Kid's Stuff -- Dolls & Stuffed Animals
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"Blue Kangaroo" books -- see Emma Chichester Clark author profile


"Tatty Ratty"
Written by Helen Cooper
Illustrated by Helen Cooper
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001)

When a little girl named Molly loses a beloved stuffed rabbit named Tatty Ratty, her parents soften the blow by spinning a long story imagining how Tatty had all kinds of wonderful adventures after he got off the bus that Molly left him on. By the time Tatty Ratty has sailed on pirate ships and been to the moon, they find a suitable replacement, which the girl obligingly decides is the "real" Tatty Ratty, all cleaned up and back at the toy shop. Although Cooper's pages tend to be a bit cluttered, the panels showing the parents and child together are full of nuanced emotion and familiar warmth. The ongoing dialogue concerning the fate of the stuffed animal, and Molly's flexibility in dealing with a minor disaster, demonstrates the power of imagination to help children adapt and cope with disappointment. A long, involved narrative that rings true and will charm parents and kids alike; slightly clumsy artwork. (B)


"Below"
Written by Nina Crews
Illustrated by Nina Crews
(Henry Holt & Co., 2006)

Normally, I'm not a big fan of photographic art used in kids' books... (I'm sure it's some "developmental phase" where kids love it, but we haven't hit it yet...) Still, this book by Nina Crews, who has been doing this kind of art for years and years, is a far-above average photo-picturebook, with a good story, imaginative images and an appealing child actor. The story goes like this: a boy named Jack drops his toy buddy, Guy, into a crevice under the stairs. He imagines all the scary and/or fun things that might happen to Guy in the hidden-away dark and then decides to get him out. Since the adults in the house are too busy to help, Jack takes matters into his own hands, and organizes a "rescue," using his toy crane to fish Guy out. It works (and in the process, he also finds a bunch of other lost items) and after he saves Guy, Jack vows never to lose him again. A great portrait of a child's imaginative play, and of problem-solving... This book will ring true on many levels-- plus, it's a compelling story. Recommended! (B+)


"Corduroy "
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
(Viking Books, 1968)

A nice, simple story about a battered, old department-store bear who languishes on the shelves until a little girl who loves him takes him home, seeing beyond the shabby exterior into the soul of the sweet bear underneath. Nice, also, that the little girl is African-American, and that the book doesn't make a big deal of it... It's just there, a matter-of-fact part of the story. This is a classic that lots of baby-boomer parents grew up with and adore (I missed out this one myself, but am happy to report that it still holds up...) I'm not totally wowed by Couduroy, and it took a couple of tries for my kid to warm up to it, but after she did, she was into the story, and asked to have it read several times. Cute story; worth checking out. (B+)


"A Pocket For Corduroy "
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
(Viking Books, 1978)

Fuzzy little Corduroy enters into the 'Seventies, going to a groovy, multicultural laundromat with Lisa and her mom, replete with hippies and bohemians and other local folks. For some reason my daughter wouldn't let me read this book -- at all -- and after several attempts, we took it back. Who knows? Maybe the copy at the Berkeley Public Library just has too many bad vibes, man. I dunno. Anyway, she did NOT WANT TO READ THAT BOOK, and she's the boss of me. So I never found out if Lisa got her bear back after she lost him at the laundromat. I sure hope so! (B...?)


"My Dolly"
Written by Woody Guthrie
Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
(Candlewick, 2001)

A lively, rambunctious adaptation of a children's song written by folk musician Woody Guthrie. I liked this book, although I susprect it's not the kind of thing that would work for everyone. The artwork is a bit chaotic -- purposefully, I think, to evoke a sense of playfulness and abandon on the part of the reader/singers -- but it might be hard for some folks to tap into it, and, more importantly, for little kids to really fix on what's happening from page to page. Still, I liked it -- it was fun to sing this one aloud! (B+)


"What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Day?"
Written by Bruno Hachler
Illustrated by Birte Muller
(Penguin, 2004)

A fanciful tale about a little girl who is determined to find out what her stuffed animals do during the daytime, when she isn't there to supervise them. She tries all kinds of strategies -- hiding behind doors, peeking in windows, leaving out snacks the teddybear might like -- with inconclusive results. I like the concept, and we enjoyed reading this book, although the real respose was a little muted. It may be that the translation isn't as charming as the original German -- these rhymes aren't the greatest I've ever read, and the text feels a little leaden. Also, I thought the artwork was a little borderline, as well... The action is easy to track, but the overall look is somewhat less than elegant. It's an okay book; parents who are opposed to fantasy elements might want to steer clear of this, since the bear might have a life of its own... EEK! (C+)


"Rosy's Visitors"
Written by Judy Hindley
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Candlewick, 2002)

