ll be a sissy. If he doesn’t become a sissy, he’ll be called a sissy (bullied).

Dolls are for girls. Not boys. Train sets and basketballs are for boys.

Boys don’t have the urge to protect and nurture.

Almost as much of a cliche in the book is that it’s ‘Fathers’ who don’t want their sons to play with dolls.

That’s still true. There are a lot of guys who worry about that stuff. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of Mommies  who worry about that stuff too.

At the end of the book William’s Dad – outraged that Grandmother has bought William a doll says: “He’s a boy!…He has a basketball and an electric train and a workbench to build things with. Why does he need a doll?”

William’s Grandmother answers with a smile: So that he can practice being a father.”

If you’re reading this blog, the odds are pretty good that I’m preaching to the choir. But the message hasn’t changed.

Should boys be allowed to play with dolls?

Of course!

It’s one way they can learn to become good fathers.

Our Memories of Dolls

The Most Wonderful Doll in The World Book CoverThere is wonderful little storybook, written in the 50’s about a little girl who is given a doll as a gift, and promptly loses it.

And as she recounts her sorrowful tale to the various people in her life, Aunt, Father etc… in each re-telling, the doll becomes more and more wonderful… embellishment after embellishment.

The charm of the book, and it’s appeal, is how true it is to a doll lover like myself. In my memory, EVERY doll is so much better!

Recently I was describing one of my favorite dolls to a friend, and boy did I embellish!

By the time I was done you would have believed that this particular doll was designed by Leonardo DaVinci, dressed by Coco Chanel, accessorized by Tiffany, could cook a five course meal and part the Red Sea.

Just like that little girl in the story, my memory of the doll was so much better.

But you know what?

I’m fine with that.

Black Dolls Continue to Renew My Spirit

dbgGuest Blogger: Debbie Behan Garrett is a doll-collector, blogger and doll historian. She is also the author of ‘The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls,’ ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls’ & ‘The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen.’ You can learn more about Debbie at her Black Doll Collecting website.”

Sometime during the early 1990s, after reading a passage in a book or article by bell hooks on the aesthetics of blackness where she wrote: “black art renews the spirit,” I had an instant ‘aha’ moment. The ‘act of renewing my spirit,’ explains exactly what black dolls, at that time, had begun doing for me. They still do.

I had been collecting black dolls only a few years when bell’s words so profoundly touched me. In the same manner that black art reflects positive images of people of African descent with an ability to renew the spirit, I find these three-dimensional inanimate representations of black people rejuvenating to my whole being.

I have always been extremely connected to my culture, proud of my heritage, and have always delighted in surrounding myself and my offspring with positive reflections. As a child, living happily in a black world, I was unfortunately, unable to own black dolls as playthings. Very few were available in our area. Those that were offered were not aesthetically pleasing to my mother, who viewed them as negative representations of black people that she would never allow in our home.

While my childhood excluded black dolls, in my early adult years, I subconsciously delighted in them through doll purchases made for my daughter, whose doll family only included black dolls. It was my desire for her to develop a positive sense of self and culture and to ward off any innuendos, subtle or obvious, from sources that viewed anything black as negative. Seeing herself in her playthings, educational materials, and art ensured a healthy development of self-esteem and constant spiritual rejuvenation.

I began actively collecting black dolls as an adult to fill the void of not owning them as a child. Collecting and learning about dolls resulted in establishing and maintaining a doll reference library of books on antique to modern dolls. These books were useful, but the predominance of non-black dolls only served to fuel my belief that few black dolls were made during my childhood. It was not until I discovered my black-doll bible, written by Myla Perkins, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991, that my world of black-doll collecting broadened considerably. Who knew, until reading Perkins’ book, that there were in fact as many positive black dolls made during my childhood? Thus, my early-1990s mission commenced to obtain as many of these lovely dolls as possible.

After the publication of Perkins’ first book and her followup title, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II, the lack of black doll information resumed. No one else took the initiative to write another reference book on black dolls. In 2003, eight years after Perkins’ second book was published, I wrote my first black-doll reference book, The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls. It is the first full-color black-doll reference book ever published. In 2008, A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls followed, and includes over 1000 color images, references, and doll values. My third book, published in 2010, The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen, was written to further serve the doll-collecting community, particularly avid black-doll enthusiasts. In The Doll Blogs, dolls both old and new, blog their experiences over a two-year period as chosen dolls in my now extensive and quite eclectic black-doll collection.

The passion I hold for black dolls (owned or admired from afar) is ever present. Conducting research and the documentation of the same—with an objective to celebrate the dolls and the people who make and collect them—is also a constant. My writings are published two to three times a week on the Black-Doll Collecting blog.

Will my desire to own black dolls ever cease? As long as they continue to renew my spirit, the answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Thank-you Tom Tierney

Tom Tierney © Dover Publications

Tom Tierney © Dover Publications

In our many years in the doll business, we have often heard stories – or memories – of ‘my first dolls.’

For many, their first dolls were paper dolls. And the most famous paper doll artist of our times is Tom Tierney.

