Dolls and toys that come to life is a recurring theme in children's literature. In some cases the dolls are independent from the owners: They have minds of their own. Others cause magical events to happen that become a part of the "human" life.
As a child, I was fascinated by the books of Dare Wright, with their photos of come-to-life dolls, and "Impunity Jane: The Story of a Pocket Doll" by Rumer Godden. Today, there are endless stories of Raggedy Ann and Andy, originally written by Gruelle and re-cently adapted by a dozen illustrators. Tales tell of dolls lost on the Western trek by pioneers or being passed down through generations. Some dolls are made of cornhusks, cookie dough or clothespins. Of course, there are the delicate china dolls, the endearing Cabbage Patch toys and rag dolls with their unique markings. Whatever the material or wherever it came from, each doll has a special story.Two new stories about dolls will delight young readers. THE MENNYMS by Sylvia Waugh (Greenwillow, 1993) tells of cloth dolls in England, and Constance Hiser's THE MISSING DOLL (Holiday House, 1993) is about a magical doll that talks.
The Mennyms are a family of dolls made by Aunt Kate over 40 years ago. "They are not human, you see - at least not in the normal sense of the word. They were not made of flesh and blood . . . they were made of cloth and kapok. They each had a little voice box, like the sort they put in teddy-bears to make them growl realistically. . . . " And talk they do! Sometimes all 10 at a time. The family is made up of grandfather Sir Magnus and wife Tulip, mother Vinetta, father Joshua and five children, Appleby, Soobie, Poopie, Googles and Wimpey. Miss Quigley lives under the stairs.
The Mennyms live at 5 Brocklehurst Grove in an enchanted life of "reals" and "pretends." None of the neighbors on this classy boulevard realizes the Mennyms are toys (they are life-size and have daily work and chores) who only pretend to eat, drink tea, cook and wash clothes. Also there are " . . . real accounts, pretend invitations which would have to be reluctantly refused, real ironing, pretend cakes being mixed quite vigorously in the earthenware bowl, real rest . . . and pretend games of cowboys and Indians."
Each character's personality traits distinguishes him in the group (Sir Magnus is a pompous grandfather who never gets out of bed, and Appleby is a bratty young adult).
The family's ruse succeeds without problems until their world is threatened by a landlord in Australia who plans to visit.
While the Mennyms are caught in their own time warp and appear to not change, they do express feelings such as faith and fear, "shared in common with human-kind."
This is an enchanted and enchanting story. The strong English flavor and vernacular will not put off young readers who will look forward to the sequel, which is sure to come.
"The Missing Doll," named Desi, can talk and becomes a close companion to Abby, who hadn't planned on spending her birthday money for a doll. " . . . she's a beautiful doll, maybe the most beautiful doll I've ever seen. But what I really want is a hula hoop." But the strange lady (who is dressed just like the doll) in the Heart's Desire toy store will not listen to Abby. "This doll is a genuine, one-of-a-kind Friendship Doll. There's not another like her anywhere in the whole world. . . . Once the two of you are friends, who knows what she'll have to tell you."
"The Missing Doll" is a fast-read, short-chapter book that teaches lessons about friendship and honesty. A happy resolution to the mystery of the missing doll will answer all the questions except one: What is the Heart's Desire toy store? Maybe there's a sequel here, too.