Monday, January 16, 2012
Book Review: The Cats in the Doll Shop, by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Viking, 2011)
I have a soft spot for both animal stories and doll stories, so I was eager to read Yona Zeldis McDonough's newest book, The Cats in the Doll Shop. While this book is a sequel to her earlier novel, The Doll Shop Downstairs, it can easily be read without having read the first book.
Set in 1915, a few years after the first story, this book returns to the cozy world of the Breittlemann family, who live upstairs from their small doll factory which supplies to New York's legendary toy store FAO Schwarz. The three sisters, eleven-year old Anna, her more sophisticated now teenaged sister Sophie, and nine-year old Trudie, are about to experience big changes in their lives when their cousin Tania comes to live with them from Russia. Anna is particularly excited because Tania is just her age; she even makes Tania a special doll just for her as a welcoming gift. But when Tania arrives, she is withdrawn and shy, even hoarding food in her bed. As Anna and her sisters struggle to understand their new cousin's behavior, Anna also tries to help a stray cat and her kitten who live around her building, but her father has a firm "no pets" policy. Soon Anna discovers that Tania has a special relationship with the cats--and the cats might just help her adjust successfully to her new home.
Set in a world of Jewish immigrant families highly reminiscent of the classic Sydney Taylor All of a Kind Family series, this is a charming and heartwarming story that is perfect for ages 7-10 and could be enjoyed by younger children as a read-aloud. The story is complemented by black and white drawings by Heather Maione which capture the nostalgia of the period. The book includes a glossary of Yiddish terms and a timeline.
An interview with the author, editor, and illustrator recently appeared in the blog The Whole Megillah. You can read an excerpt from the novel on the author's website. The first book in this series, The Doll Shop Downstairs, was honored with a Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book of 2009 and was also nominated as one of the New York Public Library's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, 2009.