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The Paper Dolls

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The breathtakingly beautiful story of one little girl and her five paper dolls.

32 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2012

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About the author

Julia Donaldson

916 books1,494 followers
Growing up
I grew up in a tall Victorian London house with my parents, grandmother, aunt, uncle, younger sister Mary and cat Geoffrey (who was really a prince in disguise. Mary and I would argue about which of us would marry him).

Mary and I were always creating imaginary characters and mimicking real ones, and I used to write shows and choreograph ballets for us. A wind-up gramophone wafted out Chopin waltzes.

I studied Drama and French at Bristol University, where I met Malcolm, a guitar-playing medic to whom I’m now married.

Busking and books
Before Malcolm and I had our three sons we used to go busking together and I would write special songs for each country; the best one was in Italian about pasta.

The busking led to a career in singing and songwriting, mainly for children’s television. I became an expert at writing to order on such subjects as guinea pigs, window-cleaning and horrible smells. “We want a song about throwing crumpled-up wrapping paper into the bin” was a typical request from the BBC.

I also continued to write “grown-up” songs and perform them in folk clubs and on the radio, and have recently released two CDs of these songs.

One of my television songs, A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE, was made into a book in 1993, with illustrations by the wonderful Axel Scheffler. It was great to hold the book in my hand without it vanishing in the air the way the songs did. This prompted me to unearth some plays I’d written for a school reading group, and since then I’ve had 20 plays published. Most children love acting and it’s a tremendous way to improve their reading.

My real breakthrough was THE GRUFFALO, again illustrated by Axel. We work separately - he’s in London and I’m in Glasgow - but he sends me letters with lovely funny pictures on the envelopes.

I really enjoy writing verse, even though it can be fiendishly difficult. I used to memorise poems as a child and it means a lot to me when parents tell me their child can recite one of my books.

Funnily enough, I find it harder to write not in verse, though I feel I am now getting the hang of it! My novel THE GIANTS AND THE JONESES is going to be made into a film by the same team who made the Harry Potter movies, and I have written three books of stories about the anarchic PRINCESS MIRROR-BELLE who appears from the mirror and disrupts the life of an otherwise ordinary eight-year-old. I have just finished writing a novel for teenagers.

When I’m not writing I am often performing, at book festivals and in theatres. I really enjoy getting the children in the audience to help me act out the stories and sing the songs. When Malcolm can take time off from the hospital he and his guitar come too. and it feels as if we’ve come full circle - back to busking.

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5 stars
682 (54%)
4 stars
335 (26%)
3 stars
182 (14%)
2 stars
42 (3%)
1 star
17 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 141 reviews
Profile Image for Sophia Triad.
2,239 reviews3,435 followers
February 20, 2017
Absolutely fantastic book. You may know the book "Gruffalo" by the same author.

This is the story of a girl who likes making paper dolls with her mother. The dolls become her friends and the characters of her fantasy journeys.
[A nice game is to look for the stars (the ceiling decoration), the tiger (her slippers) and the lost butterfly (her hairslide) in every page of the book.]

One day a cruel boy snips the girl’s favorite paper dolls and the girl is NOT sad:

…the pieces all joined together,
and the paper dolls flew
into the little girl’s memory

When the little girl grows up and becomes a mother herself, everything comes full circle and she is the one now that will make paper dolls for her little girl.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,069 reviews104 followers
August 31, 2019
Truth be told until the little girl's paper dolls were cut into many little pieces by that nasty boy and his scissors (and all she had left of them were fond memories), I had been very much enjoying and smiling at Julia Donaldson's The Paper Dolls (especially because the little girls' adventures playing with her paper dolls nostalgically reminded me of multiple sets of paper dolls from my own childhood and that indeed, the adventures and escapades I pretended to have with them were very much akin and alike to those described and featured in The Paper Dolls).

