Doll Bones by Holly Black is a dark Middle Grade mystery most suited to fifth grade and up. While Doll Bones won a Newberry Honor Award, it is creepy, deals with the occult, and therefore may not be suitable for all children.
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .
- Ultimately, the story is about friendship and trying to do the right thing, despite the foolishness of adults.
- The book is well-written and entertaining, and I like the cast of characters.
- The story is creepy. Ultimately it deals with a girl who was murdered and her bones were ground up to make a porcelain doll in her image. (See, creepy!)
- In the story, Poppy manipulates her friends into going on an adventure to get the doll back to her grave. The doll speaks to Poppy and directs her actions, not always in a truthful or trustworthy way.
Ultimately, my concern with the novel is its tendency to normalize and/or promote the occult. That doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t read it, but if they DO read it, please discuss the dangers of dabbling in the occult with them. (See discussion questions).
- Zach enjoyed playing “dolls” with the girls, although it was really more like role playing. Have you ever enjoyed doing something that you’d be embarrassed for your friends to find out about?
- Was Zach’s father right to throw out his son’s action figure? Was he wrong to force him to play sports even though Zach wasn’t interested? Why?
- What was Poppy’s motivation for removing the Queen from her case? Was Poppy’s interest in the Queen healthy or unhealthy?
- What did you think of Poppy’s actions — the way she got her friends to do what she wanted them to do? Do you have any friends who act that way?
- Do you think ghosts exist? Do you think people from beyond the grave can communicate with the living? If so, should they?