Friday, November 4, 2011

Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Miss Hickory is a doll. And readers will not be shocked to know that I read her book when I was in 3rd grade. I didn't love it, but I read it, because it was a book about a doll! After a second read, two decades later, I understand my prior lack of enthusiasm.

This is more of a parable than a story. Here's the premise:

Miss Hickory is made of an apple twig suggesting a body, arms, and legs, with a hickory nut for her head. Her head is "hard" and this makes her very resistant to new ideas. But, she is forced out of her comfort zone when her humans move to Boston for the winter, and a chipmunk moves into her little corncob cabin. Her friend Mr. Crow shows her a nest to borrow for the winter, and she makes do there and has lots of adventures in the forest, all of them ultimately broadening her experience and making her a little softer and less "hard headed". In the end, her nest's owner reclaims his house, and she finds herself homeless. She has an epiphany about her hard-headedness, and in the end, grafts herself to an apple branch, which causes the tree to flower beautifully - her human, Ann, back in town for the summer, notices the tree and even recognizes Miss Hickory in it. And Miss Hickory is happy.

This sounds charming, and some of it really is - the descriptions of her clothes (she has to sew her own clothes from forest materials) are lovely, and I liked the personalities assigned to various forest and farm animals. But I had a hard time staying engaged with the story, and some of it didn't seem clearly tied to anything. At one point, we leave Miss Hickory and see the world from a faun's point of view, and end the chapter thinking his mother has been killed by a hunter. Only to see the two of them, both perfectly fine, randomly mentioned a few chapters later.

The point of the story is a good one - don't be stubborn, and you can touch and be touched by a lot of people. But I think the target audience will have a tough time getting it.

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