Cover image for The all-I'll-ever-want Christmas doll
The all-I'll-ever-want Christmas doll
Publication Information:
New York : Schwartz & Wade books, c2007.
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 29 cm.
Reading Level:
AD 650 L Lexile
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Newbery Honor-winning author McKissack and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Pinkney have outdone themselves in this heart-warming picture book infused with humor and the true spirit of Christmas.

Christmas always comes to Nella's house, but Santa Claus brings gifts only once in a while. That's because it's the Depression and Nella's family is poor. Even so, Nella's hoping that this year she and her two sisters will get a beautiful Baby Betty doll.

On Christmas morning, the girls are beside themselves with excitement! There is Baby Betty, in all her eyelash-fluttering magnificence. "Mine!" Nella shouts, and claims the doll for herself. But soon she discovers that Baby Betty isn't nearly as much fun as her sisters. Would it be more fun to share this very best gift with them after all?

Author Notes

Patricia C. McKissack was born in Smyrna, Tennessee on August 9, 1944. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Tennessee State University in 1964 and a master's degree in early childhood literature and media programming from Webster University in 1975. After college, she worked as a junior high school English teacher and a children's book editor at Concordia Publishing.

Since the 1980's, she and her husband Frederick L. McKissack have written over 100 books together. Most of their titles are biographies with a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson. Their other works included Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States. Over their 30 years of writing together, the couple won many awards including the C.S. Lewis Silver Medal, a Newbery Honor, nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?. In 1998, they received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also writes fiction on her own. Her book included Flossie and the Fox, Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt, A Friendship for Today, and Let's Clap, Jump, Sing and Shout; Dance, Spin and Turn It Out! She won the Newberry Honor Book Award and the King Author Award for The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural in 1993 and the Caldecott Medal for Mirandy and Brother Wind. She dead of cardio-respiratory arrest on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

In expertly wrought watercolors, Pinkney focuses on how light hits certain objects-voluptuous oranges, a new patchwork quilt, a baby doll's yellow frock-which are some literal bright spots for a family holding onto the positive despite their Depression-era struggles. The newspapers that line the walls and three-to-a-bed sleeping conditions fade, ceding to the clan's Christmas observance. McKissack's story shines as well, homing in on the most straightforward language to convey realistic but difficult situations: "Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while." Ages 4-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Primary) ""Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while."" Despite the harsh realities of the Depression, middle sister Nella sets her sights and her heart on a store-bought doll. Her sisters scoff (""Why you wishin' for somethin' you ain' never gon' get?"") but change their tune when Nella's wish amazingly comes true. Awe quickly turns to anger as each girl tries to claim Baby Betty -- ""the color of chocolate, with rosy cheeks, black curly locks, and thick eyelashes"" -- for herself. Strong-willed Nella prevails but soon discovers that playing with Baby Betty alone isn't as fun as sharing her with her sisters. Though McKissack sets this story in the past, her characters' feelings and desires are universal. Pinkney's warm watercolor-and-pencil illustrations portray the family's poverty yet glow with what it is rich in: love. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Growing up during the Depression, Nella and her two sisters have little expectation of gifts on Christmas morning. But one year, after Nella writes to Santy Claus asking for a store-bought doll, their father surprises the girls with a Baby Betty doll for the three of them to share. They fight over their gift, but finally Nella's sisters agree that she can have it. After a day of playing with Baby Betty, who, unlike Nella's sisters, is compliant but has little to say, Nella misses her siblings and finds a way to make amends. As explained in the author's note, McKissack takes a bit of oral history and retells it as a first-person memoir that works well as a picture-book text. Pinkney creates a series of beautiful narrative tableaux, illustrating the characters' feelings as well as their actions with clarity and grace. Parents looking for books on sharing will find this an appealing exploration of the subject, teachers seeking picture books set during the Depression will find many details that bring the period to life. A gentle lesson that plays into the spirit of the holiday.--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

