The Paper Dolls is a beautifully gentle story about a childhood activity which encouraged us to make our own paper doll chains 🙂
The Story: A little girl and her mother make some paper dolls. The dolls sing and dance as they meet a dinosaur, a tiger and a crocodile before a boy with a pair of scissors comes along. He cuts them up into tiny pieces but the paper dolls reform in the little girl’s memory. The little girl grows up and becomes a mother who makes paper dolls with her own daughter.
The dolls all have names and particular characteristics and they repeatedly sing a short song about who they are and how they always hold hands. At first I was surprised that this wasn’t a rhyming story like most of Julia Donaldson’s other picture books (although the dolls sing their little rhyme) but the simple text still has a lovely rhythm. The little girl is introduced on the first page along with some of her possessions which play various roles throughout the story. Then the dolls take over and we follow them through their activities and adventures around the playroom and the house before going into the garden where we meet the little boy. Despite knowing what is going to happen this is the point in the story at which my daughter cuddles up closer for comfort while we are reading. There is enough time for a child to form an attachment to the dolls before they are cut up so there can be a real sense of loss when they are destroyed.
Rebecca Cobb’s illustrations complement the simplicity of this story perfectly, they really bring the dolls to life. The colours are muted and most of the pictures have light coloured backgrounds. The introduction of a darker background when we meet the boy alerts the reader to the fact that his intentions might not be good but once the defiant little dolls fly off the lighter background returns. My daughter is fascinated by the little girl growing up at the end of the story and has constant questions about her becoming a mother to her own little girl.
Making paper dolls is a great classroom activity which could be tailored to any topic – spacemen, Vikings, teddy bears etc. I think it would be fantastic to use this book to stimulate story writing for older children, they could write a story about the second set of dolls.
We made our own paper dolls to help PanMacmillan beat the world record for the longest ever chain of paper dolls and raise money for Save the Children. A set to cut out and colour can be downloaded from their website.
This is a lovely story that mixes fantasy with reality and illustrates the importance of childhood memories. It is on the shortlist for the 2013 Scottish Children’s Book Awards.