The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and beautifully illustrated by Rebecca Cobb explores fragility and loss, keeping in mind the innocence and magic of childhood

Julia Donaldson, The Paper Dolls. Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Published 2012 by Macmillan Children’s Books, 32p

I will make my mea culpa and confess that once I encounter an artist that makes my senses thrill, I will look for all of his or her artwork and present it here, which some might find recurring but which I consider fulfilling. You can see the Maira Kalman, Oliver Jeffers, Isabelle Arsenault, Beatrice Alemagna, Dasha Tolstikova, Sophie Blackall, Benji Davis’s effects on the blog. Only to name a few. And now it is Rebecca Cobb. She’s sensitive, imaginative and has magic in her heart.

It wasn’t easy when I read Missing Mommy to my daughter; not for her and not for me but we need this kind of stories that illustrate bereavement and stimulate faith. The Paper Dolls reminded me of my childhood and the yarn dolls my mother used to make for me; they were simple but fascinating toys. It is charming how Donaldson and Cobb managed to use craft to explore so meditative themes as loss and fragility.

The story is about a little girl who wore tiger slippers and a green dress and who made a string of paper dolls with her nice mother.

They were Ticky and Tacky/ and Jackie the Backie/ and Jim with two noses/ and Jo with the bow.

Holding hands in a harmonious and solid relationship, the dolls dance round the honey pot, stare at the stars, take a journey to a farm and an island and even escape ferociously animal threats. Until, out of nowhere, a boy with a pair of scissors appears and cuts the dolls to pieces.



Delicately, the next moment, there is a transition from the stage of loss to the comforting space of subconsciousness. All the flying pieces become a beautiful collection of memories and the little girl cherishes them along with all the instants she has captured each day of her life – mice and fireworks, and a starfishsoap, and a kind granny, and the butterfly hairslide.


Later, when she becomes herself a mother, the girl will recall the beauty of small things and her passion for craft and infuse them to a younger generation, her child.

They were Poppy and Pinkie/ and Binky the Blinkie,/ and Fred with one eyebrow,/ and Flo with the bow.

In 2013, celebrating The Paper Dolls and also as part of a campaign to raise money for Save the Children, there was created a 4549.7 metres long chain of paper dolls that broke the Guinness World Records title for the longest chain of paper dolls.

Images courtesy of Rebecca Cobb

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