The China Doll by Elza Pilgrim, illus. by Carmen Segovia

The China Doll by Elza Pilgrim, illus. by Carmen Segovia

Pilgrim, Elza, illus. by Carmen Segovia. The China Doll. Sterling, 2005. ISBN  978-1402722233 32 pp. $14.95


A china doll who wants to find a birthday gift for her owner sets off on a journey, where the animals she encounters along the way help her to get to a tea set buried in a trunk in a barn. Each animal has its price and requires a token from the doll before they acquiesce to assisting her.

The animals are characterized by working the sounds they make into the speech. It works well for the a buzzing fly and a purring cat, with elongated Zzz’s and Rrrrs, but it’s silly and intrusive for the barking dog and honking goose. It’s also inconsistent; the rat and cow don’t make characteristic noises.

On the surface, this is a charming story about a good little girl with an even better doll who goes out into the world to make someone else happy. On a deeper level, though, this can be read as an anti-feminist subtext. The doll is continuously apologetic and thankful. When she becomes dirty and damaged, she is devalued, and must be made pretty again. No one offers to help out of kindness– everything has a price. And the tea party set she seeks for her mistress is a stereotypical choice of play for a little girl that perpetuates the harmful myth that women are homemakers and men breadwinners.

The illustrations have a retro tone that fits the tone and tempo of the story – soft pinks and greens and browns, and darker blues and browns for outdoor nighttime scenes. The girl has a 1920’s haircut, and doll wears an late 1800’s style costume. The paintings are nicely executed and feature a variety of angles, and occasionally, the text block has additional detailed illustrations.

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