Kafka and the Doll written by Larissa Theule and illustrated by Rebecca Green is based on a true happening between the iconic writer, Franz Kafka, and a little girl who lost her doll.
In the Fall of 1923, Franz Kafka was walking through a park, when he encountered a little girl crying because of the loss of her doll. He told her that her doll was not lost, but had embarked on a great traveling adventure. Then, for several weeks after that, Kafka met the little girl in the park and delivered a letter from her doll. The little girl’s doll, named Soupsey, told great stories as she travelled the world.
In the spread above, you see that we are shown each letter that is written to the little girl from her doll (the type is in blue which matches the color of the little girl’s dress). Although this doll story has been known for a long time, Larissa Theule has come up with a clever and engaging way to incorporate it into a picture book.
I’m intrigued by the way the author has used details about this legend to add to her own interpretation. The first being to discuss the liberties that she took in writing this tale, which are similar to the premise that Kafka himself took when devising the doll’s stories. There is a very interesting Author’s Note in the back of the book where Theule tells us that the story was documented by Franz Kafka’s partner, Dora, who witnessed the event. But that the girl remains unidentified and that the letters were never found. Larissa Theule talks about inventing the letters and the scenario, this done in much the same way as Kafka himself invented the story of the little girl’s traveling doll.
I also enjoyed learning that the author reinvented the ending from what Dora said Kafka had written. Kafka wrote in his final Soupsey letter that the the doll had gotten married and started a family. In Larissa Theule’s retelling she has chosen to modernize Soupsey’s story and sends her on a scientific expedition full of fantastic possibilities. Journaling is brought up often in the book as it was very important to Kafka. I think teachers might be able to use this as a fun tie in when studying this book?
There’s also a brief, but thorough-enough bio about Kafka at the back and a bibliography for further reading.
The illustrations are a perfect fit to the story. The page layouts with the letters keep the pace and page turns fast moving. The choice to use a restricted palette sets the story in the past. Ocher browns set against the the steely blue of the doll’s dress are warm and inviting. I’m a big fan of Rebecca Green’s. Each page design feels unique and part of the story-telling. They flow together so beautifully. I will use her layouts and placements as inspiration. So many clever choices!
This is a story about kindness. About storytelling. About reimagining something to be positive instead of sad. About taking the time to make a difference in someone’s life. And about sharing your talent and art.
Congratulations to Larissa and Rebecca. This book is a treasure.