February 17, 2018

Building A Storybook House

Storybook dollhouse kitchen

Green eggs and ham and the Gingerbread Man at Dayton’s Storybook Dollhouse

When Gwen Owen, Community Relations Assistant for the Dayton Metro Library, won a doll house in a raffle from the Cincinnati Miniature Society in March 2010, she never considered keeping it to herself. “I knew as soon as I won it that I wanted to turn it into a storybook house,” said Owen.

The idea has a long history: In 1995, when attending the American Library Association’s Annual Conference, Owen had seen a similar dollhouse on permanent exhibit in the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library at the Chicago Public Library, and it made a big impression. “I wanted our library to have something like it, and the idea kind of stayed in the back of my mind ever since.”

Owen immediately started adding what would eventually total 46 clue allusions to children’s stories to the seven room house, starting with the Goodnight Moon room’s red felt rug, green wallpaper and yellow and green striped curtains. Other clues include Paddington Bear’s suitcase, the yellow hat from Curious George, the “long-suffering” fish from The Cat in the Hat, and the escaping Gingerbread Man.

Owen made many of the clues from polymer clay, a material Owen was unfamiliar with until she did some crafting research. “I checked out books from my library to find out how to do it,” Owen said. Other clues were made from string, fabric, sandpaper, even pasta.

Patrons visit the Storybook Dollhouse in Dayton

Patrons visit the Storybook Dollhouse in its Plexiglas display case

Though Owen described the 18-month project as “very personal,” the Storybook Dollhouse didn’t stay just one woman’s labor of love. Facilities manager Carl Bach made a Plexiglas display case for the house; Kevin Delecki, then-manager of the Main Library children’s room, built a custom table for it, and Web Specialist Erin Abney created an interactive version on the children’s page of the library’s website.

(According to the library’s analytics, visitors spend an average of more than three and a half minutes playing with the online dollhouse—that’s an eternity in Internet time, where the average web page visit is less than a minute.)

The dollhouse is not going to stay at just one branch either: there are plans for it to travel to many of the 21 locations in the Dayton Metro system through 2013,

“The dollhouse stays for two months at each location, so that only allows six branch libraries each year to have it. I had more requests for it than I could fill in 2012, so we’ll continue the tour as long as folks are interested. I don’t mind – my favorite thing is setting it up in a new location each time! I’m open to having it visit other libraries or schools someday as well,” Owen told LJ.

She plans to add more clues in future as well, including “a Ramona Quimby clue that may go into the house before its next stop at our Huber Heights Branch Library in October.”

“I’ve got ideas for more,” said Owen. “This is a project I’d like to keep working on for a long time.”



Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Marley Willis Smith says:

    This is just wonderful! Makes me want to try something similar with a miniature historic baseball field! Not sure I have the patience, though. :-)

    Great job!