Doll Bones



Tween tale is both creepy and sweetly poignant.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The story explains that bone china is made with bones. The children head to the library to look for maps and end up finding a wealth of information about the doll and its maker.

Positive messages

The three friends are worried about the ways they're changing as they stumble toward adolescence. They don't want to rush to grow up, and they don't want to risk their friendship. Beneath the arguing, they're loyal to each other -- and committed to helping the little girl's ghost, even when they aren't sure whether she's real or a figment of Poppy's imagination.

Positive role models

Even as they squabble and hide secrets from each other, the three friends show great caring and empathy for one another. The kids make questionable choices in pursuit of their quest: sneaking away from home, breaking into a building, and stealing bikes and a boat. But they do plan to return the bikes, and they call the marina to report where the boat can be found. The adults respond to the children's actions with a surprising degree of compassion -- Zach's father even apologizes for his overbearing behavior. A librarian who finds them insists on contacting their parents.


The ghost story centers on the possible murder of a young girl, whose father then used her remains to make a bone china doll. A strange, leering man on the bus frightens the children, though he doesn't explicitly threaten them. As the friends sleep, their campsite is violently trashed -- but it isn’t clear who (or what) did it.

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Passing reference to a Roomba and Twizzlers.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Doll Bones scores high on the creepiness scale but isn't actually that violent. It's spooky, the kind of story where it isn't always clear what might be truly supernatural -- or simply the product of an overactive imagination. The most frightening scene may be one involving an unbalanced and aggressively chatty stranger on the bus. The story centers on the mysterious death of a girl long ago, but the real thrust of the novel is how the three main characters struggle to navigate the changes of early adolescence. All three tweens are coping with difficult family backgrounds, and one child lost her parents in an accident. They leave on an overnight journey without alerting their parents.

What's the story?

Now that he's 12, Zach is being pushed by his dad to abandon action figures and the long-running, imaginative storytelling game he plays with his friends, Poppy and Alice. Since they were very young, they've been telling tales of pirates, mermaids, and the Great Queen, an antique bone china doll locked in a glass cabinet. But when Zach quits the game, Poppy claims she's been having dreams that the Great Queen is tied to the ghost of a young girl, who she says she'll haunt them until they bury the doll in her proper grave. Zach sets off with his friends on this final quest, though he's uncertain whether the ghost story is real or a desperate bid by Poppy to keep the game -- and their friendship -- alive.

Is it any good?


DOLL BONES is just spooky enough to bewitch kids who love spine-tingling tales without violence or gore. But the real treasure lies beneath: Author Holly Black artfully hones in on a bittersweet turning point of childhood -- that strange time when you leave freewheeling pretend play behind for more mature pursuits, like sports and dating. "I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying," laments Poppy, who's starting to feel like the third wheel as Zach and Alice awkwardly deal with the first stirrings of romantic feelings.

Black may be familiar to young readers as the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles. With Doll Bones, she offers middle-schoolers a pitch-perfect coming-of-age adventure with goose bumps. And Eliza Wheeler's artwork -- including the sinister cover and black-and-white illustrations inside -- are lovely.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the use of horror in a friendship tale. Why are horror stories so appealing? Would a story about these friends be as interesting without the supernatural element?

  • The kids steal a boat and some bikes and break into a library in pursuit of their goal. Do the ends justify the means?

  • Zach wonders whether the doll is somehow possessing them. Later, Poppy says seeing her friends change is like seeing them become possessed. How is the doll used as symbol for what's happening among the trio of friends?

Book details

Author:Holly Black
Illustrator:Eliza Wheeler
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry
Publication date:May 7, 2013
Number of pages:256
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Awards:ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 9 years old December 5, 2013

Creepy Fun

I thought the book was good, and enjoyable to read, and it was fast paced. The Story is about three kids Alice, Poppy & Zach, who go on a “quest” to take a Haunted Doll and bury her in her grave. But I didn’t think it was a good idea to go on a quest without telling anybody or leaving a note. Especially when they weren’t one-hundred percent sure the quest was real. I mean a lot of things could’ve happened. They could have gotten kidnapped, or gotten hurt, even murdered. Plus they didn’t bring much to eat or drink, and they didn’t have enough money. I thought they did good on their quest, even though they got into fights. And it didn’t help when Eleanor creeped Zach out. At the end of the book I thought Alice would be grounded for a entire year, and Zach would be punished, but Poppy wouldn’t get in trouble at all, because her family barely noticed her, that’s why she liked playing with Zach & Alice.
Educator and Parent Written bykristinm2 March 3, 2015

Scarier than expected, very compelling for older kids

My eight year old, an advanced reader, searched for this book at the library many times. Once she finally found it, we started reading it together. It wasn't scary in the first few chapters but did deal with touchy subjects like broken families and adolescence (though adolescence isn't directly mentioned). It progresses into creepiness late in part one and maintains the creep factor until the end. Strong atmosphere kept my daughter on edge for the whole story so I broke it up over two days. Once she hit about the halfway mark, she didn't want to stop reading and she finished the story over the course of a few hours. I felt the exact same way, this book will suck you into the story. Make sure you have an open evening to spare! The way the doll is made was the most disturbing aspect of the story. The doll, The Queen, was allegedly made by a grieving father out of his own dead daughter's ground bones and hair. There are no sexual situations or dialogue, no swearing and no violence in the story. I would recommend this book for most ten year olds.
Kid, 11 years old August 16, 2015

Don't bother reading this book.

This book was a disappointment. All of Holly Black's other books are better. Do NOT bother reading this book.


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