The Doll Shop Downstairs

Jul 22, 2012

This is a super sweet chapter book (I wouldn't venture to say novel) for kids ages 8~11. I would recommend it to girls, mostly, because the only male characters are adults and do not show up much in the story. The main characters are the three children of a Russian immigrant New York doll repair shop owner: Sophie, Anna, and Trudie Breittlemann.

This story is told through the point of view of Anna, the middle child. Sometimes she feels annoyed because her younger sister can still cry for attention and her older sister shines at everything she does, like a star, yet she, the middle child, can't manage to stand out.

Whenever the three girls feel lonely or bored, they would go downstairs from their apartment to the doll shop. There are three dolls on the shelf that the girls frequently take down to play with, and pretend that they are "their" dolls, although they can't afford any and the dolls actually belong to some wealthy people. Whenever life's trials take a turn for better or worse, Bernadette Louise, Anna's doll, always "hears" about it. Because of various reasons, the dolls have stayed on the shelf for a long, long time.

Then World War I breaks out in Europe and suddenly the doll parts, which are bought in Germany, are out of stock. Mama and Papa worry all the time, and the girls secretly whisper about it at night.
"Maybe we could get jobs," I say.
"What kinds of jobs?"
"We could help out some of the ladies Mama sews for. Wash the dishes or run errands. Mrs. Kornblatt has a baby. We could watch her sometimes." I have seen the baby with her white bonnet, white booties and plump, pink cheeks. It would be fun to look after her for a little while.
"Anna, that is not going to help," Sophie says in that I'm-so-much-smarter-than-you tone that always stings. "We need to make some real money, not pocket change."
"It was just an idea," I say, feeling snubbed.
"Well, it's not a very good one, so keep thinking."
Then Anna comes up with the best idea of all: Instead of repairing dolls, how about making them out of inexpensive materials?

Thoughts: I find this and it's sequel, The Cats In the Doll Shop, very similar to the Doll Hospital series, but only because they both are about repairing dolls. In addition, I do find one critic's comments spot-on:

Mix one part Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy and many parts Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family and you create a standout family-and-doll story.
I have not read The Story of Holly and Ivy but I am familiar with Rumer Godden's work as I have read Tottie: The Story of the Dollhouse which is also by the author.