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In this issue:
From the Publisher
Wiring your own Phaser
SF Fans and Charity
Children's Dollhouses
How to Get It for Less
Science Fiction Movie Posters
Vintage SF Paperbacks
Books and Audios about TV
Blackadder Chronicles
Letters to the Publisher

SNW Issue 14
SNW Issue 13
SNW Issue 12
SNW Issue 11
SNW Issue 10
SNW Issue 09
SNW Issue 08
SNW Issue 04

Collectible Kids
An Adult Guide to Children's Science Fiction Collectibles
Strange New Worlds  Issue 12 - February/March 1994

Explore the Imagination: Children's Dollhouses
by Adrienne Reynolds

If you want a glimpse into a strange new world, eavesdrop on a pre-schooler playing alone. You will discover a range of voices, character traits, and truly alien thinking that will put to shame any hidden notion you have of your own superior imagination. The biggest lie we science fiction adults tell ourselves is that we have retained the sense of imagination and wonder we had as children. But we are cynical. We imagine the impossible because we have so clearly defined for ourselves what is possible. We hope for the improbable because, well, we’re weird. But children have yet to draw the line between possible and impossible. They still hope for the impossible.

When we adults play, we are practicing the suspension of disbelief. Children, on the other hand, suspend nothing. Even when they are very reality-based during their period of play, they practice belief. For the duration of their play, they believe their doll is hungry; they believe their T-Rex hand puppet is bad and should be smacked on the snout for trying to eat boo-boo bunny; they believe that they are the teacher and should be listened to. I hope that by encouraging this type of play over video games that the kids we deal with will have a little less disbelief to suspend when they are older and weighted down by reality like we are.

Playing with Doll Houses spurs Imagination

Thus, while on the surface dollhouses may seem like an odd subject for Strange New Worlds, I maintain that they are without peer in exploring that most precious of science fiction attributes, imagination. Children naturally extrapolate from the world around them (like any good science fiction writer) and the dollhouse gives them a stage with which to enhance their ideas. They already make everything into families; here the family is already made. Since they do not have to establish the context of their play, the situations they play out are stronger expression of pure imagining. It is little wonder that the fascination and affection most children have with their first dollhouse is maintained into adulthood.

I was given my first dollhouse when I was four. This was a perfect age for dollhouse play. But my parents miscalculated the type of dollhouse appropriate for this age. They handcrafted the thing out of oak. They put it on rollers to move it because it was so heavy. My mother had personally wallpapered and decorated the interior to be an historically accurate Victorian townhouse complete with Victorian family. She made little black window boxes with red dried flowers that looked just like geraniums. It was a wonder of artistry and love and, of course, I destroyed it. Not the structure (that survived everything but a fire many years later), but the furnishings. They were real dollhouse things, some of them probably quite collectible all these years later. But I was too young to appreciate the effort or the value. I came to truly regret this about four years later.

This is an example of the right gift, wrong execution. To my delight, all the major toy companies have solved this problem. They have designed full scale dollhouses appropriate for ages two and up. These include families, extra furnishings, and unbreakable components. The playtesting was much the same for all of the dollhouses mentioned, so I will only evaluate the differences. All these dollhouses entertain kids for countless hours. Almost any number of kids who can fit around them will play together. All initially come with a family of three (Mom, Dad, Baby), enough basic furniture to start playing immediately, and stickers. Finally, and most important, none of the dollhouses require assembly by the adult. Take ‘em outta the box, apply the stickers, and voila, instant dollhouse. Just add about $80.00.

Playskool Dollhouse

The Playskool Dollhouse has a kitchen, living room, dining area, full bath, master bedroom, children’s bedroom, and a garret. It also boasts a porch with a gimmick; you can turn on the lights. (This will delight even adult dollhouse fans.) This is the dollhouse most like an adult collector’s dollhouse. You can decorate it by hanging pictures and placing house plants. The food and accessory sets are highly detailed while still being safe for children as young as two and a half. The family dog is a Golden Retriever, which means that this is a dollhouse family with taste.

The Playskool Dollhouse is my favorite. But make sure you have the room for it. Accessory sets sell from $4.99 to $12.00. Playskool introduces new ones every year. The dollhouse is $69.99. The dollhouse with the four original home improvement sets (including microwave, drapes, fabric bedding, and additional furniture) can be put together for roughly $100. To put together an equivalent "grownup" dollhouse could run you anywhere from $200 to $500 depending on how much of a miniature buff you are.
(See Playskool products available online.)

Fisher-Price Dollhouse

The Fisher-Price Dream Dollhouse takes a good deal of inspiration from the Playskool Dollhouse but has certain advantages. The main advantage is its compact size. It folds up so that it takes considerably less floor space and can even slides under a bed.