"THE ALL-I'LL-EVER-WANT CHRISTMAS DOLL" is a rich portrait of a poor black family in the midst of the Depression. Written by Patricia C. McKissack, the winner of numerous awards, and illustrated by the equally renowned Jerry Pinkney, it has the look, sound and feel of a classic. McKissack's direct and unfettered language partners beautifully with the vivid tones of Pinkney's pencil-and-watercolor illustrations. Inspired by a true story, "The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll" is an evocative book with a universal message. Nell, the middle daughter of three, tells the story of the Christmas she set her heart on a doll glimpsed in The Pittsburgh Courier, with which her family is repapering their walls in preparation for the oncoming winter. "Baby Betty is all I want ... ever," she announces to her sisters, who make fun of her for her unattainable desire. Nell has an authentic, blunt narrative voice of a girl we'd like to know. "I flat-out refused to give up my dream," she says, and without telling anyone writes her letter to "Santy Claus." She has already spent many nights imagining herself and Baby Betty playing together, and we think of her as basically good-hearted, so her selfishness on Christmas morning, when Baby Betty is miraculously presented to the girls, takes us by surprise, but makes her all the more convincing as a little girl. Nell refuses to share the doll with her sisters, who did not believe in her dream. They reluctantly agree that the doll is rightfully hers and go off to jump rope. But when Nell attempts to engage Baby Betty in the same games she's accustomed to playing with her lively sisters, she grows frustrated relying on her imagination to sustain them. Not until she invites her sisters to join in does she truly come to enjoy the new doll. No matter how much you love it, McKissack's story reminds us, an inanimate toy is no substitute for playmates. Play with me: Clockwise from top, illustrations from "The Curious Adventures of the Abandoned Toys," "The Toy Farmer" and "The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll." BUT don't tell that to Jed, in Andrew T. Pelletier's "Toy Farmer." When Jed discovers a toy farmer astride a bright red tractor "in the darkest back corner of the attic," his father reveals, with a wink and a "secret little smile," that it was his childhood plaything: "Craziest toy I ever had!" The first day Jed plays happily alone with his toy, suffering none of the frustration that beset Nell during her solitary play. When he wakes up the next morning, the toy has taken on a life of its own: the bedroom rug is now a field, and the farmer is busy tilling and weeding. Day by day the fantasy takes on new dimension and detail, with Jed looking on in awe. Eventually he is invited to participate by entering the farmer's enormous pumpkin in a contest - but when he rushes home to share his special award with the toy farmer, the wonderland has disappeared and his bedroom is simply his bedroom once again. The zany premise of "The Toy Farmer," with its energetic execution by the illustrator Scott Nash, requires that we, like Jed, fall under its spell. Most of us will be happy to go along. Jed, his father and all the "real" settings are rendered in soft-colored pencil and watercolor, while the fantastic elements that take over the bedroom are bold and bright, with the sharp edges of mechanical playthings of an earlier era. Aided by digital artwork, Nash renders the vines and vegetation as animated pipelike constructions and the people and animals, as well as the giant pumpkin, as vintage metal windup toys. Does Jed have a better imagination than McKissack's Nell? Why is he capable of finding pleasure in his solitary game? The appeal of this book is that it doesn't trouble to answer such literal-minded questions. When the fantasy ends, there is no reassuring hint that it was all just a dream. It was pure, if not simple, make-believe. "The Curious Adventures of the Abandoned Toys," by the English screenwriter, director and actor Julian Fellowes, asks for an even bigger stretch of the imagination, but one that feels more familiar. Like Margery Williams's "Velveteen Rabbit" or Kate DiCamillo's "Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," Fellowes's book is told from a toy's point of view. Children who figure in such stories are merely part of the shadowy backdrop against which the toys' own tales evolve. Doc, a teddy bear who has lived in a children's hospital for most of his long life, undergoes a series of alarming adventures and then finds himself in a dump, home to a community of abandoned toys with its own rules of etiquette. When Doc inquires of a blue bear, "Where are you from?" he is politely admonished by another bear that "one isn't supposed to ask that question around here. If a toy wants to tell you how he or she wound up in a dustbin, all well and good, but you can't ask. Do you see?" Fellowes's formal style is delightfully complemented by S. D. Schindler's precise artwork; both the full-page color illustrations and the small line drawings are splendidly realistic. Schindler's stuffed animals are wonderfully tactile, with different textures and visible seams - making a sole porcelain doll look all the more peculiar in contrast. She is an odd mix of elements, with a thin fashion-doll frame but no visible joints, that nevertheless takes on fluid human poses. She is meant to be a diva, a toy of higher quality, but her oddly unconvincing appearance is distracting. "The Curious Adventures of the Abandoned Toys" exudes a classic English ambience; it might easily be found in the Banks's nursery in "Mary Poppins" (or the current Broadway version, at any rate, since Fellowes wrote its book). Also the writer of the Oscar-winning script for the film "Gosford Park," here Fellowes offers a story into which young readers can settle comfortably, filled with sympathetic characters and adventures. Both Fellowes's book, with its soothing illustrations, and Andrew T. Pelletier's wilder vision of make-believe are firmly rooted in the tradition of magical toy stories, where things have a life of their own. Patricia C. McKissak's affecting tale, on the other hand, reminds us of the overpowering joy a toy can bring to a child, and the greater pleasure of sharing it with beloved playmates. Krystyna Poray Goddu's most recent book is "Dollmakers and Their Stories: Women Who Changed the World of Play."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-During the Great Depression, the all-black town of Boykin, AL, was identified as "the poorest place in America." "Santy" hardly ever showed up, but this year middle-child Laura Nell Pearson writes him a letter asking for a Baby Betty doll that she's seen advertised in a newspaper. Her two sisters are scornful, but to their amazement, the doll appears on Christmas morning. Of course there's a fight, and Daddy and Mama tell the girls to work it out. Laura convinces her sisters that the doll belongs to her, but soon discovers that playing with an inanimate object isn't as much fun as it is to play with real live sisters, and in the end invites them to a tea party for Baby Betty. McKissack's knack for combining historical detail with true-to-life family drama and language is shown to good effect, showcased beautifully by Pinkney's evocative watercolors, which give a real flavor of the time period. An author's note at the beginning gives the history of the story. Learning to appreciate what you have and to share what you get are two lessons that never go out of style.-Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

McKissack and Pinkney join forces for their third collaborative effort in this story of three sisters who have to share one doll for Christmas during the Depression. The middle sister, Nella, writes to Santa to ask for a Baby Betty doll, even though she knows there isn't much chance of receiving her due to her family's modest circumstances. On Christmas morning, the girls each receive a little bag of treats, but there is only one doll for all of them, leading to bickering and arguments. The wise parents tell their daughters to sort it out for themselves, and they do: Nella claims the doll as her own, and the other sisters ignore her and continue to play together. Nella finds that her sisters are more fun to play with than a silent doll, so she decides to share Baby Betty. The longer story is full of humorous dialogue and scenes of realistic family life showing the close bonds within the family. Pinkney's watercolor illustrations are masterful, as always, capturing the emotions on the girls' faces and filling in details of the family's Depression-era world. (author note) (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.