Any of Julia Donaldson’s books would be worthy of inclusion in my new series celebrating some of the best in children’s literature (well, in the opinion of me and my children, at least!). Donaldson is a literary genius, churning out brilliant story after brilliant story – the kind of books that you don’t mind reading time and again, with interesting plots, memorable rhymes and lovable characters, all accompanied by bright and glossy illustrations, where every time you look at them you see something new.
However, I’m recommending The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson because it’s the only book of hers to have made me cry. It’s one of the few that is set in the real world, without any of the fantasy and magic that usually feature in her tales. It’s also the only Donaldson book I’ve come across to be illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Her style is very different to Donaldson’s two other main collaborators, Axel Scheffler and Lydia Monks, but her images are very evocative of childhood and their simplicity matches Donaldson’s sentiments perfectly.
The story tells of a little girl whose mother helps her make a chain of five paper dolls. It was my own daughter Little Miss E’s love of making paper dolls that inspired me buy this book in the first place, following a recommendation from a friend.
The string of five dolls go on all kinds of adventures thanks to the vivid imagination of their owner. Danger awaits them at every corner, with a toy dinosaur, a toy tiger and a fierce oven-glove crocodile all wanting to catch and eat them.
The dolls stand strong in the face of fear though, as they sing along together a wonderfully memorable refrain:
“You can’t catch us. Oh no no no!
We’re holding hands and we won’t let go.
We’re Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie
And Jim with two noses and Jo with the Bow.”
I don’t want to give away too much, but it seems the little dolls are not invincible after all. And this is where the book made me cry, as we learn much about life, love and loss. It’s not a sad story – it’s wonderfully life-affirming and beautiful. It’s a fitting way to introduce the idea of loss to children and that how even though something, or someone, might be gone, everything can live on in our memories.
Cardiff Daddy will probably be mortified by me telling you this, but he had a tear in his eye the first time he read this book to our children too. As did his mother, Nanny from Bristol, when she read it to them. She loved it so much she bought it for another of her granddaughters for her birthday – and my sister-in-law tells me the book made her cry too. In fact, it stil makes me cry.
It’s amazing how a children’s picture book be so emotionally evocative. The book is perfect for two to six-year-olds, and although it will probably appeal more to girls than boys, at the moment my three and a half year old Little Man O loves it as much as his big sister does.
This is one of those childhood books I won’t be parting with when my children grow out of it; definitely one to treasure.
You can read more of my posts on children’s books here.
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