Monday, July 20, 2009

Toys On The Town: The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin

FROM: Wilson and Sons
1 Scala Street
London, England

TO: William Seaborn Cox esq.
26 Wetherly Lane
Reade, Connecticut

The old, odd-looking package, delivered just as the Palmer family, with their daughters Kate and Nora, are about to leave on a two-week vacation, is a mystery. Addressed in a spidery, old-fashioned handwriting to the grandfather of Grandma Katharine, grandmother of Annabelle Doll's owner Kate, from the doll-maker who had created of Annabelle and all of her family, the enigmatic parcel seems to have come like a puzzle from the past, 100 years before.

Annabelle and her best doll friend, Tiffany Funcraft, are discussing the reason for the mystery package when a small, childish voice is heard calling out from inside.

"Hello! Hello!"

"Hello," Annabelle called. "We can hear you! Who are you?"

"I'm Matilda May," said the little voice.

Annabelle leaned toward the package again. "Matilda May, how old are you?"

"Um, one hundred." guessed the voice.

"How old are you in doll years?" Anabelle asked.

"Free, I fink," said Matilda May.

Then Annabelle has a brainstorm. The Doll family has always wondered why Baby Betsy was so much larger than any of the adult Doll family dolls. "I think this doll is the one who was supposed to come with our family instead of Baby Betsy. I think she's my lost baby sister."

Annabelle's logic is faultless, but the reality of her proposition frightens her parents. What would the Palmers think when they return from their vacation and find the mystery parcel ripped open and their 100-year-old doll set with a new family member? "That's just the kind of act that could put dollkind in jeopardy," said Papa. Discovery of their secret life could put all the Doll family into PDS--permanent doll state! Mama is adamant. "End of discussion," she says firmly.

But Annabelle knows her real little sister is inside that package, imprisoned since 1898, and she and her best friend Tiffany devise a rescue plan. With the help of their brothers Bobby Doll and Baily Funcraft, the girls quickly free little Tilly May and, hitching a ride on the neighbor boys' wagon, are soon in the middle of a daring runaway adventure.

At first the runaways find themselves lost in the city park and spend a frightening night in a makeshift garbage bag tent, menaced by raccoons and owls, but when morning comes and there is no sign of the neighbors' familiar red wagon returning, the five dolls realize that they must somehow find their way out of the wooded park and reluctantly make their way back home--if they can discover where Wetherby Lane is!

Desperately dashing across the street and into the shelter of the nearest building, the dolls find themselves in McGinitie's Department Store. Resting and trying to get their bearings from a shelf, the five are discovered by an employee who promptly takes them upstairs to the toy department, where Annabelle, Bobby, and Tilly are displayed in a locked glass case with other antique dolls. Tiffany and Bailey Funcraft are tossed into the play area with other used dolls, where they lay low until darkness comes and the last of the cleaning crew move on.

Then the dolls discover that there is a rich society of dolls who come to life at night in McGinitie's toy department. There sympathetic and worldly wise dolls convince Annabelle that she must return to her family before the Palmers return from their holiday. But Annabelle realizes that there are many risks--she or Bobby or Tilly May could be sold before they escape, or they might be damaged by the pedestrians and vehicles outside in the city streets, or they might never find their way back to their home on Wetherby Lane.

Then the ingenuous Tiffany comes up with a plan--dangerous, but a potential way to escape McGinitie's and hitch a ride back with a part-time employee who is also the Palmer's neighbor. But even if the plan works, what will happen when the runaways return and Annabelle shows little Tilly May to Mama and Papa? Will she be imprisoned again in the box and sent back to London? Or will Grandma Katherine recognize the names on the package and figure out that Tilly is their long-lost baby?

Third in Ann M. Martin's best-selling series, Runaway Dolls, The (The Doll People) takes Annabelle and her hardy plastic friend Tiffany on their best adventure yet. Earlier books in the series are The Doll People, and Meanest Doll in the World, The Taking the daring doll people outside into the world adds new dimensions to the story of dolls who share a secret life when humans cannot see them. Caldecott Award-winning Brian Selznick's large and vivid pencil drawings add humor and appeal to this worthy sequel by Martin and her co-author Laura Godwin.

Another beloved series about the secret life of toys, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by the equally notable Paul O. Zelinsky, includes the best-selling Toys Go Out, and its even better sequel, Toy Dance Party. reviewed here.

Many kids believe that their toys are special--that they somehow lead a life of their own when their humans are not around, and Ann M. Martin and Emily Jenkins must have learned from childhood readings of The Velveteen Rabbit
that toys have a way to become real if they are truly loved.



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