So when I first started to make a list of the books I adored when I was a kid, I had no trouble rattling off a dozen very quickly. My problem was those I could vaguely remember loving but couldn’t remember titles or authors; I just had fleeting memories of what they were about. My brother had the same problem when he tried to tell me about his favourite. He could remember vague details, like three brothers, 1800’s and Utah. Well it appeared that was enough info to go on as after a little research, I tracked down The Great Brain. The internet is a wonderful think. You can find just about anything if you know how to look. So I went looking for my own favourite.
My memory is of a picture book involving a little girl whose father brings her a doll back from all his international trips. That’s it, that’s all I could remember, other than the fact I read it over and over (and over). But it was a one-shot and not one that continued to be printed and reprinted over the years. I think reading a series or a lot of books by one author tends to cement those books more in our memory.
Anyway, it took some digging, but I found it! At Forgotten Books and Stories of all places. What a fantastic website.
The Surprise Doll was written by by Morrell Gipson and first published in 1949. In my scouring of the internet I also discovered that I was not the only one who loved this book as a kid. It was actually rereleased with a 60th anniversary edition in 2009 and there a fond memories from many found on GoodReads.
Mary’s father is a sea captain and he brings her doll back from each of the countries he visits. Each has a feature just like Mary (nose, hair etc.). Soon she has one doll for every day of the week but Sunday. When dad says she has enough dolls, she decides to find that Sunday doll herself and goes to a doll maker in town. He agrees to make the Sunday doll and the result delights Mary as it is a combination of all the dolls and looks just like her. I loved the message that we were all a combination of our ancestors from all over the world. I think this book also sparked my interest in travel, as the dolls came from Sweden, China etc. all very exotic places my 7-year old self resolved to see one day.
As we are discovering with all books from “the past”, The Surprise Doll would probably pose some problems for the politically correct modern audience, as Mary is of European descent with blonde hair and blue eyes. All young girls wouldn’t be able to relate to her. While I see that side of it, I still love the simplicity of the story and was very glad I was able to track down a copy. It now sits proudly on my childhood shelf.