My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Julia Donaldson’s one of the big names of picture books, and I was excited to see The Paper Dolls where she teams up with the estimable Rebecca Cobb. If you don’t know Cobb’s work, it’s lovely. I’m a big fan of her style and I’m a bit of a Cobb kick at the moment following the perfect pain of Missing Mummy.
It’s a simple, rhythmic book with a beautiful aural texture to it. This is a book that demands to be read out loud, to be heard and savoured. Stylistically it reminded me a lot of John Burningham’s Cloudland; there’s that similar cut out and textural feel to the pictures that feels very human. And as I write that, I’m intrigued that my first thoughts around this book centre around thoughts of texture and of tangibility, and I think that’s something The Paper Dolls plays with quite intriguingly. The titular paper dolls (“Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow”) subtly change and shift over each page, interacting and reacting to their landscapes. This is beautifully done and so quietly done – it’s almost Toy Story-esque in how the toys come alive when they’re not being watched. Cobb’s paper dolls do the exact same thing, and they don’t do too much of it either. There’s a restraint in her artwork that’s beautiful to see. Like I’ve said before, I’m a fan of Cobb’s work and the glorious subtlety of it.
The story itself is lovely and actually features an intensely moving moment where the Paper Dolls are cut up but this doesn’t stop them from existing. There’s still “Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow” and they don’t stop from being, even though one of them is nothing but paper snow: “We’re not gone, Oh no no no! / We’re holding hands and we don’t let go. We’re Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie / And Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!”. I love that and I’m intrigued at how it’s very quietly teaching notions of longevity and of memory.
Talking of memory, this is the big shift at the end of the book because this is where the paper dolls end up existing after the whole Cutting Up Incident. It’s lovely, though I wonder if conceptually it’s a big leap to make for a juvenile audience. I think this is something which may become clearer after rereadings and through sharing discussions about the book. What I do love, however, is how this comes across to the adult and more older reader – there’s an ache of longing in reading the spread, and I do think that The Paper Dolls may have some really interesting applications in therapeutic contexts. This is a picture book to dwell on and to savour.