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BETTY DOLL by Patricia Polacco


by Patricia Polacco & illustrated by Patricia Polacco

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-23638-4
Publisher: Philomel

A doll becomes the vehicle for Polacco's (The Butterfly, 2000, etc.) deeply felt remembrance of her mother, Mary Ellen. Told as a letter from a dying woman to her daughter, the story follows the author's mother from age six to old age, using Betty Doll as an ever-present reference point. "She sat on my dresser in the dorm, and then in Mrs. Borchst's boarding house when I got my first teaching job." This is at its most effective when telling of Mary Ellen as a child: in one sequence, she cuts the skirt of her aunt's best dress for a new dress for Betty Doll; in another, a fallen Betty Doll marks the place where Mary Ellen and her brother are trapped in a blizzard. But as Mary Ellen grows older, the story compresses her life into an obituary of sorts, becoming a recitation of adult events: marriage, divorce, the birth of her children, her mother's death, and finally Mary Ellen's own cancer. Although these events clearly mean much to the author, they are remote from a child's experience and lack the narrative excitement of the earlier episodes, and Betty Doll's presence becomes an almost mechanically noted device. The illustrations are wonderfully evocative of old photographs: the pencil drawings are nearly entirely black-and-white, with Betty Doll almost always the only spot of color on the page. This documentary effect is heightened by the inclusion of electronically reproduced family photographs that let the reader see the actual Mary Ellen growing up even as her story is being told. It is a beautiful, loving treatment of one woman's life, but in the end likely to resonate more with adults than children. (Picture book. 6-10)