The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb is definately a winner. We borrowed it from the library and have renewed it a couple of times now because we don’t want to part with it yet. It somehow melds together the easily tellable Gingerbread Man theme with a “can’t catch us” verse and the sappy intergenerational devotion of Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever.
The pictures are delightfully and professionally done but with scribbled hair and details suggesting it was done by a young child. Moreover we know the paper dolls are just paper dolls, yet they are shown with position changes that can’t be attributed just to the folding of the paper but rather hint at something magical.
To me though, the best part of the book was that it lends itself to activities easily, and in particular to activities that captured the interest of all three of my children. The most basic activity is making our own paper dolls and we did this folding a strip of paper over and over and then cutting it. If we cut the basic template with a dress and large head we could then trim individual dolls to having pants and shorter hair.
Then the math started to pop up! We have lines of symetry of course, and questions of how many folds we need to make how many dolls. With the rectangle of folded up paper we have to estimate how big to cut the head and the legs and the arms. For my older son I can pose questions like what percentage of the paper gets cut away and what percentage goes for each doll. (Are we cutting away a triangle? Okay, how do we find the area of a triangle? If the head was a perfect circle, how could we find the area of that?)
One child became very interested in the negative shapes between the dolls. He saw the resemblance to the famous optical illusion of two silhouettes and a vase, and he asked whether I saw people or the diamonds between them. My other son became fascinated by the pattern in which the dolls in the story are named and how we could name another set in the same style. And the two year old just wanted to cut those people apart! People aren’t made together!
In a strange gentle way the story deals with the question of death too. The paper dolls dance into the girl’s memory where they are joined by more and more things each day.