My favorite children's book? Well that's an impossible question. Children's books are often grouped en masse into their own genre, shoving picture books, early readers, middle grade novels and teen fiction willy-nilly into a great big undifferentiated pile. I mean, really, how does one compare Goodnight Moon with A Wrinkle in Time? Can't be done.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let me confine myself to one particular piece of the children's book pile: picture books. I will now proceed to wax ecstatic for several short sweet paragraphs about one of the greatest picture books EVER. It's called The Lonely Doll, and was written in 1957 by the idiosyncratic and enigmatic author, photographer and fashion model Dare Wright. The book is photo-illustrated with gorgeous black and white photographs of Miss Wright's doll, Edith, who was named after her mother, Edie. The resemblance to Grey Gardens is incidental, but appropriate.
Like most of my childhood loves, this book had a distinct sense of menace pervading its pages. But unlike the vaguely cannibalistic leanings of In the Night Kitchen or the slightly sinister plot points of The Three Robbers, The Lonely Doll has no awareness of its own utter creepiness.
The story is simple. Edith, a doll of a late-1950s young girl complete with bobby socks and a high ponytail, is alone and lonely, with no one but the pigeons to keep her company. Then, one day, two teddy bears appear on her doorstep and move into her empty house and her empty life. She is no longer lonely. There's some conflict when Little Bear and Edith play dress-up, (though it is unclear, in a very unsettling way, to whom those grown-up clothes and makeup originally belong), and make a big mess, talk back to Mr. Bear, and receive spankings.
Ah, the spanking of the Lonely Doll was one of the most titillating images of my childhood. There she is, bent over Mr. Bear's furry knee, with a tantalizingly subtle view of her teeny tiny doll panties sticking out beneath her chaste little slip. Gosh, how I loved that picture. (When reliving the moment while reading the book to my own child, I was pulled from my juicy reverie about corporal punishment by his innocent query: "Mommy, what's a spanking?" Kids today.
So there it is. Creepy. Corporal punishment and little girl panties. Bears appearing suddenly and mysteriously on one's doorstep and moving in without permission. Out-of-bounds dressing rooms belonging to unnamed strangers. Would this book be published nowadays? Probably not. And more's the pity.
Please check out my review of The Lonely Doll for the Curious Pages Blog, where you can gaze at my scanned-in-glimpses of Edith's panties to your heart's content. Well, that's what I do.
And to learn more about the author, Dare Wright, read this fascinating 2005 biography by Jean Nathan: The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright.