Tuesday, December 21, 2021

17+ beloved books about toys coming alive

There is a reason Toy Story is such a hit. It's the same reason so many of us love The Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Little Golden Book versions here and here

I, like so many children, desperately believed as a kid that my toys came to life when I left the room. I remember setting them up in specific positions so that I could sneak into the house and then burst through the door when we got home, just so I could see if they had moved. I even remember loudly proclaiming that we were headed to church and that I was coming right behind my family but then running back to my room and flinging the door open to see if they had moved yet. 

There is something so magically delightful about imagining your very favorite dolls and stuffed animals coming to life and this is one of my favorite book lists yet just for that reason! I hope you will find some old favorites and some new goodies on this list.

Babushka's Doll (picture book) ... This is a fun way to kick off this list because unlike the other toys on this list, this one is very naughty! Babushka's doll makes all kinds of mischief but all's well by the end so it's a fun read. 

The Christmas Dolls (chapter book) ... This book is about a little girl in an orphanage who ends up with two less-than-desirable dolls and loves them to pieces. It's a simple but sweet story and it made a fantastic Christmas buddy read with my five and six-year-old daughters. 

Corduroy (picture book)... All four of my kids have loved the original Corduroy books and several others about this talking teddy bear and his adventures... A Pocket for Corduroy, Corduroy's Garden, Corduroy Takes a Bow, and Corduroy's Christmas Surprise (just off the top of my head!) 

David McPhail's toy love board books (board book)... We don't have any of these anymore but my little ones all loved Bella Loves Bunny, Ben Loves Bear, and Olivia Loves Owl. The toys aren't super alive in these ones and in fact remain perfectly still, but they're still personified by way of "Bella loves Bunny. Bunny loves Bella." 

The Doll People (middle grade) ... I never read these books as a kid and have only read the first so far (there are four books in the series, plus a Christmas story that may just be a picture book?) but I really enjoyed it! This is the story of a doll family who wake up when the humans aren't around. A new doll family moves in and some big adventures happen as a result! 

Hitty's Travels (chapter book) ... I never read the middle grade original but B and I enjoyed buddy reading these chapter book adaptations about a 100-year-old doll and all the life she's seen! This is a four-book series featuring Civil War Days, Gold Rush Days, Voting Rights Days, and Ellis Island Days. Slavery is portrayed in a very mild and gentle way in Civil War Days--mild and gentle enough that slavery doesn't seem like a big deal at all--so you may want to skim this one and then determine how you'd like to further that discussion. 

Honk Honk Beep Beep (board book) ... This one was such a hit for little A! This is a simple rhyming board book that shows a father and son figurine riding a toy jeep up to the window to watch the sunrise. They stop to help (and be hindered by) other toys along the way. This is a classic picture book in the sense that the majority of the story is told through the illustrations. 

The Little Engine That Could (picture book) ... A bit of a stretch for this particular list since the dolls and toys are just bit players asking the train to help them get to the other side of the mountain but I still had to include it since it's such a classic! 

The Nutcracker (picture book, chapter book, and middle grade!) ... One of our favorite secular Christmas traditions about a Nutcracker doll who comes to life to battle a giant mouse kind with a toy soldier army and then sweep Marie/Clara (depends on the version) off to the land of sweets! As blasphemous as it may sound, ETA Hoffman's original isn't actually my favorite version! (But check out the Susan Jeffers illustration version if it's one of yours). The seven-headed mouse king and the Perlipat story line kinda creep me out. My son enjoyed Scholastic's chapter book adaptation last Christmas and all four of us love Mary Engelbreit's super simplified picture book version. We love Jan Brett illustrations though and enjoyed peeking at her new version in a bookstore last month. 

Raggedy Ann and Andy collection (leveled readers)... Raggedy Ann and Andy are characters and dolls) who have survived for ages! My mom still has my old Raggedy Ann doll and my mother-in-law still has hers, too! 

The Steadfast Tin Soldier (picture book) ... I have a picture book copy of this one my mom gave me for one of my childhood Christmases! (Side note: Save some of your kids' favorite picture books, goodness. It felt so special to watch my children pour over the same illustrations from my same old copy!) This one is about a play room that comes to life at night, but in particular about a defective toy soldier and the paper doll ballerina he's in love with. 

The Story of Holly and Ivy (chapter book*)... A little girl who longs for a doll and a doll who longs for a little girl--a perfectly heartwarming Christmas tale! *I've categorized this one as a chapter book for its length and ideal age level but unless I'm misremembering, it's actually just one long picture book without any chapter breaks. 

The Teddy Bears' Picnic (picture/board book) ... Simple and sweet, an oldie but a goodie. I never remember the tune to the song so this book makes teddy bear-loving D very happy. 

The Velveteen Rabbit (chapter book) ... This book shows up as a picture book too but the chapter book original is my favorite. It's sad in a lot of ways but brings me the feels, as they say. 

Winnie the Pooh (middle grade) ... For some reason Winnie the Pooh has become a baby-and-toddler icon in US culture so I find that it's often "outgrown" just before the best age for appreciating it! Really, these books are ideal for fifth-ish grade readers and pack such a delightful punch! Some of my very favorite quotes come from Winnie the Pooh and I tell Ryan every year on our anniversary, "I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen." 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (middle grade)... This one is a major, major stretch. There's a chapter about china doll people so I threw it in here but I'm 99% sure there's only the one chapter and the whole rest of the book is just about Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion and their quest. (No, you're not crazy... if you've only seen the movie then you only really know about the Wicked Witch, flying monkeys and munchkins but not the china doll people, Winkies, or any of the other characters) 

You are Special (picture book) ... We love Max Lucado and really like this one. The Wemicks are wooden dolls but they're never really talked about as being someone's dolls, aside from their discussion with/about their creator. This is a fantastic book of spiritual allegory, though, and I can't recommend it enough! 


  1. Yes, I also very much believed that toys were alive! I remember arguing with other children who did not believe. For me, as a child, the whole world was alive and magical. Thanks for the recommendations. I am also going to buy the book "Christmas Pig", I really liked the introductory fragment. And as a child, I liked the "Transistor Doll" by Gianni Rodari, only there the doll was evil, but I still loved this fairy tale as a child.

    1. I wonder if every kid wonders about their toys coming alive!

      I'm still not done with The Christmas Pig so hopefully I didn't steer you wrong!

      I don't think I would like Transistor Doll!

    2. Yes, I know that you choose your books very carefully, and rightly so. I, too, have recently begun to pay more attention to the content of books, and in my youth and childhood I did not always think about it.

    3. I didn't always pay attention to the message either and I read a lot of books that we're terrible for my heart when I was younger. 😞

      I ended up think The Christmas Pig had a good message but was a bit freaky for young kids so would be best for the older crowd.

  2. i dont like it its trash

    1. Lol fair enough! Not every book is for every reader and I of all people can respect that 😊


Thanks so much for your comments! I always read them, don't always have time to answer quickly. Sorry about that!