Friday, October 09, 2009


THE YELLOW TUTU by Kirsten Bramsen, illustrated by Carin Bramsen (Random House)
Too-too adorable. While that should probably be the summation line of a review, the degree of darlingness of this book dictates that adjectives go first. When Margo receives a lovely yellow tutu for her birthday, she decrees that the garment is better suited for wearing on her head, and is shocked and wounded when her circle shirks her fashion-forward thinking. Luckily, by putting her true self out there, she is able to locate an equally true friend, who appreciates a little creative couture. The illustrations are the stand-out, a dream-come-true hybrid of the hyper-stylized 1940's elegance of Golden Book illustrator Corrine Malvern meshed with the cheek-pinching whimsy of a Kewpie Doll, creating a retro feel but refreshingly without the retro homogenization; Margo's comrades are multicultural. How Bramsen so effectively manages to capture the textural frou-frou of the tulle is miraculous, as is the silvery glint of tears in the eyes of Margo when her feelings are hurt. The pastel palette is as delicious as frosting on a cupcake; the last scene of Margo and Pearl having a tea party in a rose garden with tutus on their heads (and looking quite a bit like roses themselves) has a vibrancy and verve akin to the beautiful book WHEN THE SUN ROSE by Barbara Helen Berger (Putnam). Margo's highs and lows are honest and recognizable, as is her invested enthusiasm for dress-up (as any grown-up who has ever tried to play stylist to a little girl who has insisted on donning a princess costume to school can attest). Any little girly-girl deserves this book in her library. Oh, dear. Since I started out with adorable, now what else can I say? How about this: tutu not included. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
More fodder for playtime.
THE DOLL SHOP DOWNSTAIRS by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Heather Maione (Viking)
Anna lives with her parents and two sisters over her parents' doll hospital, where her father carefully makes repairs of valuable bisque and china poppets (while Anna and her sisters get to play with them in the meantime). When the first World War breaks out and repair parts can no longer be ordered from Germany, the family is in dire straits until little Anna comes up with a creative solution: why don't we make our own dolls and sell them? This sweet, old-fashioned story is paced like old-fashioned penny candy, very nice if you don't mind savoring slowly. McDonough gets a lot right in terms of family dynamics, as middle-child Anna works hard to find her place in the family; the pleasure of finally having her little sister look up to her or having an older sister like an idea is palpable. Anna's problem-solving throughout the story is genuinely inventive and surprising, whether she is determining what kind of doll her father should make, how to stop her sister's tantrum in the new FAO Schwartz toy store, or how to "communicate" with the doll she has come to love after her owner has retrieved her from the repair shop. The historical and cultural context of the book is atmospheric and very much in the style of Sydney Taylor's classic ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY, and cheery black-line spot illustrations add to the story's charm and ambiance. (7 and up) A very helpful author's note at the end of the book explains how the story is loosely based and largely inspired by the childhood of Beatrice Alexander, who went on to create the legendary and highly collectible Madame Alexander dolls, and young readers can find out more about her by enjoying Krystyna Boray Goddu's excellent collection of short biographical essays, DOLLMAKERS AND THEIR STORIES: WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD OF PLAY (Holt). Also, doll and toy lovers will want to seek out Clyde Robert Bulla's THE TOY HOUSE DOLLS, the dramatic story of a family who starts a library of toys (gosh, I wish I could read it aloud to you right now!), and M.B. Goffstein's endearing GOLDIE THE DOLLMAKER, an unassuming little picture book which embraces a love of beautiful things with both arms.

The Jane Addams Hull House doll club, 1931.
Photograph by Wallace Kirkland.

More doll books here and toy books here. What was your favorite toy growing up?

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Ashley said...

Great site, it's always good to have a review of children's picture book before you rush out and purchase. It's also great to know what else is out there! Thanks

Karen Evans said...

My favorite toy was my first American Girl Doll, Samantha, who I got in 4th grade. I ended up with two more American Girl Dolls before I stopped playing with dolls however Samantha was always my favorite. Now they are all stored in a tub in my apartment till I have kids one day. I'm noticing in my students now though that kids seem to stop playing with dolls in like 2nd grade :( I wonder if by the time I have kids if they would even enjoy them, but I'll hang on to them anyway.

Rawley said...

I love the tutu on the head--precious! My favorite "toy" was my chalkboard easel. I had all different colors of chalk and an eraser that I painted yellow. I'd set it up in the garage and instruct my pupil (my poor, helpless brother) to practice his cursive and multiplication facts. I still have it in the attic, and come to think of it, my husband could use some handwriting practice...

Henry Lawson Books said...

The little reindeer is great and just in time for xmas.

Michel said...

Nice blog post the Yellow Tutu. Till now, I'd never heard of this book, but I've come across Madame Alexander Dolls. So I guess it's a win-win for my two daughters who've always loved dolls, but now with the literature to match, you simply cannot beat that!


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