It also has accessory sets, a balcony, and wraparound porch. It does not have room separations in the manner of a traditional dollhouse. Accessory sets include neighborhood friends so the children of the family do not live in isolation. The Fisher-Price dolls look more like real people than the others and all of them are kind of chunky-looking. This is a family that eats well.

I was able to fold this full-sized dollhouse and take it with me on trips to houses lacking toys. I do not know if Fisher-Price meant it to be that portable, but it certainly ended up being a great side effect. You can fold the furniture inside until you get more than two accessory kits. All of the furniture and accessories pack neatly into toy storage boxes.

If you live in an apartment or are pressed for space in a playroom, then this is absolutely the best dollhouse for you. However, I found two nit-picky design flaws, both in the accessory sets: 1) the puppies that come with the doghouse are all attached to each other so they cannot get into things on their own and 2) the baby carriage handles are so low that none of the family dolls can push it realistically. Suggested retail price for this house is $89.00, but you may find it for less at discount toy centers. Accessory sets are $4.99 to $6.99 each.
(See Fisher-Price dollhouses and accessories)

Little Tikes Dollhouse

Little Tikes dollhouse is perfect for educational settings. All Little Tikes Toys are built stronger than most buildings these days. But in terms of longevity, they do not seem to hold as much interest for children older than five or six. While it does not look as "dollhouse-like" as the Fisher-Price or Playskool versions, the Little Tykes house has a few advantages. Each is furnished with miniature versions of toys that many children already have. The child gets a kick out of seeing their own stuff in miniature. It is also incredibly easy to clean.

"Dollhouses" for boys - Action Playsets from Playmobil

Most of the playtesting involved domestic situations, regardless of the gender of the kid. But some parents might balk at the idea of getting their son a mostly pink dollhouse. Playmobil offers an alternative that will give your male child all of the domestic play opportunities of a dollhouse without upsetting Great Uncle Melvin’s sense of masculinity — the Playmobil Large Castle with Tower. The Castle contains men at arms, a king and queen, a table with place settings, and the usual assortment of armaments and stable equipment. While it lacks a kitchen, it does have a well and fire pit and provides children the option for domestic play. Noting the two silver candlesticks, one child decided that the King and Queen were Jewish (since they had their Sabbath stuff out) and proceeded to make the army stand up for the Kiddush prayers. Playmobil’s castle requires adult assembly and is not appropriate for children under four. Assembly takes about forty-five minutes. (See Playmobil Castle playsets or all Playmobil playsets available online.)

One warning about dollhouses: things may live in them that you do not expect. I have walked into my daughter’s room and seen that Ariel the mermaid was staying in the Playskool family's bathtub, the Captain Picard Action figure was baby-sitting, and an original Trek Gorn was sitting in the living room.

After the age of eight, a child may be ready for the world of regular dollhouse miniatures. Many kits to build your own dollhouse are available from a vast array of miniature hobbyist suppliers. Many organizations and magazines are devoted to this huge hobby. Starting your child on "real" dollhouses might well be a hobby that he or she will take into adult life.

This Month's Tip

When I was eight and feeling guilty about the dollhouse I had destroyed, I started building kits to refurnish it. The results were not great, but at least I did it myself. If you are a model-building adult and your daughter is not interested in your spaceships, try building doll furniture together. It is a great project that will give you some real one-on-one time with your daughter, and may help her appreciate some of the joys of your hobby. l

(All toys mentioned are available at Toys R Us with the exception of Playmobil, which is available at specialty toystores. Adrienne Reynolds is the creator and editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine "GATEWAYS Past, Future . . . Sideways.")

Shop for Dollhouses

Books about collecting and making doll houses

Collectible Kids Column:
About Educational Toys and Collectables that are Fun to Play With!

Articles written by Adrienne Reynolds:

bulletPassing on your Science Fiction ideals to your children
bulletChildren's Dollhouses - Playsets for Boys and Girls
bulletScience Fiction the Kids are Watching
bulletGirl Toys That Might Not Make You Gag
bulletPremiere column: An Adult's Guide to Children's Toys and Collectables

ABOUT COLLECTIBLE KIDS: The Collectible Kids column ran in Strange New Worlds in the early 1990s. It reviewed and recommended children's products that encourage imagination, creativity, a love of learning, a sense of history, and a belief in the future. Plus, any toys listed as "recommended-to-buy" should also be just plain fun to play with. Products were play-tested by actual children. Testing was performed with three different child groups: 1) Coed, ages four through eight, 2) Female, ages eight through fourteen, and 3) Male ages eight through fourteen. Depending upon the toy, a fourth group may be used: Coed, ages eight through fourteen. Following the play-testing, all toys were donated to charity.

ABOUT ADRIENNE REYNOLS: Adrienne Reynolds is the creator and editor-in-chief of "Gateways Past, Future . . . Sideways," a quarterly magazine of character-based stories with a sense of the unexpected. A writing instructor, Ms. Reynolds ran the Fantek Writer’s group.




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