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, were 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.
The Playskool Dollhouse has a kitchen, living room, dining area, full bath,
master bedroom, childrens 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 collectors 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
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
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.
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 Melvins 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. Playmobils 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
One warning about dollhouses: things may live in them that you do not expect. I have
walked into my daughters 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
(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 . .