The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
(2007, Schwartz & Wade Books)
This book is partially based on a story told to the author by one of the women she interviewed for another project; despite the “staggering poverty” of her life growing up, the woman lit up when asked about how they celebrated Christmas, and the idea for this story was born.
“Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while.” As she and her two sisters strip the old newspaper from the walls and restuff the cracks, Nella dreams of owning the Baby Betty doll she sees advertised in the fresh paper’s pages. Her older and younger sister both agree that there’s no way she’ll ever get it, not during the Depression, but Nella persists in her dreams, even writing a letter to Santy Claus to tell him that Baby Betty is the only thing she’ll ever ask for. Nella and her sisters wake on the morning of Christmas to the excitement of sacks of nuts, a stick of candy, an orange, and even a box of raisins each. When their daddy pulls a special package from behind his back and hands it to them, they are all amazed to find “a for-real, store-bought, brand-new Baby Betty doll, the color of chocolate, with rosy cheeks, black curly locks, and thick eyelashes.” All the girls admire how beautiful she is, and they begin to fight over her; after their daddy tells them how disappointed he is in them for fighting over a Christmas gift, their mother tells them to work it out, and the older and younger sisters reluctantly admit that Nella was the one who asked for and most wanted the doll and that she should be the one to have her. Nella triumphantly plays with the Baby Betty doll, excluding her sisters, so they go off to play together. She begins to realize the limitations of just a toy as she catches glimpses of her sisters playing outside and keeps expecting the doll to respond to her stories and play in the ways her sisters always did, the way that made play fun. Finally, her mother convinces her that her sisters probably miss her and that Baby Betty wouldn’t mind inviting them both to a tea party. When Nella promises each of them a special role in the tea party play, they join her again, and they spend the rest of the day all playing together and sharing, causing Nella to say, “Isn’t this just the best Christmas ever?”
Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney have done several books together, and they are each renowned and prolific in their own fields. The pencil and watercolor pictures are detailed and realistic with the color and focus primarily on the characters rather than the backgrounds. I chose this book because I know that a lot of families are probably finding themselves in a similar situation these days–Christmas will come no matter what, but Santa Claus may not show up for many because of the lack of jobs. Those who are able to experience a generous Christmas with their families this year can still benefit from the reminder that things are never more important than family and may consider contributing to Angel Tree or other campaigns to help make Christmas a little more special for someone who is not as fortunate.
GirlChild’s Reaction: GirlChild had a little bit of a difficult time following this relatively long picture book (especially since she couldn’t really understand why Nella thought the baby doll should be able to do things most baby dolls can’t do), but she did get the idea that playing alone is no fun no matter what toy you have. (She often complains of this very thing, so it was a near and dear idea.) We’ve talked a lot lately about how family is more important than anything we might have (four years old seems to be a very greedy, entitled age even for a child as giving as GirlChild), and she often exclaims, “But I love my family more!” after she has proclaimed love for the color pink, elephants, Chick-fil-A, or her Max and Ruby show. (Comforting, no? To be an afterthought to Max and Ruby? But at least she remembers us! ) I would recommend this book for early elementary age children since it seemed a little above GirlChild’s preschool head, and it could easily be used with older children as well.