This is a book I picked up on a whim from NetGalley. I assumed it would be a much more involved novel, like “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. I was wrong in some ways and right in others, but I know this is not a book that anyone should miss.
This is a children’s book, but it doesn’t pull any punches. It covers about five years in the life of a toymaker in Krakow, during the German occupation in World War II, told through the eyes of a doll he brought to life, Karolina. I expected it to be happy, to be about bringing joy in dark times. While there was a lot of that, the book was dark. It covered the atrocities and showed what it was like living under the German occupation, even if one was part German.
It does a great job of explaining things to younger readers, but it does require some pre-existing knowledge of World War II and the Holocaust. I could piece things together because I’ve read a large amount about that time period. (It sounds horrible to say “That’s one of my favorite time periods!” because of the subject matter, but how else do I say it?) I love how they include Polish folklore into the novel, too, adding to the magic. I learned something new about a different culture, which I always find fascinating.
In the beginning, I was feeling really mean towards Karolina. I guess it’s because I am way outside the intended audience age-range, and I found her eternal optimism to be hopelessly naïve. We’ve all read some sort of historical-Holocaust-fiction before, I’m sure, and the majority of the time, we know how it ends. A lot of us have read Night by Eli Wiesel, and many more of us have read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, or maybe even The Diary of Anne Frank by…Anne Frank. I knew how these books were likely to end, but I figured with the optimism of Karolina, things might end up happier for those involved.
(Skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in a slight spoiler.) I am sad to say that the ending was not a nice one, but it gives hope for the Land of Dolls, where Karolina comes from, and shows that better times are coming to Krakow after the war. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a very unhappy ending. I wasn’t completely satisfied, but it does end the way most Holocaust-era stories do…
The only problems I could see occurring if someone younger reads the book is that Karolina’s experiences in The Land of Dolls are interwoven with her experiences in Krakow. Chapters alternate, revealing little by little how Karolina came to be in Krakow. These transitions were smoother at some times than others, but it really adds to Karolina’s backstory and lets us see each little by little instead of giving us everything at the beginning. I could see younger readers being confused by all the switching back and forth if they’ve never experienced that style of narration before. (I had some college-aged classmates of mine get confused in “The Martian” by Andy Weir when it changed perspectives multiple times, so it’s plausible.)
There are a few scary parts in this book, and one specific scene involving a pet mouse (don’t worry! It all turns out okay!) almost made me cry myself. If you’ve got a little reader that’s very sensitive, I’d be careful with just turning them loose with this one.
It was written for 9-12 year olds, judging by the writing style, but I had a hard time stomaching the subject material as an adult. I’ve been reading books about the Holocaust (both fiction and non-fiction) for almost 15 years now. I’ve never encountered a children’s book that made me feel what I felt with this one here. I thought it was fantastic, and I’ll admit I teared up at the end. While the pacing wasn’t the greatest, and there were some copy errors (I attribute that to being an ARC), if you’ve got a kid interested in WWII, I would look into this. I give this an absolute 4.5/5 stars. It’s not quite the polished quality of The Book Thief, but it is haunting nonetheless and it will stick with you long after you close the cover.
In the land of dolls, there is magic.
In the land of humans, there is war.
Everywhere there is pain.
But together there is hope.
Karolina is a living doll whose king and queen have been overthrown. But when a strange wind spirits her away from the Land of the Dolls, she finds herself in Krakow, Poland, in the company of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power and a marked past.
The Dollmaker has learned to keep to himself, but Karolina’s courageous and compassionate manner lead him to smile and to even befriend a violin-playing father and his daughter–that is, once the Dollmaker gets over the shock of realizing a doll is speaking to him.
But their newfound happiness is dashed when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. Karolina and the Dollmaker quickly realize that their Jewish friends are in grave danger, and they are determined to help save them, no matter what the risks.
- Age Range: 8 – 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 – 7
- Lexile Measure: 0810 (What’s this?)
- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
- Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Have you read The Dollmaker of Krakow? What did you think about it? Am I overstepping my boundaries by saying I hope this becomes as well-loved as The Book Thief in future generations? (Although by younger generations; I would consider The Book Thief to be well above the reading/age level that this book is aimed at.)
Let me know what you think in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.