Tom Tierney died in July of 2014 at the age of 85. He had been creating paper dolls for over forty years, mostly for Dover Publications.

If you had store bought paper dolls, the odds are you had some of Tom’s. A search on Amazon reveals 732 ‘results’ for Tom’s Doll books. There are over 1600 results on Ebay (mid August 2014).

I’m a huge fan of Tom as an artist. His research was meticulous, and his drawing as well.

Paper dolls started the same way fashion dolls did… as a way to get the word out on fashions of the day. Paper dolls ‘dressed’ in Paris could be easily carried to America to show what the best dressed were wearing.

Today’s paper dolls are ‘lessons;’ in period costume, in literature, in fashion, in history, in geography, in culture.

One of my favorite Tom Tierney books is Brides From Around The World.

Brides BookIt contains four ‘dolls’ and 28 wedding gowns from around the world. Each gown is not only accurately drawn, but described in detail.

Here’s a typical example of what children can learn from a Tom Tierney paper doll book: Plate #4 Indian Sari: “An Indian wedding is typically a riot of color. The bride’s apparel generally consists of three items: The choli (blouse) the ghagra (skirt) and the sari (shawl.)”

Tom didn’t invent Paper Dolls – they were around as early as the 18th century. And Tom didn’t re-invent paper dolls, there has been a continuous stream of paper doll artists ever since then. But what Tom did do, is when the popularity  of paper dolls had become the merest glow of the remaining coals, Tom blew the flame of popularity back into the field – in my eyes his greatest legacy. Thank you Tom Tierney.

Doll Book Review: The Tale of Two Bad Mice

©Frederick Warne & Company illustration from Beatrix Potter's Then Two Bad Mice

©Frederick Warne & Company illustration from Beatrix Potter’s Two Bad Mice

Obviously if we are going to review a book on the Doll Blog, it should have dolls in it, right?

Alas, although there are two dolls in “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter; (Lucinda and Jane), they are peripheral to the tale, as they are only the owners of the doll’s house where the action takes place.  The main characters in this story are the titular ‘Two Bad Mice,’ and the action takes place while the dolls are away from home.

It is hard to not have spoilers when the tale is only 20 or so sentences long. So what to review instead?

I feel that the charm of Beatrix Potter’s ‘tales’ have always been the illustrations, and for the young toddlers who will enjoy these ‘tales,’ those illustrations are intricate and interesting enough to hold their attention, to tell the tale, and to encourage them to come back to the story time and time again. There are 27 of those illustrations in this ‘tale.’

The Tale of Two Bad Mice was the fifth ‘Tale’ that Beatrix Potter had published. (The tale of Peter Rabbit being the first and most famous.) The two mice were modeled after her own pet mice Tom Thumb and Hunca Munka, and the doll house belonged to the niece of her publisher.

It might be a stretch to insist that any serious doll book collection must include this book, but on the other hand, why not? It’s a charming tale, with the classic beautiful illustrations by Miss Potter, and it is one of her few books that will give children a smile… most of her stories are a little dark and sometimes downright cautionary and or sad!

My Most Surreal Doll Book Review

Little Mommy Book Cover

Little Mommy by Sharon Kane Book Cover

Would I give this book to a little girl?

Yes.

Why?

Because it is so out of date and out of fashion in its depiction of’ Mommy Play’ and ‘Doll Play,’ that it just might give little girls in the 21st century some good, original creative play ideas. (Please read that as sarcasm.)

In other words, I am damning this with faint praise.

It’s hard for me to believe that this book was acceptable even in 1967… as to how it could still be in print… I really don’t know. A Little Golden Books® Classic? OMG is this awful! Every cliche from before the woman’s movement is listed as a positive example of being a ‘Little Mommy’ (to her dolls) in this book.

I don’t mind that this book was written. The illustrations are quite charming. But who the heck would give it to a child today?  Its an insult to feminists everywhere!

if you also collect books with dolls as the theme or as characters it’s a must have. Otherwise… please don’t!

Book Review: Patti Cake and Her New Doll

Cover Illustration for Patti Cake and Her New Doll

Cover Illustration for Patti Cake and Her New Doll

How could I resist? We are the Pattycake Doll Company after all.

Written by Newberry award winning author Patricia Reilly Giff and illustrated by Laura J Bryant, Patti Cake and Her New Doll is a picture book for younger toddlers.

I am a bit conflicted about whether I like this book enough to recommend it as highly as some of the other classic doll stories, but would tend to say ‘Yes, get it,’ because of the illustrations.

I think doll books should be about dolls, and their importance to the child. Patti Cake could just have easily been written with a new dress substituted for the doll, or a new bed spread. All the incidents that drive the plot could easily have been worked around a different object. It didn’t have to be a doll.

Also, when my children were little there were books that once read had to be read again and again. Or if there was no one available to read to them, they would turn the pages over themselves and enjoy the book just by it’s pictures.

I don’t think my children would have loved this book like that. Hence my conflicted feelings about this new book.

Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”

vintage-skipper-dolls

Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.