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Durable Trifles

Jacqui Reid-Walsh

Pennsylvania State University

Fuller Paper Doll Books: interactive design and gender(ed) play

Peter Opie considered the Fuller series of “doll dressing” books historically important because they combined characteristics of toys, picture books and graphic inventiveness together in a single artifact (The Treasures of Childhood ,1989,18). This paper explores the Fuller paper doll books as examples of interactive narrative media combining features of the paper doll, children’s story and moveable components together. The focus is on the interactive design innovations (moveable head, different genders and implied ages of doll bodies) in terms of the gendered possibilities provided to the child reader-viewer-player. The child can enact a single narrative by inserting the doll’ s head into different costumed bodies according to the plot line or stage counter narratives by crossing components within the series. While the paper will emphasize the published books, child altered and home made versions will be analyzed as well to provide evidence of different types of play possibilities.

As Andrea Immel notes (2006), most of the plots are allegorical (Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, 2006, 109-10). The type of moral tale and moral dress-up play it invites play is heavily influenced by the age and gender of the protagonist. The books for girls adapt the “conduct book novel” tradition directed towards young women “entering society” into a graphic form for young girls, retaining the conventions of the “reformable” heroine shown learning from her mistakes (such as Little Fanny and Ellen) or the “exemplary” heroine who models correct behavior (such as Cinderella or Lucinda). By contrast, the boys’ paper doll books tend to relay real or imagined adventures. Notably Little Henry models a heroic model of moral dress-up for boys, perhaps adapting the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau about Emile dressing up as Robinson Crusoe to enact and reflect on the hero’s actions. At the end I will briefly show the persistence of gender and genre in dress-up play for contemporary children on digital platforms.

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