Mirabelle is a picture book illustrated by Pija Lindenbaum and translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard from the Swedish Mirabell (1949). When I read it, I thought it was charming and magical. I went online to check reviews of it, which I always enjoy, and I was shocked that the general consensus seems to be that this is a super-creepy book. Huh. That was not my impression at all.
The story is a simple yet fantastical one: Young Britta comes from a poor family yet she desperately wants a doll. One day she does a good deed for a stranger. In return he gives her a seed and tells her to plant it and take care of it. She does, and out of the ground grows Mirabelle! Mirabelle talks and plays, but only when grown-ups aren’t looking. Everyone is happy, the end.
What’s so creepy about that?
Well. I read Mirabelle a second time.
And yeah, when the doll’s head first starts sticking up out of the ground, sure, I guess that’s creepy. Like a toy rising from the dead.
And yeah, the first time Britta says goodnight to her and the doll responds, “My name is not Margaret. My name is Mirabelle!” I can see that being creepy too.
And yeah, the fact that Mirabelle only comes to life when the adults aren’t looking, that’s kind of creepy.
But mostly, I found Mirabelle’s eyes creepy. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but when she is pretending to be a doll, her eyes are SUPER big and vacant. Honestly, I bet if her eyes were not so vacant, others wouldn’t have thought the book was creepy.
I still think this is a charming book. The creepiness is there if you look for it, but it took a second reading for me to see any of it. Mirabelle was, at least for me, a delightful character with flawless taste:
“But don’t ever try to feed me oatmeal,” she said, “Because I don’t eat it.”