However and personally, the scene in The Paper Dolls with that nasty little boy totally cutting up the little girl's paper doll set with scissors, and even more that there are absolutely NO repercussions and consequences whatsoever for this and for him, that really and truly has majorly and absolutely made me lastingly angry. For while Julia Donaldson's concept that the little girl (instead of being just upset and heartbroken that her dolls have been snipped and cut into many different chunks of paper) instead gathers up those doll pieces in her heart and makes them part of her cherished childhood memories is a wonderful and lovely sentiment (and also in my opinion a very positive way of dealing with loss), on an entirely personal and emotional level, I am indeed left absolutely furious that the nasty scissor boy never has to face any kind of punishment, any kind of admonishment and criticism whatsoever regarding what he has done, that he has viciously and with extreme wilfulness deliberately destroyed the little girl's paper doll set (and while the lack of repercussions and consequences for the little boy's act of angry destruction is likely to be seen as something modern and "realistic" by some, I for one have felt very personally uncomfortable and annoyed and it certainly has also very much lessened my potential reading pleasure of The Paper Dolls, as at the very least, Julia Donaldson should have had the scissor boy get a bit of a tongue lashing).

Combined with the fact that while I have definitely and certainly found Rebecca Cobb's accompanying illustrations colourful and descriptive, they are also in and of themselves visually much too scratchy and cartoon-like for my aesthetic tastes (with especially the facial expressions of the little girl feeling rather stagnant and even a bit too old for her age, as indeed, facial features-wise, both adults and children look exactly the same to my eyes), I can and will only consider a two star ranking for The Paper Dolls (as yes and absolutely, the lack of repercussion and condemnation of the little boy's destructiveness with his scissors really does very much bother me, as it to and for me sure tends to feel as though Julia Donaldson just does not seem to think that his scissoring destructiveness is all that significant or worthy of being considered problematic, to be critical of behaviour).
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,195 reviews398 followers
September 25, 2019
Contains Spoilers

2.5 stars. A little girl makes some paper dolls and she plays with them, naming them, making up games and taking them to places. Then a boy comes and chops them up with some scissors. The dolls live on in the little girls memory and one day, when she is a mum she makes some more.

The thing that really spoilt this otherwise quite lovely story for me was the scene where a boy cuts the dolls up, he is smiling and knows what he is doing and apart from the fact this is such a sad and mean thing to happen to these little paper dolls with names the boy faces no consequences for his actions, his behaviour is not even mentioned. If I had read this to my daughter when she was younger not only would she have felt very sad for the poor dolls she would have wanted to know why the story didn't atleast have the boy looking and saying sorry. Although some might say it is realistic that mean and sad things happen and you don't always get an apology I think books aimed at young children have a responsibility to encourage positive behaviour and the boy in this story just gets away with it and the girl just has to accept the destruction of something precious to her and neither of those things are fair or positive in my opinion.

The end of the story is nice, showing the mum making some more dolls, and there is some information on the longest paper doll record and some suggestions of how to make your own. The mean incident in the middle of this book does spoil what could otherwise have been quite a nice story.
Profile Image for Daisy May Johnson.
Author 2 books163 followers
May 16, 2014
Julia Donaldson's one of the big names of picture books, and I was excited to see The Paper Dolls where she teams up with the estimable Rebecca Cobb. If you don't know Cobb's work, it's lovely. I'm a big fan of her style and I'm a bit of a Cobb kick at the moment following the perfect pain of Missing Mummy.

It's a simple, rhythmic book with a beautiful aural texture to it. This is a book that demands to be read out loud, to be heard and savoured. Stylistically it reminded me a lot of John Burningham's Cloudland; there's that similar cut out and textural feel to the pictures that feels very human. And as I write that, I'm intrigued that my first thoughts around this book centre around thoughts of texture and of tangibility, and I think that's something The Paper Dolls plays with quite intriguingly. The titular paper dolls ("Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow") subtly change and shift over each page, interacting and reacting to their landscapes. This is beautifully done and so quietly done - it's almost Toy Story-esque in how the toys come alive when they're not being watched. Cobb's paper dolls do the exact same thing, and they don't do too much of it either. There's a restraint in her artwork that's beautiful to see. Like I've said before, I'm a fan of Cobb's work and the glorious subtlety of it.

The story itself is lovely and actually features an intensely moving moment where the Paper Dolls are cut up but this doesn't stop them from existing. There's still "Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow" and they don't stop from being, even though one of them is nothing but paper snow: "We're not gone, Oh no no no! / We're holding hands and we don't let go. We're Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie / And Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!". I love that and I'm intrigued at how it's very quietly teaching notions of longevity and of memory.

