The Doll Shop Downstairs

The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Heather Majone.

Nine-year-old Anna is lucky enough to grow up living above her parent’s doll shop where they repair broken china and bisque dolls.  She is a middle child, feeling ordinary next to her smart older sister and her cute little sister.  Though the family doesn’t have enough money for dolls for the three girls, they are allowed to play with the dolls that have been in the shop for some time.  Each girl has a special doll that is “theirs.”  However, changes are coming with the beginning of World War I.  Doll parts become impossible to import from Germany because of the War.  So the family must become creative about how they will earn a living. 

I was a girl who played with dolls.  My favorite and one I still treasure is the rag doll my mother made for me.  She has yellow yarn hair, blue eyes, and a collection of clothes which include a velvet dress with a bustle!  It was a treat to read a book about little girls who love dolls, especially dolls which are not perfect. 

Anna is a great character.  Her perspective on her own ordinariness is shown to be incorrect by all of the clever and important things she invents and does.  I think there are many children who don’t see that they are special and its nice to have a book that explores that for younger children.

The world of pre-War New York City is vividly depicted and is as much a character as any of the human ones.  McDonough does a great job of showing glimpses of the city but not inundating young readers with facts.  I also appreciate the fact that the family is Jewish and that it is handled so matter-of-factly. 

Recommended for doll lovers and as a great example of historical fiction for young readers who are looking for something light but historical.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.