Tiny Things

When tiny ourselves my sister and I were obsessed with tiny things. When living in Germany we used our allowances to buy small plastic animals from a local toy store.  At one point we lived over a pharmacy and discovered that if we asked they would give us miniature versions of products —  bitty boxes, teeny bottles, and perfect wee versions of detergent boxes, and such.  We also collected small stuffed animals, dolls, furniture, and played with all of it as well.

Sensibly, our parents made sure to take us to the real-life tiny Dutch village, Madurodam when on holiday in Holland (where my mother also decided to get us wooden shoes for muddy days — this was in the late 50s and the friends we were visiting like some other Dutch still used them this way — and insisted we use them back in Michigan…but I digress).  At one point I fell madly in love with Rumer Godden’s books, among them Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and I still have my versions of those two dolls along with their things (a scroll, flowers, and other objects that I made myself) in a matchbox.

My students today are equally captivated by the small — Japanese erasers, writing materials, and other little objects periodically pop up on their desks and begin to collect and accumulate small thing by small thing. And so how lovely to see Imogene Russell Williams’ Guardian piece on the appeal of tiny living things in children’s books.  I’m curious though — much as I loved The Borrowers as a child I don’t see it gaining a lot of young readers today.  Does anyone know of kids who love it?  Or Rumer Godden’s books for that matter?  I hold them too close to my own nostalgic heart to recommend them to kids today as I fear they will be quickly abandoned unfinished.  But perhaps I’m wrong to feel this way?

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12 responses to “Tiny Things

  1. The Borrowers is tricky–it has a very slow start that turned my boys off. Sigh.

    My favorite book with small things is perhaps Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water — a book for grown-ups that has an utterly lovely collection of small things at its center (literally and metaphorically)

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  2. vickyjs

    I LOVED Miss Happiness and Miss Flower! I still reread it.

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  3. Maureen

    Have you seen Maggie Rudy’s illustrations on mouseshouses.blogspot.com? She has also illustrated a picture book called “The House That Mouse Built.” Maggie talks about “the rapture of the tiny” in describing the worlds she creates.

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  4. LOVED The Borrowers. Did you ever listen to the This American Life about the girl who thought they were real? It’s one of my favorite episodes.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/106/fathers-day-98

    (The Borrowers segment is Act 4)

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  5. Ceci

    I haven’t had students who read The Borrowers and I don’t have any Rumer Godden in my classroom library (although I have almost all her books at home!). I think The Doll People and The Night Fairy are both more contemporary books that appeal to the same love of tiny things.

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  6. Have you seen the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago? Marvellous miniatures, but more uncanny than cute. My eldest son (9) loved them. We did not have such great luck with Mistress Mashams’s Repose, by T.H. White, about Lilliputians at the bottom of the garden. The diction was too antiquated. I have Rumer Godden on our TBR list, though.

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  7. Charlotte, I need to check out the Goudge title — I only know her children’s books.

    Maureen, those mouse images remind me of old postcards and tins with anthropomorphized animals in various domestic situations.

    Lisa, thanks for that link! Charming and sad.

    Ceci, yes those are more recent stories involving small folk. And for a very different take on them check out Ellen Booraem’s Small Persons With Wings.

    Nathalie, I did see the Thorne rooms once. There was a recent children’s book set in them: Marianne Malone’s The Sixty-Eight Rooms.

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  8. brookeshelf

    About a year ago I read Miss Happiness and Miss Flower to my son and daughter (then aged 7 and 5, respectively) and they both loved it. My son was especially taken with the descriptions of the dollhouse construction and loved the blueprints in the back of the book. My son insisted that we begin making our own Japanese dollhouse immediately, but his parents’ lack of carpentry skills were, alas, too big of an obstacle.

    As a librarian, I would only see The Borrowers circulate when parents checked it out to share with their children — but that’s just anecdotal evidence.

    Doll stories keep getting published, though — there seems to be at least one title about dolls per year. Last year we had Francesca Lia Block’s House of Dolls and the year before that, The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough.

    As for “tiny thing” stories that appeal to boys, I prefer the sadly-out-of-print The Dollhouse Caper by Jean S. O’Connell. It features a family of boys who play with a dollhouse every Christmas, in decidedly boy-like fashion (the father doll spends a lot of time upside-down in the toilet). I wrote about it years ago on my now-defunct blog “The Brookeshelf”:

    http://brookeshelf.blogspot.com/2006/09/forgotten-bookshelf-dollhouse-caper-by.html

    Enjoy!

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    • My impression is that kids tend to move on to other things (than dolls) earlier and earlier. That is, I played with dolls and such when in 4th grade, but I don’t think my students do any more. So I think that may factor into the appeal (or lack of it) of these older books.

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  9. Have you read The sixty-eight rooms by Marianne Malone? It’s about the Thorne rooms. I don’t have any Rumer Godden, more’s the pity, but my students love The Doll People, and I get occasional takers for The Borrowers, but that’s mainly because I loved it so much. I also loved The Mennyms, but it’s hard to describe without making it sound weird.

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    • Yes, I mentioned the Malone book and the Thorne rooms upthread. They are neat and make me think a bit of Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor which enchanted me when I saw it as a kid.

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  10. Wendy Lamb

    HI Monica–oh, how I Loved MISS HAPPINESS AND MISS FLOWER! The miniaturization, and the plans for the houses, but more than that I loved how working on the house and the tiny things was a cure for loneliness…the emotions of the main character have stayed with me, and those of the dolls, and how they helped each other find a happy solution. So–that is a deeper element that might add appeal to readers today, along with the idea of making some of the things in the book. And for those who can’t build or sew such items, dreaming of doing that is a keen pleasure, too . (ha–Martha Stewart fans) Ah! Thank you for reminding me of how it felt to read this book again and again. Your fan, W

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