In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Large Dolls and Little People

Dear Annie,

This thread goes deep.

I realized after posting last time that I should have mentioned
The Racketty Packetty House
, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose praises we'd been singing.  It's another class-warfare-among-dolls tale.  The Racketty Packetty House has been around in a girl's family since the time of Queen Victoria's childhood, and it's old and shabby, but the dolls are oh so jolly and optimistic.  The current (1908 or so) girl receives Tidy Castle, inhabited by aristocratic and supercilious dolls, and plans are made to burn Racketty Packetty House.  Fairies, true love and a real princess intervene and all ends oh so jolly.  It's been beautifully re-illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. 

Our household never bonded with The Littles, probably because we had spent so much time immersed in
The Borrowers
, by Mary Norton.  They are also small people (tail-less) who, in the first book, are discovered under the floorboards by an unhappy boy who is living with an elderly relative.  Pod, Homily and Arrietty Clock (named for the furniture closest to their secret home) carry on the tradition of their tribe, "borrowing" from the humans they live near.  This, of course, is the explanation for the disappearance of small items -- safety pins, earrings, stamps, thread, etc. -- from all our homes.  Daughter Arrietty accidentally reveals herself to the boy, resulting in a friendship and more danger for all the Borrowers.  They eventually have to flee the house, and find other Borrower colonies and other adventures in The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft and The Borrowers Avenged.  After the first reading, Mona never let us read aloud the first chapter of the first book.  It's the set-up chapter, narrated by an elderly woman explaining how her brother as a boy had his adventures with the little people.  It's a slog, necessary the first time, but definitely skippable after that.

Bob and I have just had a delightful dinner conversation remembering The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh, which we haven't read for at least ten years, but who remain with us.  They're a family of life-size rag dolls, mysteriously brought to life ("born knowing" how to be people) after the death of the elderly lady who sewed them.  They live in her house, paying rent to her heirs, selling crafts and written articles to make a living, but never coming in contact with humans.  Like the characters in many of the books we've been discussing, they have wonderful names: Sir Magnus and Tulip the grandparents, Joshua and Vinetta, the parents, teenagers Soobie (he's made of blue cloth, and descends into bouts of depression from time to time) and the rebellious Appleby (female), younger twins Poopie and Wimpey, and the baby Googles.  There's even Miss Quigley, a "neighbor" who lives in the hall closet and sneaks outside to ring the bell and come visit for tea.  Their lives are full of paranoia -- will they be discovered? -- and pretending.  They're cloth dolls, but they pretend to cook, eat and sleep.  They do not age, stuck forever in the age that was sewn into them. It's wacky and full of feeling.  And quite well written.  The first of the five Mennyms books was published in 1993, but they are all, alas, out of print. Worth digging up, however.  I'd say ages 7 or 8 and up.

We'll all miss you as you immerse yourself in portfolios, Annie.  But after our last round of guest blogging, I'm looking forward to what your pals have to say this time. 




  1. The Borrowers! They got blamed for so much at our house :)

  2. I'm weeks late on this post -- but after reading the more recent ones, I decided to search through the blog and see if you'd mentioned the mennyms. Good to learn that you and Daddy share my fond memories of them!