cover image The China Doll

The China Doll

Elza Pilgrim, , illus. by Carmen Segovia. . Sterling, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-4027-2223-3

A story starring a doll that goes off in search of a birthday gift for her owner could be in danger of getting mired in treacly sentiment. But debut author Pilgrim conjures up an eerie journey with a menagerie of characters who demand payment for help. Sarah, the titular doll, wants to get Jessica a tea set for her fifth birthday and discovers that just such a tea set is locked in a trunk out in the barn ("it is filled with all sorts of magnificent things," a rat tells her, handing her a key). The doll's quest turns into a night-long series of trials. Sarah meets animals that range from kind to cruel ("I think I shall toss my new plaything up in the air!" purrs a cat, whose trick puts a crack in the doll's porcelain head); only her resolve pushes her onward. Italian artist Segovia's dry brushstrokes and earth-toned palette give the story a haunting, windswept feel. With great precision, the artist imagines the doll's fall into a bucket, her return trip holding onto the rat's tail in the dark, and her mute acceptance of repair by her owner's mother. While the plot avoids sugariness, much of the writing seems rather puffy ("The outside world was so big and dark it seemed to swallow her up"). Yet the padding in the text also serves to insulate more timid readers from some rather nightmarish turns. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)