A charming evocation of a child's fantasy playtime, in which a little girl named Rosy takes all her favorite dolls, toys and books out for a walk, and plays house inside a giant hollow tree trunk. She prepares for guests and when they come -- flying fairies, woodland creatures, unicorns and fuzzy bears -- she spends all day playing with them, pouring tea and reading books. At the end of the day, Rosy packs everything up and makes it home in time for dinner. The colorful illustrations by Helen Craig (best known for her work in the Angelina Ballerina series) are less finely detailed than her Angelina pictures, but still quite nice, and packed with plenty of details that kids can pore over for hours on end. (B)


"The Paper Princess"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1994)

Another winner; one of Kleven's best-known and most magical stories. Here, a young girl creates a beautiful paper doll and is trying to figure out how to add the finishing touches when a gust o wind sweeps her creation away. The paper princess embarks on an epic journey, making her way back to the little girl with the help of a sympathetic bluejay and a kind young boy. The story is quite fantastical and fairytail-ish, presenting the paper doll as a living, thinking being that can talk and be understood by others. The happy ending makes this a lovely, self-contained story... You may want to decide whether or not to continue on to the two sequels, in which the paper princess is irrevokably separated from the little girl (and meets a new friend named Lucy...) Perhaps this lovely story by itself would be enough. The first (and best) of a series of books featuring the Paper Princess... (See the Elisa Kleven profile for info on the sequels... ) (A)


"The Apple Doll"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2007)

A complex narrative from the fantastically-minded author-illustrator Elisa Kleven. This shares a similar theme to Kleven's "Paper Princess" triology -- the intense love of imaginative children for their make-believe companions -- but it's also an issue-oriented book that's more rooted in the "real world" than Kleven's earlier work. A young girl named Lizzy is anxious about starting school and decides to bring a handmade doll from home as a surrogate friend. It's an apple-head doll that she made with fruit from her favorite tree, but instead of bringing her comfort, it puts her right in the sights of her new schoolmates, who tease her and tell her that her doll is weird. Lizzy gets the message, and after the first day she leaves the doll back home, although she still feels isolated and has no friends... Kleven indulges in a little wishful thinking when she has Lizzy's dollmaking later win over all the kids in class -- they see how cool apple dolls are and all want to make one themselves, and Lizzy obligingly shows them how. I'm not sure I really buy the sudden happy ending, but this is still a nice book... Like many of Kleven's characters, Lizzy is a sweet little dreamer, a vulnerable loner whose innocence you desperately don't want trampled by the other kids. And, as always, the artwork is enchanting, jam-packed with details and wonder for the world around us. Also included in the back of the book are handy instructions for how to make an apple doll of your own, a treat for arts'n'crafts-minded readers. (B)


"Sophie And Rose"
Written by Kathryn Lasky
Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
(Candlewick, 1998)

A slightly troubling exploration of the love between a child and a doll... Poking around in the attic, a girl named Sophie finds her mother's old doll, a porcelain-faced, gingham-dressed antique that she adopts and renames Rose. She bonds tightly with the doll, but, being forgetful and unused to fragile, old-fashioned toys, she damages it in various slight ways. The narrative is compelling, and theme of how children can test out love and responsibility through an intense relationship with a doll or stuffed animal is explored with great sensitivity... However, some of the scenes showing the hardships Rose endures along the way -- losing one of her button eyes, getting left out all night, etc., may be a bit disturbing to younger readers. (C+)


"My Bear And Me"
Written by Barbara Maitland
Illustrated by Lisa Flather
(Margaret K. McElderry, 1999)

Sweet and simply written, a brief, non-narrative tale about a little girl who loves her stuffed bear. The text is very basic -- just the girl saying how she goes everywhere and does everything with her bear. No big messages or anything, but any kid who's attached to a stuffed animal or doll will certainly identify with the this book. Oh, plus it's another bear book. We all love bears, right? Yeah, I thought so. (B)


"Too Big!"
Written by Claire Masurel
Illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama
(Chronicle Books, 1999)

When Charlie wins a carnival game and gets to pick out a prize, he picks the biggest one he can find, a blue-and-white striped dinosaur named Big Tex that's taller than Charlie's dad. When they get home, Charlie's parents tell him he'll have to keep Tex in his room -- he's just to big to be anywhere else! Tex doesn't get to go anywhere else, either: too big for the park, too big to go to the grocery store, etc. But he's not too big to go to the doctor's office when Charlie gets a cold... (Which is good, because Charlie's other toys hid when it was time to go!) A cute book about how kids bond with their toys and use them to express their feelings... I especially liked the scenes of Charlie taking his bunny and teddy bear out on errands; parents and children will both enjoy this reflection of the day to day innocence of little kids and toddlers. Sweet. (B)


"The Teddy Bear"
Written by David McPhail
Drawn by David McPhail
(Henry Holt, 2002)

