Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Books? Favorite Obscure Childhood Book

What Books? Favorite Obscure Childhood Book

I have a new feature called "What Books?" I have so many book memories from my childhood. Different books touched me in different ways and had came to me at important times. I plan on running this feature every other week and featuring books that I love(d) for different reasons.

Right now, a lot of the topics and books that come to mind feature books that I liked when I was in elementary and middle school more than books I liked in high school and later. So there is more of a middle-grade focus.

See prior editions of What Books? here:

Favorite Not-Super-Popular Book Series
Favorite Ghost/Scary Stories
The Movie Is Better Than The Book - Check out this post for lots of fabulous comments

Please feel free to contribute your own favorite books in the comments or post similarly on your blog and link to this. If people like this feature as it gets going, I think it might be a fun meme.

This week, I'm featuring one of my favorite books from late elementary school that most people have probably never heard of.

The Doll Hospital by James Duffy
Scholastic, 1990

Eight-year-old Alison has been seriously ill for as long as she can remember. Unable to go to school or play outside, her only friends are her doll Nettie, her stuffed dog Boodles, and her thirteen-year-old brother. Nettie and Boodles are "real" toys - they walk, talk, and have established personalities. When Denise, a new doll, arrives in the household desperately ill (measles), Alison, Nettie, and Boodles team up to cure her. This successful effort turns into a doll hospital, where neighborhood children and even Alison's doctor send in dolls to be healed. Meanwhile, Alison's illness continues unabated. When a possible cure arises, can Alison and her doll hospital survive the arduous treatment?

I think I bought this book from a Scholastic book order in fourth grade. I'm not sure why exactly the book was so endearing. I wasn't a big doll person (I did, however, love paper dolls). I certainly never believed my dolls were real (actually, it would have creeped me out). I imagine part of the attraction was because the main character's name was Alison. I was also fascinated by Alison's illness. It is never disclosed in the book and sounds like nothing I've ever heard of. I imagine the author just made it up. It intrigued me so much that I once described the symptoms to my physician husband to see if he'd ever heard of anything like it (he hadn't).

The "realness" of the dolls and stuffed animals are probably my favorite part of this book. Most books where the toys speak are implicitly or explicitly made out to be the imagination of the child character. Here, the toys really seem real. Alison's brother speaks with them and her doctor gives her an ill doll. Of course, you could infer that Alison's brother and doctor were only pretending to converse with the toys to appease Alison, but I never did assume that. I love how each doll or stuffed animal has his or her personality. Nettie is bossy, loyal, and a little jealous. Boodles is laissez-faire and fun. Denise is elegant and smart. Grandpa Rabbit is a great story-teller. Mimi is an actress and comedienne.

The Doll Hospital is certainly not fine literature by any means. In fact, the few editorial reviews I found on Amazon mercilessly panned it. But when I picked it up again last week and skimmed through it in about 20 minutes, I was once again entranced with Alison's invalid life and her marvelous ability to heal dolls with the help of her cool friends.

What is a book from your childhood that you loved but no one else has probably ever heard of?


  1. Aww, I loved this book when I was younger!

  2. A great post and certainly not a book I'd heard of, I'd love for this to become a regular feature. The first book I can remember buying holds a special place in my heart - The Pebbles Go to Town was the title though I have long since forgotten the author and putting it into a search engine shows up nothing.

  3. A great idea for a blog meme. I do hope you are able to get this one up and running. I've never read this book before, but I think I would have been scared away from the book as a child because I was such a "tomboy" and this one has the word "doll" in it - lol!!

  4. I've never heard of this book, but it sounds so so cute! You know what book I found in the attic the other day? I Am Leper. I loved that book! :)

  5. This makes me want to call my mom and ask her what books she still has of mine from when I was little. I think it would be a blast to go through them again and see what I think now:) I'm with you on the dolls though Alison, I never thought mine were alive either, it would have scared me to think that!

  6. I love this feature you do. I do a similar one on Thursdays (I've been calling it Spotlight for lack of a better name). I'll definitely have to keep your posts in mind to link up with when mine are similar to ones you have done. :)

    I haven't read the book you picked, but that 1990s cover is working overtime on my nostalgia. :) I don't know if this book is unpopular, but I loved Stonewords by Pam Conrad when I was younger. It's about a girl who befriends a ghost, but the ghost has a secret.

  7. Awesome idea! I don't remember reading The Doll Hospital. I loved the Babysitter's Club books. One of my favorite books was Up the Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. It's about a girl, named Julie (one of the reasons I liked it so much), who goes to live with her Aunt after her mother dies. The story follows Julie's childhood from a little girl to the age of seventeen. I also liked some books about a girl who had cancer. I believe she was a dancer? I don't remember what they were called. They were written in the 80's or 90's. The books were very intense and emotional.

  8. A Lonesome Bear Called T. I loved this books. It was one of my favorites to read around Christmas.

  9. Oh my goodness! I'm so glad you posted this book! I read this and have been searching for the title forever!! I just remembered it was a sick girl with talking dolls and could not find it.

    I too don't remember what made me love this book, but I remember really enjoying it as a kid. I'm so glad you posted it!!

  10. For me it was the Magic Faraway Tree books and the Wishing Chair books by Enid Blyton. These books are so enchanting and whimsical, remembering them transports me back to childhood.
    Truly Bookish


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