Saturday, July 5, 2014

2014 Summer Reading Assignment No. 1: Merry, Rose, and Christmas Tree June by Doris Orgel

  If any of you have been reading the blog long enough you will remember that last summer I reviewed some books to read with your kids. I have been very remiss so far this summer, as it is JULY already and I haven't suggested a single book. For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath, (or is it baited breath? And just how do you bait breath anyway?) , I am finally getting  around to my Summer Reading Assignments.
  In summer I like to review books that are set during summer. It's not a rule, but I think it works pretty well. Today I'm suggesting a book that is set during summer, the month of June in fact. I was going to post a review in June so it would all fit, but, as frequently happens, things got away from me. The book is Merry, Rose, and Christmas Tree June, by Doris Orgel. The illustrations are by Edward Gorey, who some of you may remember as the artist behind the creepy animation at the beginning of PBS's "Mystery" series.

This one is in worse condition than just about any of my childhood books. I was pretty anal as a kid, and most of my books look like they were never read. I don't know how this one got this way, except that it's 44 years old. (Of course, I have older books that don't look like this...)
  The story concerns a little girl named Jane. Jane has two dolls named Merry and Rose,whom she loves to care for. She feeds them, takes them on outings, and cares for them as any good doll mother should. One day Jane's Great Aunt Beulah shows up suddenly. She wants to take Jane home with her and show her off at a dinner party. Jane is swept out the door so fast that Jane hasn't a chance to grab Merry and Rose, and so she must face a long, lonely weekend without them. She's so upset that Great Aunt Beulah finally consents to take Jane shopping for a new doll just to get her to stop crying. Jane is still sad, but brightened by the possibility of a new doll. (This book was written in 1969, back in the days when a kid only had a few dolls. Not like now when kids have so many dolls they don't 'bond' with them.) Unfortunately for Jane, Great Aunt Beulah has nothing on her mind but her dinner party, and she has no intention of taking Jane shopping until it's all over.
  Running parallel to Jane's story is the story of a lonely, forgotten doll sitting on a back shelf of the doll shop in the town where Aunt Beulah lives: a plain doll who can do nothing fancy and doesn't use batteries or have a pull string like the currant occupants of the store that the owner is so proud of. Obviously Jane and the doll are destined to get together, but the story is written with those near misses that make those kinds of stories so tortuously good.
  Some of the best parts of the book are the descriptions of what really goes on in a toy store at night. (The dolls all come out of their boxes and play 'home': "...this time of night when they could move around and talk and play and do anything they wanted".

The dolls visit 'the zoo', otherwise known as the toy animal department.
 "One doll was feeding another doll midnight breakfast: bits of air from a little plate and sips of air from a little cup. For air is food and drink to dolls, and they live on it very well.")

  When Great Aunt Beulah finally does take Jane to the toy shop Jane meets several dolls that amaze her at first, but then inevitably leave her disappointed.

Every doll in the store seems to have a special talent, like growing hair, crying,dancing, or walking.
The dolls, Hairiette,Willie Walkie,Bella Ballerina,Lotta Tears,Tillie Talkie,and Mehittable, are all pretty horrible, and what happens, or what Jane fears will happen, to some of them, (accidentally of course.), may leave some very small kids a bit upset, or at least creeped out. (The illustrations by Gorey may add a little to the 'creeped out' aspect of things!) But of course everything turns out happily for Jane in the end. It's a very sweet story and has a warm cozy feel to it. It was one of my favourite books as a kid, and my kids liked it too.

Be forewarned: This next picture is the last page of the book, and as such is a spoiler!

  It's a fairly short book, with only 78 pages.It's written in an easy to read style with a few larger words and uncommon names, (like Great Aunt Beulah!), but should be ok for kids 7 or 8 and up. If you are reading it to your child, judge for yourself how they might react to the story,but if you think they'll be ok with the scene I mentioned,younger than 7 would enjoy it. My book's copy write is 1970, which means I was 8 years old when I got it, and I survived quite well.
  The author, Doris Orgel, is still around, and is now 85 years old. Born in Austria in 1929, Orgel and her family, being Jewish, had to leave Nazi controlled Austria in a story that would make quite a book in itself. After leaving Austria her family lived in Yugoslavia,London, the English countryside,and New York. Orgel has written 65 books, including books for readers somewhat older than those of "Merry, Rose, and Christmas Tree June". She has also translated quite a few books written by others.She is still considered a children's author, and she lives in New York. Illustrator Edward Gorey illustrated his own books as well as others, and designed the sets for the very successful 1970's Broadway production of "Dracula".

"Dracula", featuring the set design of Edward Gorey.
There was even a Toy Theatre version sold in book form. He died in 2000.
  I'm not sure if Merry, Rose, and Christmas Tree June is still in print. It can, of course, be obtained online from Amazon, or auction sites. The average low price seems to be between 15 and 20 dollars.For those who love doll stories it's highly me anyway!


  1. Sounds like a nice read! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Fun book to read with your kids. One of those great old scholastic books that we got from school.


Thanks in advance for your comments.