Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill, Elliott Gilbert (Illustrator)

Dolls, figurines, and stuffed animals are integral to childhood play. I was just telling a class of students my attempt to design a parachute using my Barbie doll as a kid, testing the contraption by tossing it out a second story window. My brother later joined me strapping helium balloons to his G.I. Joe doll. I discovered I needed a much bigger parachute while my brother discovered one balloon wasn't enough to hold up Joe. When we tired of running up and down the stair to retrieve our dolls, we sat down and made-up pretend stories. Having imaginary friends, giving life and voices to inanimate objects, creating worlds and fantasies was crucial to our playtime. "The Best-Loved Doll" captures the power of pretend play as a way to explore the world and gain new knowledge. It not only shows the bond between a child and doll, but that winning a prize is not as important as following your heart. Betsy is not only loyal to the doll she loves the most, she doesn't care about its outward appearance. Thank goodness the author does not deliver this message in an overly sentimental way. Her simple language and focus on character actions makes for a powerful understatement. I highly recommend it.

Betsy has received an invitation to a birthday party that will give prizes to the oldest, best-dressed, and most talented dolls. Betsy has four dolls and three fit all those categories but she chooses to bring the fourth doll, Jennifer, with taped cheeks, a cracked nose, and tattered dress. She knows she won't win any prizes but takes her anyway because she loves her the most out of her dolls. She never says this out loud, but cleans the doll up and brings her with to the party. She watches three girls win a prizeand unemotionally thinks about her dolls at home that would have won the prize. Her reactions of kissing Jennifer and looking at Jennifer's "smile" show a child that is content with her choice. Betsy reveals she is not a show-off and her actions toward her doll show character traits of loyalty and friendship, something she can transfer in social situations as she grows older and develops her sense of self.

The mother hosting the party recognizes Betsy's well-loved doll and makes a medal that she pins to its dress. The other girls start to talk about their dolls at home that look like Jennifer, but that they obviously didn't bring. Betsy responds by kissing her doll. The black and white illustrations have a splash of pink on pages that give it a timeless feel. They remind me a little of the Madeline illustrations by Ludwig Bemelmans. The book was first published in 1962 and is 64 pages. It is a quick read. Good for ages 5-8.

5 Smileys

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