Biscuit and Peter and George—Oh My!

Biscuit and Peter and George—Oh My! Tales of a Children’s Book Doll Collector

Author photo: Stephanie BangeStephanie Bange has worked in all kinds of libraries—school, public, special, and academic—during her library career and been an active member of ALSC since 1997. She served on the 2015 John Newbery Medal Committee and is currently a member of ALSC’s Special Collections and Bechtel Fellowship Committee.

Stephanie Bange in a large pile of dolls and stuffed animals.

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Bange.

My name is Stephanie, and I am a collector. What are my favorite things to collect? That’s easy—dolls! I bought my first Barbie when I was six years old. I was given a doll from Morocco at age seven. To this day, I continue to collect both Barbies and international dolls, but my third collection now numbers eight hundred dolls. During my first year as an elementary school librarian in 1979, I began to collect dolls based on characters from children’s books.

I wanted to add some zip and zing to class visits at my school library. The previous school librarian had plugged boys and girls into listening stations with worksheets each time they came to the library. I felt my students were missing out by not hearing fantastic tales from exotic places and visiting magical worlds of wonder.

Bottom line, I wanted them to experience the joy found within the covers of books. That’s when the first dolls from children’s books—Corduroy, Curious George, the Cat in the Hat, and Winnie-the-Pooh—found their way into my shopping basket and my storytelling repertoire.

I acted out Corduroy’s story by tucking the corner of his overalls so the button was hidden, then “sewing” the button back on (slyly unfolding the corner at the same time)—and voila! The button “magically” appeared. The kids were hooked. Then I donned a yellow hat and talked to and about Curious George, relating stories of his many adventures to my young listeners . . . well, you get the picture.

I began to seek out other dolls featured in storybooks and used them when storytelling, reading books, and setting up displays in both the school and public libraries. Before the internet, I combed the shelves of toy stores in Rhode Island and Ohio until I finally owned all seven of the vinyl Babysitter’s Club dolls.

Imagine my delight in 1993 when I discovered a small company named MerryMakers was manufacturing dolls based on children’s books! Then, in 1995, another company, YOTTOY, also began to manufacture dolls from children’s books. Searches became more focused as I scoured high-end department stores, toy stores, bookstores, and conferences looking for dolls from these two niche companies and a few others. Not that this collection became an obsession, really; rather it was an extension of my love of children’s books and sharing them with others.

In 1995, I displayed most of my doll collection at work, in the children’s room of the Portsmouth (RI) Free Public Library. It was so well received that I left the display up until I moved to work at Dayton (OH) Metro Library.

After settling into the new workplace, I missed not seeing and sharing my collection with all my young reading friends, so I once again put them on display, arranging them alphabetically by author and hanging them on the wall above the section of shelving where their books would be found. Readers found Curious George hanging over the books by H. A. and Margret Rey, Biscuit was at home near the books by Alyssa Capucilli, and Strega Nona hovered over Tomi DePaola’s books. When I transferred to a different branch, the dolls came down from the walls of the old building and immediately went up in the new one. Once again, they made a ring around the room that delighted both youngsters and grownups.

Merrymakers' President Clair Frederick, Ellen Hunter Ruffin, and Stephanie Bange.

From left, Merrymakers' President Clair Frederick, Ellen Hunter Ruffin, and Stephanie Bange.

I discovered this last group of admirers quite by accident. When taking them down in preparation to work at Wright State University, a mother asked me, “Where are you taking our dolls?”

At Wright State University, I did not have a place to share my collection. Although I was still actively adding to the collection, they were packed away, carefully stored in air-tight boxes in my basement.

During a tour of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011, Ellen Hunter Ruffin was showing the group some of Ezra Jack Keats’s materials that they were setting up for a museum show in New York. I remarked that I had two Peter dolls that would have fit into the display nicely—and a light bulb went on in my head. I asked Ellen if the de Grummond might be interested in my doll collection, and she said yes.

In August 2016, I delivered the collection of more than 750 dolls, driving them down to the de Grummond collection in a U-Haul truck after spending my summer catching up on cataloging them (yes, I documented each doll and have copies of many receipts in six four-inch binders) using the same crude means (handwritten notes with photos pasted in) I employed since I set it up as a collection. Just before I dropped them off, I added a rare Rotten Ralph doll that had eluded me for years, and I’m still on the hunt for a Rhinos Who Surf doll.

MerryMakers’ President Clair Frederick has been following my collection for the last ten years or so, watching it grow. I have been working closely with her as she realizes the importance of the collection to the history of children’s literature and wants to ensure that as many of their dolls as possible are included in this collection.

In April 2017, I drove my car back down to Mississippi to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival with approximately fifty more dolls to add to the collection, though I am still on the hunt for that elusive Rhinos Who Surf doll. Now that the dolls are ensconced at the de Grummond, I plan to continue building the collection in the future because I have not completed it yet. After all, I am, first and foremost, a collector! &

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