Did that catch your eye? Well, when I was ten, it caught mine too. At that time I thought I had read every book in the Cahuenga Branch library about dolls. Then I discovered the adult card catalog and found a book I hadn't read --"The Deadly Doll." I included it in my biweekly stack of ten books, but it was confiscated by a well-meaning librarian. It was some Perry Masonesque pulp novel.
There was another book about dolls that haunted me into adulthood. I couldn't remember the title or author, but I could remember the plot and the distinctive line drawing illustrations. It was a creepy story about two girls who owned two dolls that looked just like them. They met a strange man who ran a toy store who gave them some magic tea for a doll's tea party. When they drank the tea, they switched places with their dolls, who turned out to be quite unpleasant and evil. The girls experienced the toy cupboard with toys who were all out for revenge for the way they were treated or neglected by the girls. In fact, they wanted to kill the girls.
Not surprisingly this story made quite an impression on me and made me very conscious of how I treated my toys. I searched for the book in every children's library I found myself in for the next ten or so years. And then one night, as I walked into the downtown L.A. Central library's children's section for the first time, I felt myself being drawn to a section that vaguely corresponded to the alphabetical shelving in my old library. All I really remembered was that it was a blue book (anyone know the old W.C. Fields line about the book with a blue cover?) It was like a magnetic pull, and my hand went out and touched the spine that read, "The Village of Hidden Wishes." It was the book. I was amazed and took it home to read. It was even creepier than I remembered. And the illustrations by Dorothea Stefula were exactly as I had pictured them all those years.
This was before the days of Abebooks.com, Ebay, and Powell's Books online. Finding an out-of-print book was not as easy as it is today. But after telling the story of my quest to several people after that, one of my mother's students, who was a librarian in South Central L.A. surprised me with a retired copy of the book. It hadn't been checked out since 1964 -- over ten years. I still treasure it as one of my favorite books.
When I was a child, we didn't own many books. Our family had a few Golden Books, a Mother Goose treasury, a worn copy of "The Night Before Christmas", some Nancy Drew books, and my mother's Oz books. Books were special birthday or Christmas presents, not something you purchased casually for a one-time read. To own a book was a big thing. And this amazes me, because I remember wanting a copy of Edward Gorey's "Ghastlycrumb Tinies" when I was in junior high, but not being able to afford it. I was finally given one as a gift, and when I looked at the price recently, I was astonished to see it was $5.95!
Owning books -- especially hardcover books -- can still be a great treasure. My head spins when I walk into a megastore and see how many children's books are published every year. So if you are looking for a substitute for that lead-laced train, consider a book about a train. And if you know an old-fashioned girly-girl who likes stories about dolls, consider Rumer Godden's "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower". Or if she likes her stories a little dark, look for a copy of David Fletcher's "The Village of Hidden Wishes."
Update: 1/20/08 - I just reviewed this blog and realized that I wrote about the same thing in 2004! It's my first sign of aging...repetitive stories. But I guess it's also a sign of how much these books meant to me.