Doll Magic

My daughter, an only child with two December holidays to celebrate, predictably cleaned up in the gift department this year, and is revelling in all the shiny new loot. One of her very favorite presents, though, is not new at all.

When I was a kid, I collected dollhouse furniture for several years. The plan was for my mom and me to put together an elaborate Victorian dollhouse together from a kit that she'd bought. The dollhouse project, alas, was never completed, but the furniture kept accumulating. Some of it I bought, and some was given to me. So not only did I have a family of four dolls and a complete dollhouse living room, kitchen, bedrooms, and bathroom (with porcelain toilet and clawfoot tub), but a multitude of miniature food, dishes, doll toys, tiny books...even a cardboard dollhouse for the dolls to play with. My grandmother embroidered blankets and knitted little throw rugs for the dolls. My cousin went to China for two years and came back with wooden dollhouse-sized thermoses and tea mugs. Someone gave me a metal piggybank in the shape of a woodstove. None of it was incredibly valuable on its own, but all together it was an amazing wealth of dollhouse stuff.

A few months ago, my aunt e-mailed me and asked if I wanted her to ship me the box of dollhouse furnishings, which had been stored at her house for the past twenty-five years.. I was grateful that she'd kept my things all these years and excited to see them again, but wasn't sure how well the fragile materials would have stood their travels. And indeed, the first few pieces I took out of the box--including two of the four dolls, and the prized wooden bunk bed that I'd bought with my own money--were badly broken. But most of the furniture and other things, and the father and daughter dolls, had survived intact. With my spouse's encouragement, I wrapped all the non-broken items in tissue paper, packed them into two large gift bags, and gave them to my daughter on the seventh night of Hanukkah.

I wasn't sure how she'd react. Though she loves dolls, they hadn't been high on her wish list this year; instead, she'd been pretty clear that she wanted more Webkinz, an iPod, and a Nintendo DS, none of which we planned to give her. I was a little worried that she'd see the dollhouse things as second-best.

I couldn't have been more wrong. As she unwrapped the tiny things, one after another, her wonderment and excitement grew. Over and over, she pronounced them "totally awesome" and "better than a hundred million Webkinz." She exclaimed over the little napkins with minute metal napkin holders; the toolbox with tools; the miniture roll-top desk. She asked for her small wooden dollhouse to be brought back into her room from the garage; the furniture didn't nearly fit, so she cleared out some of her old books (she has a lot of books, not surprisingly) and converted two of her upper bookshelves into a doll bedroom and nursery.

Finally, we persuaded her to go to bed herself. She tucked the father and daughter dolls into their beds in the bookcase (the mother and son, she declared, were at the hospital recovering from a car accident; we have hopes of getting them fixed at a real doll hospital), and then showed me the ribbon she'd draped from the father's room on one shelf to the daughter's room, two shelves below. "So if they can move around when I'm asleep, like in The Doll People, they won't fall and get hurt going from one room to the other," she explained matter-of-factly. Then, for good measure, she put a pillow on the floor, in case the dolls fell or wanted to visit the kitchen and living room in the main dollhouse on the other side of her room.

All of which is by way of a lengthy introduction to this list of books about dolls, which figure so prominently in the holiday season: as gifts, as the premise of seasonal ballets, and as figures in creches and tree ornaments and miniature train sets and villages.

Perfect for any doll-loving girls you know, and boys too; one 4th-grade boy memorably declared to me several years ago that "The Doll People ROCKS!"
Godden's The Doll's House is often cited as the definitive dollhouse novel for kids, but this is the one I remember best: the tale of a girl far from home, who finds solace in making a home for two dolls.
The adventurous action figure who stars in this book is even a Christmas present.
The dark side of dolls. I admit I'm not planning on giving this to my daughter any time soon; it might make her afraid of her dollhouse. Excellent for older kids and the less squeamish, though.
 Another dark look at dollhouses, though the dolls here aren't as malevolent as Sleator's.
There are many gorgeous retellings of this popular seasonal ballet, including one wonderful Hanukkah adapation, The Golden Dreydl (by my cousin! Not that I'm biased or anything...)
Lifesize dolls on the run. Sounds creepy, I know, but you become quite fond of them.
A classic.
 Another classic.

Oooh, I just loved this one. A classic in the making, with a lovely old-fashioned feel.

For many people, this season of lights holds the promise of magic, and somehow these miniature reproductions of human beings embody that promise. It's easy to feel, like my daughter does, a tingle of possibility in the presence of dolls: they're not alive, we know they're not, and yet...what if they might be? That edge of uncertainty holds the key to the enchantment and the eeriness of dolls.

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Comments

I never had a dollhouse, so I'm envious. My children, who wouldn't play with babydolls, loved their "Lucy House" and my 6th grader (who also loved The Doll People) still wants me to unearth it from time to time. My favorite is Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy!

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