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.