Talking of memory, this is the big shift at the end of the book because this is where the paper dolls end up existing after the whole Cutting Up Incident. It's lovely, though I wonder if conceptually it's a big leap to make for a juvenile audience. I think this is something which may become clearer after rereadings and through sharing discussions about the book. What I do love, however, is how this comes across to the adult and more older reader - there's an ache of longing in reading the spread, and I do think that The Paper Dolls may have some really interesting applications in therapeutic contexts. This is a picture book to dwell on and to savour.
Profile Image for Jesi Rose.
11 reviews1 follower
February 9, 2017
We had this book from the library for a few weeks and I read it almost nightly to my 2 year old. She loved it every time, and I think I managed to get through it without crying only once. The connection between mothers and daughters, and the role of memories in building who we are as families is so beautifully captured in this sweet story. The drawings were engaging, intimate, and showed the innocence of children's way of seeing. It's also a ton of fun to read aloud with the repeating section being easy to make into a song.
305 reviews3 followers
November 21, 2020
I loved this picture book and how the girl's five paper dolls managed to overcome all the challenges they faced together. The ending was lovely and really showed the importance of memories as the girl always remembered the paper dolls even when she didn't have them and went on to make more paper dolls with her daughter. I think this is a really positive story, children could have a go at making their own paper characters and the story could develop children's imagination with all the adventures their own paper dolls could have.
Profile Image for Melissa Macfarlane.
13 reviews2 followers
August 16, 2015
The Paper Dolls is a very special book that tackles the delicate subject of loss. It uses the idea of a fragile toy, a paper chain of dolls that becomes a favorite toy to a little girl, and explores what happens to something important to us after it is broken or leaves us forever. This could be a difficult subject to approach or explain with a young child and this book may be a good way to try. Whenever I read this book to early years children it always provokes intense discussion afterwords. I highly recommend this book for the way it introduces children, in a fun and charming way, to the idea that nothing lasts forever.
Profile Image for Kate.
965 reviews13 followers
December 24, 2016
Exquisite children's book! This is a book to kindle a child's imagination. Paper dolls that come to life and handle all sorts of adversity. The illustrations go with the text PERFECTLY and the language and the enthusiasm of the story is infectious.
Profile Image for Carys O'Neill.
19 reviews
November 7, 2018
Whilst there was some repetition and a lovely story line, I did find the story slightly boring and think some children may lose interest.
Profile Image for Chloe Richardson.
108 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2019
Julia Donaldson as fantastic as always! A wonderful ending. A great moral that as long as you remember to keep your memories in your heart, you will never truly lose them.
Profile Image for Francine.
879 reviews27 followers
February 12, 2023
26 June 2021: ����🌟🌟

Very cute! I love the art style. The story made me a lil teary at the end, heart-wrenching climax, great ending.
(Read this at work in the bookstore. 😋)

Concerning the boy: I think the moral of the story is that sometimes bad people hurt us, but we have the power to control our own emotions and turn them into something positive.
Other reviews say they didn't like that the boy got away with it and felt no remorse. This is a valid opinion, and the book might have been a little better if they had shown the boy in an illustration encountering some consequences.
On the other hand, I think this book focuses mostly on the little girl's perspective, and how she deals with what happened. I was personally a little bored with the story until the boy showed up, I think his action was the most interesting part of the story: consider the number of discussions people are having about it here!

On the other hand, it's a lil gendered to have a little boy be mean to a little girl and the girl just sucks it up without a fuss. 🤔🤷‍♀️


12 February 2023: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

(It's always so interesting to read my old reviews -- last time I picked up on some things that I didn't even think about this time around, and vice versa!)

This book was better on a re-read! I already knew the twist, so I was mostly focusing on the mood/message, more so than the story.
Last time I focused so much on the boy, who came out of nowhere to destroy the girl's prized possession, but this time I understood why he didn't get any come-uppance: this story isn't about him. It's about her. As a child, she had a happy memory (playing with the dolls) that turned into a sad memory (the dolls were cut into pieces); much later, as an adult, she was able to relive the happy memory by making paper dolls for her own child. It's about reclaiming the happy memory. It's about sharing the good memories with the next generation. Maybe it's about overcoming generational trauma (though that's probably reading into it too deep, cause the girl didn't seem TOO bothered by the death of the paper dolls, only one page).

Two more themes I latched onto this time were the power of imagination, and... the afterlife I guess lol. For the girl, it doesn't matter so much when the paper dolls are destroyed, because she can still play with them in her memory. They're gone, but they're not really gone, because she remembers them.
You could use this book to talk about all sorts of themes!
Profile Image for Fi's Journey.
515 reviews20 followers
April 30, 2022
The Paper Dolls is the first picture book I read by Julia Donadson without Axel Scheffler's illustrations (I really like them!).

