Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Growing up during the Depression, Nella and her two sisters have little expectation of gifts on Christmas morning. But one year, after Nella writes to Santy Claus asking for a store-bought doll, their father surprises the girls with a Baby Betty doll for the three of them to share. They fight over their gift, but finally Nella's sisters agree that she can have it. After a day of playing with Baby Betty, who, unlike Nella's sisters, is compliant but has little to say, Nella misses her siblings and finds a way to make amends. As explained in the author's note, McKissack takes a bit of oral history and retells it as a first-person memoir that works well as a picture-book text. Pinkney creates a series of beautiful narrative tableaux, illustrating the characters' feelings as well as their actions with clarity and grace. Parents looking for books on sharing will find this an appealing exploration of the subject, teachers seeking picture books set during the Depression will find many details that bring the period to life. A gentle lesson that plays into the spirit of the holiday. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Special gifts

Check out to The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll from the award-winning team of Patricia C. McKissack and illustrator Jerry Pinkney. In an author's note about the story, McKissack explains that she was inspired while interviewing a woman who grew up during the Depression in an all-black Alabama town that was tagged as the "poorest place in America." Mary Lee Bendolph's memories of a very special "store-bought doll" gave McKissack the idea for her character, Nella, and her wish for a "Baby Betty doll" from "Santy Claus."

Baby Betty is all Nella wants. The only hitch is that on Christmas morning, she and her two sisters get one Baby Betty to share. Nella manages to convince her sisters that since she is the one who asked for the doll, it belongs to her. She then tells her new gift, "You are all I want. I don't need anything else!" Nella's mother wisely says, "We'll see," and of course, Nella soon learns that her doll is not so interesting without her sisters.

This is a well-told family story in its own right, and the period details (mentions of Br'er Rabbit, the newspaper lining the walls to keep in warmth, the washbasin near the bed, the curtain separating the children's bed from the adult's) add historical insight. Pinkney's pencil and watercolor drawings are perfect, with a wistful, sketchy feel, and details and color in just the right spots. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

"Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while." Despite the harsh realities of the Depression, middle sister Nella sets her sights and her heart on a store-bought doll. Her sisters scoff ("Why you wishin' for somethin' you ain' never gon' get?") but change their tune when Nella's wish amazingly comes true. Awe quickly turns to anger as each girl tries to claim Baby Betty -- "the color of chocolate, with rosy cheeks, black curly locks, and thick eyelashes" -- for herself. Strong-willed Nella prevails but soon discovers that playing with Baby Betty alone isn't as fun as sharing her with her sisters. Though McKissack sets this story in the past, her characters' feelings and desires are universal. Pinkney's warm watercolor-and-pencil illustrations portray the family's poverty yet glow with what it is rich in: love. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

McKissack and Pinkney join forces for their third collaborative effort in this story of three sisters who have to share one doll for Christmas during the Depression. The middle sister, Nella, writes to Santa to ask for a Baby Betty doll, even though she knows there isn't much chance of receiving her due to her family's modest circumstances. On Christmas morning, the girls each receive a little bag of treats, but there is only one doll for all of them, leading to bickering and arguments. The wise parents tell their daughters to sort it out for themselves, and they do: Nella claims the doll as her own, and the other sisters ignore her and continue to play together. Nella finds that her sisters are more fun to play with than a silent doll, so she decides to share Baby Betty. The longer story is full of humorous dialogue and scenes of realistic family life showing the close bonds within the family. Pinkney's watercolor illustrations are masterful, as always, capturing the emotions on the girls' faces and filling in details of the family's Depression-era world. (author note) (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection

Patricia McKissack's storytelling expertise and Jerry Pinkney's rich illustrations have come together again to produce a memorable book. Three little girls, growing up in the Depression, dream of Christmas. Nella is desperate to get the Baby Betty doll and despite her family's discouragement, she writes a letter to Santa. On Christmas morning, there is indeed one doll, and Nella feels that she is the true owner of this wonderful gift. As Nella begins playing with her doll alone, her sisters go off to play elsewhere. Nella plays with her precious doll, but realizes that the doll doesn't sing with her, doesn't clap, and doesn't giggle. At her mother's suggestion, Nella includes her sisters in a Baby Betty tea party. This is a wonderful story about dreams and sharing those dreams. The illustrations are warm and detailed and make the characters come alive for the reader. The text is simple, but descriptive. The characters are African American and provide a window into a time and place with which young readers may be unfamiliar. This would be a nice book to share before Christmas as students write those letters to Santa or after as they share their toys at show-and-tell time. Recommended. Beverly Combs, Librarian, Parsons PreKindergarten School, Garland, Texas © 2007 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

In expertly wrought watercolors, Pinkney focuses on how light hits certain objects—voluptuous oranges, a new patchwork quilt, a baby doll's yellow frock—which are some literal bright spots for a family holding onto the positive despite their Depression-era struggles. The newspapers that line the walls and three-to-a-bed sleeping conditions fade, ceding to the clan's Christmas observance. McKissack's story shines as well, homing in on the most straightforward language to convey realistic but difficult situations: "Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while." Ages 4-8. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 2-5 –During the Great Depression, the all-black town of Boykin, AL, was identified as "the poorest place in America." "Santy" hardly ever showed up, but this year middle-child Laura Nell Pearson writes him a letter asking for a Baby Betty doll that she's seen advertised in a newspaper. Her two sisters are scornful, but to their amazement, the doll appears on Christmas morning. Of course there's a fight, and Daddy and Mama tell the girls to work it out. Laura convinces her sisters that the doll belongs to her, but soon discovers that playing with an inanimate object isn't as much fun as it is to play with real live sisters, and in the end invites them to a tea party for Baby Betty. McKissack's knack for combining historical detail with true-to-life family drama and language is shown to good effect, showcased beautifully by Pinkney's evocative watercolors, which give a real flavor of the time period. An author's note at the beginning gives the history of the story. Learning to appreciate what you have and to share what you get are two lessons that never go out of style.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library

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