Kafka and the Doll

Viking. Mar. 2021. 48p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593116326.
K-Gr 2–Theule recounts the true story of Kafka, on a walk with his partner Dora, encountering a small girl named Irma crying over the loss of her doll. Kafka transforms the loss of the doll into an adventure. He tells Irma that her doll has gone on a trip and that she has sent a letter, for which he is the “volunteer postman.” Sadly, he has left the letter in an overcoat at home. Irma is astounded, but is back at the park the next day awaiting him. Thus begins a series of days, turned into weeks of letters detailing the doll’s travels, from having tea in England with Peter Rabbit to walking with Gaudi in Barcelona. Kafka, very ill, produces a final letter stating that the doll has gone on an expedition to Antarctica. The last image is of a grown Irma riding a camel, and with her are copies of Kafka’s novels. Based on true events told to Kafka’s biographer, Theule fills in the gaps with a conversational narrative, while the old-fashioned illustrations, on parchment-colored paper, deftly wind scenes of the doll with the interactions between Kafka and Irma. All the characters, real and imagined, are white. While the importance of Kafka in literature may not yet resonate with the picture-book demographic, this charmingly enhanced tale otherwise has it all: the kindness of a stranger, the loss of a beloved toy, adventures, and even closure. Back matter includes the author’s notes on her changes to the tale, a brief biography of Kafka, and a short bibiliography.
VERDICT A winsome tale for the young, this could also be of value in high school collections where Kafka is taught.

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