I thought the meaning behind the story is beautiful: creating memories by making paper dolls with your mother and playing with them. Then someone comes along and destroys those paper dolls (you might say it was about to happen at some point) but the irony is that through the destruction of the paper dolls they become an even greater memory to the girl way into her own motherhood where she does the very same thing with her own daughter: creating Paper dolls.

This was what it feels to me: creating memories and no matter what happens no one can take away those memories as they do not live on in the physical world but in our hearts.

All of that said I'm not giving it more than 4 stars as I found the illustrations not to my taste and not good illustrated to me
Profile Image for The Styling Librarian.
2,170 reviews194 followers
February 22, 2014
The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb – Here’s another author I look forward to using for an author story, even have puppets to accompany her book inquiry! There are many lessons embedded in this book, it isn’t just a precious rhyming story! I love that there’s a character who acts terribly and doesn’t receive retribution, simply the attitude that his actions weren’t important in the long run. So often I’ve noticed students fixating on little problems and blowing them out of proportion so I appreciate a book that has a healthier attitude…
February 16, 2018
A beautiful book and story. One that has inspired us to make our own paper dolls and add to our fun together.

It is one of the shorter Julia Donaldson stories but a favourite.
8 reviews
February 14, 2020
What an absolutely beautiful story. I hope this will help many children learn about loss. It had me in tears!!
Profile Image for Gabrielle Sandford-Marshall.
51 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2019
The Paper Dolls is a beautifully-illustrated book by Cobb, that portrays the relationship between mother and daughter. The Paper Dolls vanished depicted to role of memories in our lives and the lasting effect they have.
The illustrations depict how the children envisage the imaginary worlds and their paper dolls coming to life. This lovely story would make an enjoyable afternoon read for children.
Profile Image for Claudia G-D.
93 reviews2 followers
September 27, 2018
Really nice illustrations. Throughout the story the message is that sometimes we need to stick together like the paper dolls to get through things. EYFS/KS1
Profile Image for Lin.
84 reviews
August 14, 2020
Argh can't read this without crying. Rather embarrassing when you're trying to read this aloud to the toddler. Thanks motherhood.
67 reviews
September 26, 2019
I really loved this book. I thought it was beautifully illustrated and would really get the children’s imaginations working. The children could make their own paper dolls and write about the adventures they go on. The children could also write an adventure for the paper dolls that are made by the girl when she is a mum at the end of the story.
This book also contains lots of rhyme and repetition which can help the children begin to pick up some words.
13 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2014
This is a beautiful story about a young girl who makes five paper dolls, and goes on imaginative adventures with them. The girl and the dolls go on a bus, to a farmyard and even have a close encounter with a crocodile (played by her mother). All the while the dolls shout “We're holding hands and won't let go” throughout the story. Until a boy a boy comes along and snips the dolls into pieces. Sending the dolls flying into the girls mind where her grandma and favourite toys live. The girl then grows up to become a mother herself who helps her daughter make five paper dolls.

I think this book touches on the passing of time as the book comes full circle with the character going from a girl to an adult. There may be elements of death as we learn her grandmother is stored in her mind (presumably she has passed away). The repetition of “We're holding hands and won't let go” is quite suggestive of loved ones that are no longer with us. So probably best not to read this if a child has just lost a pet or family member. Other than that a great read with charming illustrations to compliment it. There is an opportunity for artwork here, to allow children to make their own paper dolls, and naming the dolls would provide an opportunity to practice alliteration and rhyming.
Profile Image for LtLEGOReads.
180 reviews
October 17, 2017
I must admit that I only picked up this book because it is written by Julia Donaldson and I do like her books such as The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child.

The book is ok to me - did not impress not bore me. I love the illustrations - I think it's lovely and the paper dolls were drawn exactly to the rhyme/repetition lines, found in the book. I would think it makes for a great read aloud book with your child(ren) as the rhymes are quite apt and beautiful.

Well, the book is simply about a young girl with five paper dolls who then goes on an imaginary adventures with them - until a boy came along and cut the dolls into pieces.

Thus, the theme of the book can be a prelude to address the topic of loss, for instance. It takes the concept of fragility and what happens to the things we love - that sometimes, (every)thing is not ours to keep forever.

