They never knew what started the fire. “A spark from the kitchen stove, maybe,” said Mamma. “A little mouse in the box of matches,” said Teeney. But they never could be sure.
Jo Ann woke up first. The bedroom was hot and smoky. She woke Mamma, and Mamma got Teeney out of bed.
They climbed out the window. The roof was on fire from one end to the other. They stood in the wet grass and watched the house burn.
Jim and Martha Toller lived on the hill a mile away. Jim was up late, giving medicine to a sick cow. He saw the fire, and he and Martha came down in their car.
“Didn’t you save anything?” asked Martha.
“I’ve got my girls,” said Mamma, and she hugged them both.
Eight-year-old Jo Ann and six-year-old Teeney and their loving Mamma have lost everything…except one another. It is time to start over somewhere new, Mamma thinks, so the three of them move far away to the city.
They find a house to rent, and Mamma finds a job. They meet the little girl next door, and are grateful for beds and chairs delivered to the house by Mamma’s boss. But Teeney’s deepest loss is still unknown to Mamma; it’s her doll, Baby. Jo Ann, the responsible big sister, has forbid her to mention this to Mamma. Instead, she helps Teeney keep a stiff upper lip and not weigh Mamma down with more worries than she already has.
The secret slips out, however, and a wonderful provision emerges as well. Just down the road is a quaint, lovely house called The Toy House, where children can check out toys just like they’d check books out of a library. It’s even possible to adopt a doll from The Toy House, if you can show Mrs. Lacey and Mr. Dahlman that you are taking especially good care of it. And that is just what Teeney determines to do…until disaster strikes.
This is a very sweet story, perfectly suited to young girls beginning to be independent readers. With almost zero male characters, it’s not as likely to appeal to boys. Bulla has written scads of books for newer readers, and has a knack for crafting a spicy plot, using simple sentence structures and non-intimidating vocabulary. I love the way he captures the mutual affection these three feel for one another, the girls’ desperate longings for baby dolls, and the quiet heroics of two ordinary people who understand the girls’ feelings. Wendy Watson’s simple ink drawings interpret the characters with charm.
Here are Amazon links for this 40-year-old title: