Book: The Wheat Doll
Author: Alison Randall
Illustrator: Bill Farnsworth
Age Range: 4-8
Alison Randall's The Wheat Doll is a lovely picture book about a young farm girl from the 1800s who loses her best friend, a doll filled with wheat. Mary Ann is devastated when her doll, Betty, is lost during a storm. But when, months later, she finds a doll-shaped patch of new, growing wheat, she knows that her friend isn't really gone. The Wheat Doll is based on a true story, passed down by the descendants of Mary Ann Winters.
The Wheat Doll is filled with details about life on the frontier. These details, however, never overwhelm the primary story about Mary Ann and Betty. For example, here's a passage that captures this balance:
"The days and months passed, but Mary Ann never gave up looking for Betty. The winter seemed very long without her best friend. She missed the swish-shush of her doll's wheat body, and her apron pocket felt as empty as her heart. There were chores to do, but now there was no Betty to sit and watch while she dipped candles and braided rags into rugs." (Page 21)
Bill Farnsworth's lovingly rendered oil on canvas illustrations perfectly capture the old-fashioned, heartfelt tone of The Wheat Doll, from the moody frontier sky to the cozy family cabin to the desolate look on Mary Ann's face when Betty goes missing. Other details about frontier life are revealed through the illustrations, too. A pot heating over the fire, both parents working the fields, candles hanging to dry in the cabin. Alison Randall and Bill Farnsworth together manage to give a compelling picture of frontier life, without ever for a moment taking the focus off of Mary Ann and Betty.
The Wheat Doll would make an excellent companion book for families reading The Little House books together, or teachers discussing frontier life. I would also recommend it to any child who has a strong attachment to a doll or stuffed animal (or at least to those old enough to understand the way that Betty is reborn). The gorgeous illustrations make this a book that adults will want to add to their collections, too.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Publication Date: September 1, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: A Patchwork of Books, 5 Minutes for Books, Kids Lit, Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.