The Paper Dolls
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The Paper Dolls explores fictional objects, memory, and artistic creation by following a little girl and her paper dolls.
A little girl and her paper dolls go on amazing adventures in this picture book by Julia Donaldson. The dolls play in the real world and in the little girl’s imagination. After a boy snips the dolls into little pieces, the dolls appear in the little girl’s memory along with other things. The Paper Dolls offers the opportunity to discuss the status of fictional objects, the nature of memory, and artistic creation.
Read aloud video by Little Loves Library
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
The Paper Dolls, a book by Julia Donaldson, follows the story of a young girl who, with the help of her mother, makes paper dolls she names Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow. The dolls are heroes in the stories the little girl creates. Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow sing, dance, jump, and battle a dinosaur. Unfortunately, a boy comes along who snips the dolls into little pieces. But the little girl eventually learns that the dolls persist in her memory.
The book makes the reader think about the existence of figures of imagination, the nature of memory, and artistic creation. The first set of discussion questions addresses the existence of figures of imagination. Figures of imagination seem like they are not real because they can do things that they could not do in the real world. For example, the paper dolls meet a dinosaur in the story. But, dinosaurs do not exist anymore in the real world. And paper dolls ordinarily cannot do anything that the person holding them does not have them do. But, at the same time, it seems that the dolls can outlive, in some way, the fact that they were snipped into pieces because they come back together and sing, only this time in the little girl’s memory. So, where are they and where did they come from? These are interesting questions about the existence of objects that are fictional.
The next set of questions concerns memory. After the boy snips the paper dolls and the dolls regather themselves in the little girl’s memory, they apparently encounter other items in the little girl’s memory. They find “white mice and fireworks, and a starfish soap, and a kind granny, and the butterfly hairslide, and more and more lovely things each day and each year.” Students are asked about the nature of memory. What is memory and where is it? Why does it exist? Why does it seem to hold some things that are imaginary (like the white mice) and some things that were once real (like the kind granny and the butterfly hairslide)?
Finally, the last set of discussions touches the subject of artistic creation. The paper dolls were designed by the little girl with some help from her mother. (Later in the book, when the little girl is an adult, she too helps her daughter create paper dolls.)
People create items all the time: pieces of art, crafts, useful and useless objects, fun objects, etc. What is the relationship between the creator and the creation?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Existence of fictional objects and characters/Imagination
- Who are Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow?
- What kind of a thing are they? For example, are they human? Why or why not?
- Where did they come from?
- What do they do on a daily basis?
- Do you do similar things on a daily basis? Why or why not?
- What happened to the dolls after they were snipped into little pieces? Where did they go?
- After the little boy snipped the paper dolls into little pieces he said, “You’re gone forever.” Is he right?
- Is a paper doll a toy? Is it less of a toy than one you buy at the store?
- Where did the paper dolls go after they were snipped into little pieces?
- What did they find where they went?
- Where is your memory?
- What is your memory?
- Are there things, people, or places in your memory that don’t exist in the real world anymore? Can you give some examples?
- Even if they don’t exist in the real world anymore, are they real in some way?
- Why does it seem to hold some things that are imaginary (like the white mice) and some things that were once real (like the kind granny and the butterfly hairslide)?
- If the little girl hadn’t made the dolls, would the dolls exist?
- How are the little girl and the dolls related?
- How did the little girl know how to make paper dolls?
- Are there any skills that were passed down to you from your parents or grandparents?
- Do the paper dolls mean a lot to the little girl? If so, how can you tell?
- Have you ever created something that you are very attached to? What was it? Why are you attached to it? What does it mean to you?
- Does everyone feel the same way towards that object as you do? Why or why not?
- Does what you make tell people something about you? Why or why not?
- Do the paper dolls reveal something about the little girl? If so, what? And, why?
- A boy with a pair of scissors, snipped the dolls into little pieces. Did the paper dolls mean a lot to the little boy?
- Was it okay for the little boy to destroy the paper dolls?
- Is it okay to destroy things that don’t mean anything to you? Why or why not?
Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Jessica Mejía and Emily Knuth (October 2020).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.