Annabelle Doll, Tiffany Funcraft, and their families are whisked out to sea when the Palmers accidentally place them in a box destined for charity donation. And it turns out they’re not alone—there are plenty of other doll people on the ship, too. After traveling thousands of miles, will they be able to find their way home?
Oddly enough—perhaps because he wasn’t available—Brian Selznick did not return to illustrate The Doll People Set Sail. The illustrations were instead done by Brett Helquist, who is a fantastic illustrator but definitely does not have the same style as Selznick. And, unfortunately, it really threw off the book for me. It just didn’t feel like a Doll People book without Selznick’s drawings. It felt less “these are actual dolls” and more “these are just drawings of dolls,” if that makes sense.
Despite the drawings, I did really enjoy this book. Annabelle gets some courage, Tiffany gains some wisdom, new friends are made, and somehow the dolls manage to navigate a gigantic ship without anyone breaking into pieces or getting caught (although I found it just a teensy bit unrealistic that they were able to traverse such a large quantity of the ship in just a few hours). I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as The Runaway Dolls (because The Runaway Dolls gave me a lot of Toy Story 2 vibes, and Toy Story 2 is my favorite Toy Story movie), but still, it was quite good.
I doubt there will be a fifth Doll People book, if only because I can’t see what would come next. Martin and Godwin have gone bigger and bigger with each book. What could top being shipped away? It’s been an enjoyable series, perfect for young children who love Toy Story or who just love dolls. And as contrived as they can be towards the end, they are at least a fun contrived. The Doll People Set Sail is a good ending book, with Annabelle becoming less afraid and all the dolls happy and enjoying their life.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Realistic, Children’s
“The ATC!” [Annabelle] wailed, her worries flooding back in an instant. “We really are going to the ATC! We could wind up anywhere. Mrs. Palmer said the ATC donations are sent to children all around the world.”
“But it sounds like we’re going to a warehouse first,” said Tiffany. “When they unload our box there, they’ll see that we don’t have an ATC label. I’m sure they’ll return us then.”
Best friends Annabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft have stumbled upon an unexpected visitor, a new doll named Tilly May. She’s arrived in a mysterious package…but she looks so familiar. Could she be Annabelle’s long-lost baby sister? It’ll take a runaway adventure to find out for sure. Are the dolls ready for life on the road?
The Runaway Dolls is the best Doll People book so far—miles better than The Meanest Doll in the World and even better than the original The Doll People, at least in my opinion. For one thing, it’s much longer, so a lot more time can be devoted to development of characters and world. For another, it gets Annabelle and Tiffany out of the Palmer’s house and into some new adventures. It’s the most Toy Story-ish of all the Doll People books so far, too.
While Annabelle has some frustrating moments in the beginning, for the most part I like her much better than in Meanest Doll. And the grand scale of the adventures help detract from her attitude problems, too. Again, getting away from the Palmer’s house was the best decision to make on the part of Martin and Godwin. And the best part of the book was Brian Selznick’s fabulous illustrations, and for fans of his, yes, his story-telling-through-pictures can be found inside the pages!
There were a few rough patches to the book; I felt that the beginning, the incentive to get the dolls in “runaway” mode, was forced and the entire scene with the author note of “Skip this if you’re scared!” preluding it was a waste of time, in my opinion, since it established virtually nothing and brought back an annoying character for no reason.
But despite the little bumps, The Runaway Dolls is a grand adventure, and in many ways even better than the first book. It has a wide cast of characters, but there’s never too much going on at one time, and you get to see how harrowing the life of a doll can be away from the safety of home (again, think Toy Story). The Meanest Doll was a rough book to get through, but this book was worth it.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Realistic, Children’s
They searched up and down the bank for more than an hour, but didn’t spot a single track or footprint.
“Finding the wagon tracks was the first step toward going home,” said Annabelle dully. “We’re not off to a very good start.”
“And now it’s almost dark,” said Bailey.
