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Doll Bones by Holly Black

PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books

LENGTH: 247 pages

SOURCE: library book

SUMMARY:  Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

BRIDGE: There are a multitude of ways one could use this to teach middle grade students about several anchor elements of literature. Black’s book has elements of Gothic literature and horror while following an adapted version of the hero’s quest. The inclusion of a male main character is refreshing in a book designed for middle grade readers. Zach is struggling with the transition from child to teen and the requisite longing and anger that accompanies it. Pairing this book with more traditional tales of boys coming of age could assist male and female readers alike in navigating such an emotionally charged change.

The story contains enough elements of mystery and ghostly elements to keep readers engaged. The modern elements of childhood merge nicely with the more antiquated elements of Gothic tales and provide a bridge to help readers understand the elements of story, mystery, and horror that are blended so well. While Poppy and Alice do seem somewhat interchangeable at times, the overall relationship between the children is one of a Three Musketeers bond that keeps the characters loyal to each other and to the story.

READERS: Doll Bones will appeal to fans of mystery and ghost stories. This type of magical realism appeals to readers who want to hold onto a little of the magic of childhood when ghosts are still very real in the dark and becoming a “grown up” seems the basest of betrayals. Male and female readers like will connect with the characters and the story.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy Black’s book might also enjoy Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.

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