In the middle-grade historical fiction chapter book The Doll Shop Downstairs, we meet the Breittlemann family of New York City. When World War I breaks out, the parents’ doll repair business suffers because the United States won’t trade with Germany, so the Breittlemanns can’t get the doll parts that they need. Sophie, Anna, and Trudie, the three daughters, worry about their parents. Anna, the nine-year-old middle child, gets a wonderful idea: the whole family can create new dolls from easily obtainable materials to make money. Anna also starts keeping a journal and writing frequently.
Author Yona Zeldis McDonough tells the story from Anna’s point-of-view in first-person narration. Young Anna learns how to control her emotions, cope with sibling rivalry, and solve problems. Readers watch Anna mature. She comforts her younger sister, forges compromises that satisfy all three girls, and stays calm when she must give up her favorite doll. Anna earns the respect of her older sister Sophie and of their parents. Anna gains self-confidence from her success.
The illustrations by Heather Maione capture the different personalities of the main characters and develop the historical time period with details of clothing, hair styles, furniture, and, of course, dolls.
This uplifting story will help children to deal with family tensions and to understand the world of the early twentieth century.