The Doll Shop Downstairs

Yona Zeld­is McDo­nough; Heather Maione, illus.
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
With a nod to the best children’s books about dolls, and anoth­er to Syd­ney Taylor’s All of a Kind Fam­i­ly, author Yona Zeld­is McDo­nough gives us a whol­ly orig­i­nal sto­ry about three doll lov­ing Jew­ish sis­ters in New York City’s Low­er East Side. Mama and Papa run Breittlemann’s Doll Repair Shop, whose sign states, All Kinds of Dolls Lov­ing­ly Restored and Mend­ed, Est. 1904”. The sto­ry is told by mid­dle sis­ter, Anna, stuck between smart and grown up Sophie, age 11, and cute baby Trudy, who tries whin­ing and cry­ing to get her way. In a mere 107 mag­i­cal pages, we are trans­port­ed to the Breittleman’s home and busi­ness, just before the out­break of World War I. Dolls and doll parts, a resource­ful Mama and Papa, and an appeal­ing hero­ine and her sis­ters, are deft­ly drawn. Argu­ments among the sib­lings, hurt feel­ings, and lack of mon­ey are some of the prob­lems that beset the fam­i­ly. When World War I breaks out, and an embar­go is placed on import­ing Ger­man goods, eco­nom­ic prob­lems loom; the doll repair busi­ness is in trou­ble. With resource­ful­ness, Anna sur­pris­es her­self and her fam­i­ly by com­ing up with a pos­si­ble solu­tion. More than dolls are mend­ed in this sto­ry. Anna, with the help of her encour­ag­ing mama, her pock­et note­book diary and the com­fort she finds in writ­ing, mends her own heart, and finds her place in the fam­i­ly. Sketchy line draw­ings by Heather Maione con­vey the old fash­ioned ambi­ence of the doll shop, and the active sis­ters in pinafores. Read­ing lev­el, type­face, spac­ing and book length are per­fect for young read­ers. This review­er pre­dicts that The Doll Shop Down­stairs will become a clas­sic. Jew­ish obser­vance and val­ues are a pos­i­tive and mat­ter of fact part of this very Amer­i­can sto­ry. For read­ers from 8 – 12 and as a read aloud for class­rooms and families.
Nao­mi Morse man­aged a pub­lic library children’s room in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land for many years, and then worked as head librar­i­an at the Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School Low­er School in Rockville, Mary­land. She has served on AJL’s Syd­ney Tay­lor Com­mit­tee, and last year (2008) was a mem­ber of ALA’s Calde­cott Com­mit­tee. She is an inde­pen­dent book reviewer.

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