Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

C.S. Lewis said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." Holly Black, coauthor of The Spiderwick Chronicles, has written the good kind of story. Doll Bones is a horror adventure for children in Grade 4 to 7 that can be appreciated by readers of any age.

Friends Poppy, Zach and Alice have been having such a good time creating ongoing fantasy scenarios that they are reluctant to stop, even now that they are twelve and too old to still be playing pretend games with toys.

A creepy porcelain doll is at the center of their final quest. The doll that comes alive is not as scary as Chucky from the movie Child's Play, but she is still pretty spooky. Poppy has seen a particular spot in a dream:

"We look for a willow tree," said Poppy. "You know, one of the ones with the long branches and the leaves that hang down."
"A weeping willow?" Zach put in.
Poppy nodded. "I think so, but I think regular willows have leaves that hang down too, just not as far."
"Okay," Alice said. "Depressed-looking trees. Got it. If it seems droopy and miserable at all, I'm calling you to confirm its willowy status."

The three get help from a pink-haired librarian who wears yellow shoes with bows on them. (I love encountering librarian heroes!)

Doll Bones would make an exciting family read-aloud. Ethical issues that arise could fuel further discussion. An example is Zach's father's behaviour, when he throws away some precious things belonging to Zach, then later explains: "I thought you needed to be tougher. But I've been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn't the kind of protecting that anybody wants." Serendipitously, the same sentiment was expressed in the audiobook I was listening to at the time: His Illegal Self (Peter Carey), and in the ebook memoir I had on the go: A Queer and Pleasant Danger (Kate Bornstein).

Readalikes for Doll Bones: The Crossroads (Chris Grabenstein); Amy's Eyes (Richard Kennedy); and Wait Till Helen Comes (Mary Downing Hahn).

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