On a separate note, the book reminded me of my mother (or was it my late Grandma, who used to cut paper dolls for us to play with, when we were children.
Profile Image for Sajitha.
37 reviews24 followers
April 3, 2019
Kids easily get drawn to the detailed illustration and rhythmic track of this book. Not to mention, the suspense part - The eagerness to know on what happened to the Paper Dolls. Also, this book provides you the answer on how kids observe every minute details. Like, the color of the scissors used to make the ‘Paper Dolls’ and which snipped those; the exploration activity of butterfly hairslide in each page etc. This book will equally hook the kid/s and you till the end.
Profile Image for Limau Nipis.
597 reviews24 followers
December 13, 2015
Beautifully illustrated and full of imagination. The book was stamped with Shortlisted for the Ciup Kate Greenaway Medal. Julia Donaldson books has never been a let down to me.

A story of a little girl with her paper dolls, and how the story does not end there. Full of imagination and perfect for late night reading.
Profile Image for Hjwoodward.
362 reviews11 followers
January 4, 2018
My great niece and grandchildren all thoroughly enjoyed this book: we made a few strings of paper dolls afterwards (had to fold paper in three and do boy/girl for it!) and they painted them up and named them.
644 reviews4 followers
November 2, 2020
A little girl makes some paper dolls with her mum. She goes on lots of adventures with them. The way they keep escaping from different problems reminded me of the three little pigs story. In the end, they get cut up by a little boy, although they are physically gone, they remain in the girl's imagination with multiple other things including her grandma. The book could help children to understand loss through a positive view of no one ever completely leaving, suggesting they can always be with you. Some of the text also made me think of little red riding hood and there are lots of links to this in the image of the girl's imagination, including her grandma, a house in the woods and a wolf. Children could explore these links to well know fairy tales. If it was not appropriate to discuss loss in detail with a particular class, the book could still easily be enjoyed without putting a focus on that discrete link. A good book to use in KS1 alongside looking at fairy tales to see if children can notice the links or simply as a read-aloud story.
653 reviews
June 2, 2021
The Paper Dolls is the story of a young girl who makes some paper dolls which she plays with and takes them on adventures but one day when a boy cuts them up they end up in her memory instead.

When I started reading this book I wasn't sure where it was going as I didn't think there'd be much to a story about paper dolls but I was pleasantly surprised about the ending. The children enjoyed looking at each of the paper dolls and seeing all the places the young girl took them and it made them want to make some paper dolls too. I really like the ending and how we see that even if something or someone is gone they're still in our memories. This is a hard concept for young children to understand but the book shows it beautifully.

The illustrations are lots of fun to look at with a cartoon and hand drawn style to them. The children particularly liked seeing the page on the girls memories and some of the creatures that made an appearance in the book.

This is a lovely book that shows even if something is gone it can always be found in our memories.
112 reviews
July 22, 2021
Julia Donaldson is pure magic. This book has the rollicking rhymes and imaginative adventures of childhood. Cobb's illustrations are perfect, as she joins one adventure to the next visually, and creates the paper dolls' personalities. The jarring moment when a little boy actually snips the dolls into bits is glossed over, and I see that some reviewers see this as a serious fault in the book. But the little girl remembers her dolls, and re-creates them with her own child in a very poignant way. She had them for a short time, they disappeared and were re-born. I don't have a problem with the little boy's actions, little kids do destructive things after all and kids move on. That moment could lead to a good discussion with young children, should he have been punished? Maybe he was off-stage? The joy and creativity live on, however. What a great read, I would love to read it to a group of preschoolers and see what they say about the boy. Maybe this book could lead to making paper dolls together. Great stuff!
15 reviews
September 17, 2019
This book is about a girl who creates her very own five paper dolls and begins to take them on imaginary adventures to places that are well illustrated in the book. Towards the end of the story, a boy comes along and snips the dolls into pieces.

I think this book is good for children to realise that as long as you create great memories (like she did with her paper dolls), you will never really forget them. On the other hand, when discussing memory, it can be seen as a big concept for young children to grasp so it is important to read the books several times to children and be open for discussion about the story and the sharing of ideas.

Overall, it is an enjoyable book to read aloud to children to emphasise rhyming words and repetitiveness throughout the story. The paper dolls were well illustrated with great detail to go well with the description given.

The children seemed to enjoy the repetitiveness of the paper dolls names as they began to say the names aloud with me.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 141 reviews

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