The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero

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The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Beautiful writing and wonderful characters are fabulous attributes of this story that blends a magical fantasy with the very real horrors that took place in Poland under the Nazis in WWII. Recommended - but only for those middle grade readers that can cope with darkness and are very clear on the boundaries between fact and fiction.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Walker
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1406375632

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Karolina is a refugee from the Land of the Dolls. Her homeland has been ravaged by rats and Karolina was blown by a magical wind into Krakow, Poland, at the height of WWII. She finds herself in a workshop belonging to Cyryl, known as the Dollmaker of Krakow. Lonely, crippled Cyryl repairs Karolina and the two cement a strong friendship which helps Cyryl in his life outside the workshop. But it's not just the Land of the Dolls suffering under a vicious enemy: it's Poland, too. Together, Karolina and Cyryl befriend their Jewish neighbours and determine to do whatever the can to save from the monstrous Nazi regime...

There is a great deal to like in this blend of magical fantasy and historical realism. The evocative descriptions of Polish culture and folklore will be new to many readers and they are developed with both accuracy and affection. The two main characters, Karolina the magical doll and Cyryl the dollmaker, are perfect foils for one another. Karolina is impetuous, direct, blunt and determined. She brings out the best in the quiet, retiring Cyryl, whose experience and history has led him to retire from the world. The main quest - saving the pair's Jewish neighbours from the Nazis - is something every reader can get behind. And each setting - Poland under the Nazis and the Land of the Dolls - is beautifully realised.

I do have reservations. The Dollmaker of Krakow is beautifully written. And I don't say that lightly - the prose is lyrical, thoughtful, sensuous and, for middle grade readers, vocabulary-expanding in that sinuous, effortless way. The main characters, and in particular Karolina, are engaging, credible and full of depth. But this book is aimed at the 9-11 years age group. And the darkness of the Nazi strand is very dark indeed. I don't consider this to be too much for kids at primary school at all, but I do wonder about it in a book with a dual narrative, the other part of which is magical fantasy. The Dollmaker of Krakow needs to be read by kids who can both cope with darkness and are very clear on the boundaries between fact and fiction. If the book tells us that the magical world is scary but safe as it's made up, it needs readers who are very clear that the Nazi world was even more scary but actually happened. This is not a criticism of the book itself but it is perhaps a note of caution for parents, teachers and school librarians.

Slight content warning aside, I loved this story. It's genuinely beautiful to read, the writing is of such high quality. The characters are incredibly well imagined and rise from the pages as fully-formed, interesting people dealing with seismic events and problems. Both worlds - that of reality and that of fantasy - are deep, rich and vivid. As noted, parts of The Dollmaker of Krakow are hard to read, even hurt to read, but the pay-off is worth it.

One for middle grade readers of open hearts, clear minds and a love of beautiful writing.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is another wonderfully lyrical story set in Poland during WWII. The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric is a wonderful alternate world historical fantasy, pitting myth and legend against science.

Buy The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero at Amazon.com.


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