I’m at the bookstore the other day browsing the aisles, fairly certain there wouldn’t be anything there to surprise me since my last visit. The middle grade fiction? Done it. The non-fiction (what little they stock) Fine. The picture books? Seen it, seen it, seen . . . . . it?
Oh me, oh my, where did that come from? Hyperion? Sneaky Hyperion. They’ve all sorts of things I’ve missed this year. And this latest fairytale from Lauren Child was the proof within the pudding (or porridge, if you will).
The longer I stared, the stranger it became. Because if there is one book this reminded me of right off the bat, one book that I never thought anyone would ever want to redo in another form, it’s The Lonely Doll. Compare and contrast.
Those of you unfamiliar with The Lonely Doll and its subsequent sequels may also be unfamiliar with its creator, Dare Wright. A couple years ago The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright was released by Jean Nathan. The book systematically told the story of Ms. Wright and her family issues. In my library we’ve a couple books in Wright’s Lonely Doll series in paperback and they do go out. Edith and Mr. Bear. A Gift from the Lonely Doll. That sort of thing. But when it comes to a psychologically strange series, nothing really comes close to it. The doll is routinely spanked, revealing its frilly underwear. Male bears befriend but also punish the little girl doll for her mischief. On the one hand, they are books about finding family. On the other hand, they’re the weirdest damn picture books you’ve ever seen. They’ve inspired such artists as Cindy Sherman and when you look at them you can understand why. Wright, after all, was an accomplished photographer.
They also look remarkably similar to Child’s newest creation. Both books feature girl dolls with facial expressions so vague they might mean anything from misery to joy. Both have those dewy eyes. In both cases the girls misbehave. In both there are bear dolls that interact with them. I flipped through the Child book wondering, not ridiculously, if the bears would catch Goldilocks and spank her. Child is not Wright, however, and this is (after all) the 21st century. It’s hard to work spanking into a text these days without the raising of multiple eyebrows.
It’s entirely possible that this is a big old fat coincidence, but I dunno. Has Child been influenced by Wright? It’s the first time Child has created this three-dimensional world and not made drawn characters her protagonists. I enjoyed The Princess and the Pea quite a bit when it was released, so I’m baffled by this change of pace. Wright did pioneer the posed photographed doll-in-picture-book style. All I can figure is that it’s a tribute of sorts. Interesting in any case.