There are many dolls out there, and more are evolving all the time; but what is a storybook doll? This may seem obvious in one sense but obscure in another sense. The first thing we need to do is define the statement you may be asking: What is a storybook doll? I shall do that by defining the words storybook dolls, fairy tale dolls, or character dolls.
Storybook Dolls, Fairy Tale Dolls, and Character Dolls Defined
In essence these are all the same, though they may have slight variances and shades of meaning. They are basically dolls created/inspired from stories. Storybook dolls are inspired from just about any story, though they tend to be those child-like stories, yet not strictly fairy tales. Fairytale dolls are obvious. They are inspired by fairy tales–tales often passed down from long ago that are enchanting and even at times magical and include imaginary beings and places. Character dolls are broader and can include characters from just about any classic or popular story–even novels! For simplicity, I will refer to all of them jointly as Storybook dolls for the remainder of this post
Purpose and Evolution of Storybook Dolls
Why storybook dolls? Well, they are quite whimsical and fanciful, are they not? They have there place in representing and even telling tales. In olden days, vast populations were illiterate. That is one reason storyteller were so needed. Of course, there were no televisions, radios, iPad, or smartphones to entertain us. Storytelling was a common experience in the evenings; and most towns had a storyteller who entertained the town folks. In fact, this is where most of our Grimms Fairy Tales come from. Finger puppets were at times used to tell the story, “acting out the events” on fingers. In this way, one person could easily perform all the characters. These simple dolls told the story. Later, the popular Hans Christian Andersen told stories while he took his scissors and created character cut-outs. In fact, as he told his popular Ugly Duckling story, he took scissors and cut away. By the end of the tale, he revealed his beautiful paper swan cut-out to the children; and I am sure it quite delighted them. I like to make dolls too. When I was a teacher, I made dolls of “The Three Little Pigs” from felt and told the story to the children. They were quite entertained the entire time. It definitely held their attention. Puppets are great for this too. So storybook dolls can be used to tell classic stories; but in our day, with the popularization of art dolls and doll collecting, they often decorate, beautify, and charm a space–or become toys for children.
Kinds of Storybook Dolls
There are various kinds of storybook dolls. By saying this, I mostly mean the materials used to create these dolls; but there are a couple exceptions: a couple of them just differ in design but could be made from about any material. The list I give here are just a few popular kinds of dolls that come to mind. Many others could be listed, as dolls can be made from about anything. The types of storybook dolls I tend to see are cloth dolls, paper dolls, knit dolls, porcelain dolls, princess dolls, and puppets.
- Cloth Dolls: These dolls are simply what they are called–dolls made from cloth or fabric. This can easily be got at any craft store. I see dolls constructed from cotton/cotton blends, knit fabrics, felt, flannel, etc. and stuffed with fiberfill stuffing like a plush toy. The clothes are made from patterns created by analyzing the character in the story. Colors and design are considered when making the clothes.
- Paper Dolls: These dolls are created from paper and are cut out or stamped out of thick paper. Sometimes they are printed or colored, and sometimes it is a project for children who then color the characters. (Paper mache can also be used to create dolls. I once saw school children making paper mache characters from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.) Paper dolls are great for performing a story “stage play style” with one person performing all or most of the characters and voices. They are not always used in this way of course. They could simply be for toys or display.
- Porcelain Dolls: Oh the classic porcelain dolls! They have inspired many to collect dolls since their invention and popularization back in the early to mid 1800s. They truly are works of art, and people are enamored by their beauty, particularly in the eyes and lips. French dolls are quite popular in this type doll. Although this
material is not as popular for making storybook dolls–as it tends to be reserved for more serious and formal-looking dolls–I have seen a Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio doll made in this way; but I believe it to be quite rare. The storybook porcelain dolls seen these days tend to be porcelain figurines these days.
- Knit Dolls: Dolls can also be made by knitting or crocheting. This is basically taking yarn and making series of loops. There are patterns available to create characters from stories. I have seen about everything from Three Bears characters to Cinderella to Charlie Brown to Winnie the Pooh! People like to collect their favorite characters, especially when they are inspired from stories that were later made into movies, cartoons, or comics. This brings us to another category that has gained much popularity: the princess doll.
- Princess Dolls: I could write an entire post about this doll. (Perhaps one day I will. In fact, I could do that for each kind of doll I am listing here; but I will save that for another day.) With the popularization of Disney animated films, these dolls have become their own doll genre. But it is not only Disney. There have been many other princess dolls simply inspired from classic fairy tales. Some of these dolls are a particular princess in a particular fairy tale; others are not a specific princess character. I have seen them made of cloth, felt, paper, knit, and plastic. It is often the clothes that distinguish princess dolls to make them look like a particular princess. This is true of the other kinds of storybook dolls, such as cloth dolls. Simply changing the clothes and hair can give the doll a completely new look. This is why dolls with removable clothes are preferred by so many.
- Puppets: What a great doll genre for performing a story! Like paper dolls, a simple puppet show can tell the story and captivate the audience. These dolls are often made from cloth (or even fake fur fabric for the animals), but there are also porcelain and wooden marionettes connected by strings as depicted in the story of Pinocchio. This is a favorite storybook doll genre because they are so captivating, interactive, and tell the story well. As I said earlier, I made the Three Pigs dolls and performed the story in front of my elementary school students. I basically was using the dolls as if they were puppets, even though I just held them and their mouths did not move. Another exceptional puppet is a professional ventriloquist doll, used by a ventriloquist who does not move his or her mouth while performing a show. Each doll tends to be a unique doll and one-of-a-kind. There are some that show up on stage depicting famous characters or nursery rhymes. I remember seeing a show once when Little Bo Peep suddenly emerged from the suitcase. I was “sheepily” delighted.
Storybook Dolls Today
Today we do not tend to have town storytellers. Most people in this country can read and write (though some may debate that). Everywhere we look, we are entertained. Lights are flashing perpetually. Computer screens, radios, smartphones–you name it– the technology surrounds us; and we are constantly entertained and distracted. So most of us are entertained with devices rather than the storyteller. Still, there is something special about tactual interaction with a physical object that we relate to. Children are especially this way, but we all need interactions with real materials. Storybook dolls are just one part of the real world, though they depict the world of fantasy. Today many dolls are made to replicate the pop culture, which changes with the trends. One moment, one fashion or trend is popular, the next moment, it is something else. This is why storybook dolls, I believe, are exceptional: they represent characters from stories that have stood the test of time. If a character is still popular 100 years later, it will probably still be around to entertain in the next century as well. The Three Little Pigs are still here to oink us with delight; and I don’t think they are going anywhere.
Storybook Dolls: The Gist of It
So storybook dolls are basically dolls inspired by stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, legends, novels, or popular stories. They can be made from an array of materials and can be used to reenact the story. Whether paper, cloth, plastic, or porcelain, their purpose is either to entertain or to display a famous scene from a recognizable story. Some of them are quite easy to make, while others require patience and skill. They can be purchased in various places such as Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, as well as many small shops that create unique handmade dolls. When purchasing, you may want to look for storybook dolls with removable clothes, if you want to change the look of that storybook character. So why not have some fun tonight? Purchase or make a storybook character and perform it at home tonight with your family. The children will love it. In fact, they will thoroughly enjoy making a simple character with you. Afterwards, act it out in your den or living area. Instead of tossing them the iPad tonight, why not try something different like playing with storybook dolls together. And yes, boys and men can actually have fun doing this too! So find a nook, and enjoy a doll inspired by that book.