Entrepreneurial City: The Doll Shop Downstairs
Before I moved to New York 10 years ago, I thought the idea of living above a store was so old fashioned. Wasn't that what Nellie's family did in Little House on the Prairie? No one does that anymore, right? Wrong. Although, most people don't live above or behind their own business these days (they commute, I guess), Yona Zeldis McDonough's The Doll Shop Downstairs takes us back to a time, when such a thing was not uncommon. In this case, the store is a doll repair shop, and what girl wouldn't love to live above a doll shop?
McDonough writes in an afterward that her inspiration came from the real life story of Madame Alexander. The fictional family in her story are Russian Jewish immigrants. The three daughters love to play with the expensive dolls who are waiting for repairs. However, when WWI begins, their father finds he can no longer obtain the necessary parts to repair broken dolls because all the parts come from Germany. Instead, the family works together to design and make their own, "limited edition" dolls, which are then spotted by a buyer from FAO Schwartz.
The city is very important to the girls' story and McDonough splendidly conveys a detailed sense of place throughout the story. The family lives in the Lower East Side, and there are many references to the kinds of sights and places they see on a daily basis and for special treats. The "packed narrow streets," "crammed with shops, horses, wagons, pushcarts and crowds of people" are contrasted with the wide streets of Fifth Avenue lined with fancy, upscale shops. Moreover, the girls are exposed to a variety of different types of people -- one of the best things about living in the city.
This book is doubly interesting because it seamlessly incorporates, without being didactic, the historical moment in which the action occurs. Small details play a large part in establishing the world the girls live in. I wonder how my son would feel if I sent him to school with a lunch made of "rye bread spread with horseradish, a cold boiled potato, and apple." The family's economic situation changes with the start of the war, the mother must take in work and the girls try to think of ways to earn money. But the girls apply their boundless energy and creativity to help move their family forward.
McDonough has written solid book, with much to recommend it. Heather Maione's black and white illustrations are perfectly suited to the time period. The characters are appealing, the family, even in difficult times, sticks together and the overall tone is positive. Early chapter book readers will enjoy this one and younger ones should have no difficulty following it as a read aloud.
Visit the author's website.
Read a comprehensive review at Truth, Praise and Help.
Coming Soon!!! The Cats in the Doll Shop.