Written by Charlotte Zolotow, Illustrated by William Pène du Bois
William wanted a doll.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy is teased for wanting a doll.
William wants to hug and cradle a doll and pretend to be its father. His brother and his brother’s friend are shocked by this and give him a hard time, calling him creepy and sissy. His father responds by trying to give him more appropriate toys, like sports equipment and train sets. William enjoys those gifts, but they don’t stop him from dreaming of having a doll. Then his grandmother comes to visit and when he tells her about how much he wants a doll, she takes him to the store and buys one for him. His father is upset, but she explains that in loving and caring for a doll, he will learn how to take care of a child and be ready when he becomes a father.
Like many people who grew up in the 60’s & 70’s, my main exposure to this book was in the TV special, Free to Be… You and Me. It was an animated segment in that show, featuring a song written by Mary Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick, performed by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas. The song (which I can still sing from memory) nicely summarizes the book. Author Charlotte Zolotow stated that she didn’t intend for the book to be a feminist indictment of gender expectations, but was written in response to the fact that she felt that men often missed out on the joys of child raising because they were discouraged from having ‘motherly’ feelings.
The artwork, from William Pène du Bois, has a very 1970’s minimalist flavor to it. Characters are often turned away from us, which makes me wonder if the illustrator wasn’t a big fan of drawing faces. When I was looking up information on this book, I was surprised and saddened to see more than one person making the assumption that William was a budding homosexual, which makes it clear that we still have a long way to go in the push for equality. I enjoyed the book and disagree with those who felt it was overly preachy.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone should be able to pursue the harmless things that make them happy, with no judgment from others.