“I think,” said Tiffany, “that we’re going to be spending the night in the woods after all.”
Annabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft are two dolls who have been best friends since they met in Kate Palmer’s house at 26 Wetherby Lane. In this sequel to The Doll People, they hitch a ride in Kate’s backpack and find themselves in the biggest adventure of their lives, a day at school! But when an attempt to return home lands them in the wrong house, they’re in far deeper trouble than they imagined. Along with a host of new doll friends, they also encounter Mean Mimi, the wickedest doll of all. Mean Mimi is mean—really mean—and she’s determined to rule all of Dollkind or else destroy it. Will the world ever be safe for dolls again?
The Meanest Doll in the World lacks some of the charm of The Doll People. The illustrations are as gorgeous as ever and the adventures are even more hair-raising, yet there’s still something missing. I’m going to guess that it’s because Meanest Doll has too many pithy statements and Annabelle spends too much time angsting over her uselessness and then goes on and on about “taking deep breaths.”
Basically, Meanest Doll is a little too pat with its message, to the point of overbearance. The Doll People was a little more subtle, whereas Meanest Doll does its hardest to hit the reader over the head with a toy sledgehammer.
The book also feels a tad short, and I wish that Mimi’s time at the Palmer’s house had been slightly extended, so that we at least got some more explanation for her motivation. As it stands, she’s a bit of a moustache-twirling villain. Not necessarily a bad thing in children’s books, but it led to a lot of “it’s not nice to be mean” moments. Again, not a bad thing in children’s books, but it was too preachy for me.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Realistic, Children’s
“Tiffany,” whispered Annabelle, “you don’t suppose those dolls are—”
“Alive?” Tiffany whispered back. “Oh, I hope not.”
Most of the dolls were not properly dressed. One had been shoved headfirst into the sink. And a girl and a boy were playing with two others in a way that looked to Annabelle to be quite uncivilized.
“How are we going to get out of here?” Annabelle asked.
The Meanest Doll in the World lacks some of the charm that made The Doll People so delightful, probably due to the numerous instances of “let’s make this a teachable moment” that were slightly lacking in subtlety and consisted of pithy “being mean is bad”-type statements. Not necessarily bad if a child is reading it, but for me, it made the book less enjoyable.
Annabelle Doll is eight years old—she has been for more than a hundred years. Not a lot has happened to her, cooped up in the dollhouse, with the same doll people, day after day, year after year…until one day the Funcrafts move in.
I read this book I don’t know how many times when I was younger (and even as I type this my roommate just told me, “Oh, man, The Doll People? I loved that book when I was younger!”). It reminds me of a cross between Toy Story and The Borrowers. The illustrations are delightful and the story itself, simple as it is, is charming.
When I first started reading the book, I thought, “Oh, yeah, this book is entirely about finding Aunt Sarah. Why is it so long again?” But then that wonderful thing happened—like with Tom’s Midnight Garden—where I went into the book expecting it to be a bit tedious because the simplicity of the plot doesn’t seem to warrant the length of the book, but then was fully immersed in the world and the characters and the delightful adventures of Annabelle and Tiffany.
And the book’s simplicity isn’t a bad thing. Bravery, friendship, and perseverance are heavily emphasized as Annabelle and Tiffany look for Aunt Sarah. Forgiveness plays a small part, too. It’s a simple book, but it’s a delightful one, chock-full of beautiful illustrations and virtues.
“And Auntie Sarah was with us until nineteen fifty-five,” Annabelle went on. “Then one day…”
“She disappeared,” said Mama uncomfortably.
“Mama, Papa, dolls don’t just ‘disappear,’” said Annabelle. “Something has to happen to them.”
The Doll People is a fondly remembered book from my childhood. It’s got gorgeous illustrations (by Brian Selznick of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame), a simple, yet delightful plot that emphasizes bravery and friendship among other things, and a cast of characters that are unforgettable.