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Once upon a time, bedtime stories were not merely small, individual picture books released one at a time. No, the authors wrote their tales, had them richly illustrated, and then bound together in a collection so that Mum, dad, or Nurse could read them in a chronological order one by one, keeping place with a bookmark. Instead of short rhymes and tales about animals with underpants on their heads, the stories gently amused, relating stories children could relate to, enjoy, and perhaps even learn a thing or two from. This book is from this era, and is about a little rag doll named Raggedy Ann, her toy friends in the nursery, and the little girl named Marcella who loved them all. Like many such classic tales, these stories were first written by a father for his daughter, also named Marcella,, and like Pooh and friends, the toys were actual belongings of his beloved child. Newspaperman Johnny Gruelle was one day brought a handmade rag doll by his small daughter Marcella, and he drew the face upon it for her and helped her name it. From then on, he set pen to paper and wrote her adventures starring the doll and her companions. Sadly, the doll also became a symbol for the vaccination damaged as when the real Marcella was 13 years old, she was vaccinated without consent with the small pox vaccine and it caused a minor heart defect to become fatal.
The doll was "born" in 1915, and in 1918, publishing house P.F. Volland decided to not only publish the stories, but to mass market Raggedy Anns for toy stores. This came to feature as the last story in the book, as it relates how Raggedy Ann is surprised to go to a strange place, and there is measured and examined with a surprise ending of her seeing her sisters made for all children to enjoy. The dolls and the books were a runaway success, quickly establishing themselves as an American childhood icon that became a global sensation. More Raggedy Ann books followed, joined by the appearance of Raggedy Andy and his doll persona. Newspaper serials followed, and films clear to the present day.This original book is now in the public domain, so has been re-offered into print after a long absence, and is joyfully with its original art done by Johnny Gruelle himself.
The pictures are utterly charming, and the stories of the adventures of the toys never fails to captivate my children. They love these stories so much that my family sent them the dolls last year, and my son and daughter insist that Raggedy Andy and Ann accompany them to bed each night. As for the stories themselves, I am again reminded of Mr. Milne and his stories of a certain stuffed bear. Similar in tone and length, we are treated to tea parties, getting accidentally stuck in the washing, mischievous kittens, meeting new toys in the nursery and trying to make friends, flying a kite, and many other fancies. Boys as well as girls will be enchanted, as the stories are not pink and fluffy having male and female toy characters aplenty. With twelve stories, there is plenty of fun to be had without the book size being intimidating. The language is simple and conversational so young children will delight to listening while looking at the gaily coloured pictures, while children from age seven onwards can read this alone.
You can pick up second hand copies via the Marketplace from 55 pence, new copies from about £5, or read it free thanks to Project Gutenberg's online edition. if your children desire the dolls, they can also be obtained via eBay, with several UK sellers.