This one doesn't work for me... Here, a privileged, middle-class child loses his teddy bear, and mourns its loss... Meanwhile the bear is rescued from the trash by a homeless person, who loves it and cares for it. Months later, the boy sees the two of them together, and tries to get his bear back, only to realize how much it means to the older man. Then he and the homeless guy strike up an unlikely friendship. While I appreciate the sentiment, and the attempt to inject social consciousness into the picturebook ouvre, the story rings false and is too preachy. I mean, look -- I live in Berkeley and I wouldn't encourage any small child to just randomly hang out with any of the hundreds of homeless people we have here. Some of them are really super-creepy or just plain out of it. Empathy and compassion is admirable, but the issue could have been addressed more honestly, or just more realistically. (Also see: books about homelessness) (C-)


"That Dancin' Dolly"
Written by Jennifer Merz
Illustrated by Jennifer Merz
(Clarion, 2004)

(-)


"Playground Day"
Written by Jennifer Merz
Illustrated by Jennifer Merz
(Clarion, 2007)

Trailing her mother and a red wagon full of stuffed animals behind her, a young girl dashes to the local playground, where children play and parents sit on benches, and she has a blast. On each page, the girl pulls out a different stuffed animal and pretends to be like it... ("I hop like a... BUNNY! I climb like a... MONKEY!") The story formula is pretty simple, but the tone of the book is lively and joyful, and the paper collage artwork is colorful and full of motion, with a central character that practically leaps off the page. This book should ring a bell with families that have spent a lot of time at the park together... or those who are planning to go! (B)


"Time To Get Up, Time To Go"
Written by David Milgrim
Illustrated by David Milgrim
(Clarion, 2006)

A really cute little book about a boy who spends the whole day taking care of his doll the way a parent would -- feeding it, dressing it, putting it in a stroller, taking it to the park, bathing with it, putting it to bed. Nice, light touch on the gender issues: yes, it's a boy playing with a doll and being all nurturing and cute, but the best part is that the text doesn't make a big, explicit point about it. We just see the boy doing all kinds of fun stuff and are left to draw our own conclusions. I like the artwork (friendly, direct, effective) and the text, too, which has an uncomplicated, simple rhyming structure. All in all -- recommended! (You could also read this along with William's Doll, if you wanted to hammer the gender stuff home.) (B+)


"The Very Best Doll"
Written by Julia Noonan
Illustrated by Julia Noonan
(Dutton, 2003)

A very girly book, about a child who gets a fancy new doll for her birthday and promptly throws over her good, old, dearly beloved rag doll, Nell, only to discover later at night that she still needs to snuggle her old dollie in order to fall asleep. We're not doll crazy in our household, but this book got a good, polite reception. I liked the book's effective, lilting rhyme structure and its sentimental message -- Noonan affirms the value of the comfortable and old, while also acknowledging the allure of the flashy, accessorized newcomer. If your child is really into dolls (or tea parties), then they should go totally koo-koo over this book. (B+)


"Miss Mouse's Day"
Written by Jan Ormerod
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Harper Collins, 2001)

A picture-perfect glimpse into playtime with a lively little toddler and her favorite doll, a large stuffed mousie that joins her in all the day's adventures. They have breakfast, do a little art, play dress-up, smear on some make-up and go outside and get good and dirty... and the it's off to bed. The art's a teeny bit on the busy side, but basically this book captures the joyful interior world of a happy, imaginative child, hard at play with her toys and the world around them. Very cute, and it rings really true. (B)


"Miss Mouse Takes Off"
Written by Jan Ormerod
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Harper Collins, 2001)

This time around, Miss Mouse and her little girl fly on a plane together... The mousie has a few close calls, but mostly they have a fun time together. Nice book to help prepare a small child for plane travel. (B)


"Tom And Pippo's Day" (1988)
"Tom And In The Garden" (1988)
"Tom And Pippo Read A Story" (1988)
"Tom And Pippo Go Shopping"
"Pippo Gets Lost" (1988)
"Tom And Pippo Go For A Walk"
"Tom And Pippo Make A Mess" (1988)
Written by Helen Oxenbury
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
(Aladdin Books)

A little boy, Tom, takes his toy monkey, Pippo, everywhere, and sees the world through Pippo's eyes. They have all kinds of tiny adventures, in everyday situations that little ones will recognize right away. This series seems near endless -- maybe I'll add the other titles as time permits -- but if your kid likes one of these books, doubtless they will love seeing more. (You might also try Vanessa Cabban's Bertie And Small series, which has much the same format.)
(C+)


"The Trouble With Baby"
Written by Marisabina Russo
Illustrated by Marisabina Russo
(Greenwillow, 2003)

Sam and Hannah are close siblings, with lots of games that they play together and secrets they share, but when Hannah gets a new doll for her birthday and starts doing everything with "Baby," Sam feels left out. His jealousy escalates until finally the two children stop talking to each other. Of course, in the end, they make up and each kid adjusts a bit to make the other happy... This story is similar to Katherine's Doll, by Elizabeth Winthrop, with emotional notes that ring true throughout. I wouldn't recommend a steady diet of this story, but if you're exploring these sort of negative emotions or having a similar problem in your family, you might like this book. Recommended. (A)


"A Is For Annabelle: A Doll's Alphabet"
Written by Tasha Tudor
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor
(Oxford University Press, 1954)

A delightfully old-fashioned alphabet primer, using a doll named Annabelle and all her clothes and accoutrements to get us from A to Z. The simple, realistic illustrations alternate between color and black-and-white plates, bordered with floral wreaths. The letters appear in large, bold print -- hard to miss -- so the educational message comes in loud and clear, though little girls or boys who are into dolls will also enjoy the dolly content as well. Some of the words, like Nosegay, Overskirt and Tippet are so old-fashioned they were probably out-of-date even when this book first came out which, of course, adds to the charm. And even while evoking the style of turn-of-the-century Edwardian children's books, Tudor shows flashes of a winsome, modern humor, as on her "X" page: "X is the letter for which I've no rhyme..." A nice girly-girl book, well suited for kids who are into the more formal, bonnet-wearing kind of doll. (A)


"When The Teddy Bears Came"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Penny Dale
(Candlewick, 1994)

Another winner from Irish author Martin Waddell... A warm, simple story of a family flooded with teddy bears when a new baby arrives. An older sibling helps name and organize all the fluffy newcomers and, as a result, grows closer to the infant. A sweet family tale which presents a newly arrived sibling in an entirely positive light... The book doesn't bear a big "message" about sibing rivalry, etc. and as a result is effective just as a fun book that has a long list of teddies to meet and memorize. Not a classic, but a nice, fun read. Good for families that want to explore the idea of a new baby, but who don't want to get all freaked out about it, or generate anxiety around the arrival. Also works as a book for single kids who like books with babies in them, or kids who are into naming things. A very sweet, gentle story in which potential jealousy and rivalry is subsumed in a (literally) warm and fuzzy snugglefest. Nice, realistic artwork that clearly, believably conveys the social interactions and emotions of the various children and adults... Nice book... highly recommended! (A)


"Katherine's Doll"
Written by Elizabeth Winthrop
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
(Dutton, 1983)

A great girly-girl book about two best friends, Katherine and Molly, who get in a huge fight after one of them gets a beautiful new doll that she only sort of wants to share. They have a falling out and stop talking to one another, but the state of war only lasts a little while, since they both wind up missing their friend right away. There are lots of books that cover this topic, but this is one of the best. The text is compelling, as is the richly detailed artwork, while the cause of their fight -- as well as its resolution -- is easily understood and entirely plausible. Recommended! (A)


"Harry And Lulu"
Written by Arthur Yorinks
Illustrated by Martin Matje
(Hyperion, 1999)

A bratty little girl named Lulu throws a major fit when her folks won't get her a puppy... and things don't get any better when they try giving her a stuffed animal as a substitute. Things are especially bad for the dog, Harry, who has to put up with Lulu's abuse, which continues even when he secretly comes to life and takes her on an imaginary journey to Paris. Eventually, Lulu mellows -- a little -- and she and Harry become fast friends. In some ways, it's nice to see a prickly girl like Lulu keep her rough edges, but there are scenes where Lulu's language is so harsh, and their arguments are so snappish that I've always had to read around the text in several pages. Still, it's a funny fantasy story, and the resolution is very satisfying. Worth checking out, but overprotectivoids (like myself) may find the tone to be a little too harsh. (B)


"William's Doll"
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by William Pene Du Bois
(Harper & Row, 1972)

An epochal book about outsiders and kids who are "different," this story was later adapted to be part of Marlo Thomas's kid's music revue, "Free To Be You And Me." The story is simple: William is a boy who wants to own a doll so that he can care for and nurture it. His brother mocks him, calling him a sissy and a creep, and his father tries to steer him towards more "manly" pursuits, like basketball and model trains. Finally, his grandmother visits and sticks up for him, buying him the doll he wants and telling the dad to chill out. It's a good story, although there are a couple of teensy sticking points... First, I didn't like the part where the other kids are mocking him and taunting him (my kid hasn't heard that kind of schoolyard verbal abuse yet, so it's a bit jarring. Easy to read around, though...) Also, although the story is supposed to be about how it's normal and okay for boys to want to play with dolls, William is dressed somewhat effeminately, like a old-fashioned prep-school gay, complete with a signature red ascot. In some ways it would have been cooler if he'd been dressed like a plain old, grubby little boy, in t-shirt and shorts, or whatever. Still, the book holds up pretty well even with the hippie-era artwork, and the message is still quite welcome. (A)




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