The Cats in the Doll Shop
by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
The Cats in the Doll Shop takes place in in 1915. America then was full of people from other parts of the world. In that way, it was not much different from America today. One thing that was different was that most dolls were made by hand, not in factories. An eleven-year-old girl could live right over her parents' doll-making shop and learn how to make a doll herself.
Anna's parents came to America from Russia before she was born. Anna has an older sister, thirteen, who sometimes acts like a know-it-all. She has a younger sister, nine, who still acts babyish sometimes. So when a letter in Yiddish comes from their aunt in Russia, Anna is excited to learn that her Russian cousin is coming to stay with them. Tania is exactly Anna's age. Anna wants to make a doll for Tania as a welcome gift. What sort of doll should she make? A Russian princess? A Spanish dancer?
Meanwhile, a stray cat Anna discovers behind their house is about to have kittens. But her father refuses to allow a cat in the house. Can she change his mind? Maybe. Neither the cat nor Tania are as quick to make friends, though, as Anna expected. Both have suffered and don't trust easily. The world outside Anna's house is not always kind, as Anna sees for herself when a man tries to get rid of the kittens.
The Cats in the Doll House will captivate girls who love dolls and cats. It's a sequel to The Doll Shop Downstairs but can easily be enjoyed on its own. Heather Malone's illustrations capture the shy charm of the girls' faces. (2011; 140 pages, including a Glossary and a Timeline of historical events, like the opening of the famous F.A.O. Schwarz toy store. Recommended for ages 8-11.)
More about The Cats in the Doll Shop at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Interview with author Yona Zeldis McDonough
Other stories for preteens about immigrants:
Voyage by Adele Geras (1983), about passengers traveling in steerage on a ship from Hamburg to America; for ages 9-12. More info
Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo (1983), about an Irish brother and sister who travel to America in search of their father; for ages 9-14. More info
Bridie's Fire by Kirsty Murray (2005), about a girl who travels to Australia after her family dies during the Irish Potato Famine; for ages 9-13. More info
Nonfiction about dolls and dollmaking:
Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love by Hillary Lang (2010), patterns and instructions for making miniature cloth dolls. More info
The Ultimate Doll Book by Caroline Goodfellow (1993), an illustrated overview of the history of dolls from 1680 to the present. More info
The Dolls' Dressmaker: The Complete Pattern Book by Venus Dodge (1988), patterns for making clothes for many different sizes of dolls. More info
Dolls at the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood website
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