Doll Bones

Written by: Holly Black

Illustrated by: Eliza Wheeler


For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. The plot summary is meant to give you a general understanding of the storyline, allowing you to have more meaningful discussion with your child. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about Doll Bones and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!

Plot Summary

Zach, Poppy and Alice love spending time together and imagining magical worlds to explore and conquer, but things take a turn for the worst when Zach's father forces him to grow up and throw away all of his toys. The only way that Zach feels he can cope is by ending his friendship with Poppy and Alice. This might have worked if Poppy and Alice hadn't paid him a visit one night with some very strange news. Poppy claims that she is being haunted by a china doll supposedly made of the ground-up bones of a murdered girl, and that the only way to prevent them from all becoming cursed is by returning the doll to where the deceased girl once lived. They go on a wild adventure to discover who the girl was and to deliver the doll to her resting place, and in doing so, they realize that they don't have to stop having adventures in order to grow up. 

Pre-Reading Activity

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Have your child create a K-W-L Chart and fill in the first two columns. In the "What I Know" column, have him/her write what s/he knows about the story from the book's description and other information. In the "What I Would Like To Know" section, have him/her write about what s/he hopes to learn from this story, like why Poppy seems to be having this dream, how they will prevent the curse from happening, and how the story will end. S/he can fill out the "What I Learned" portion at the end, before you discuss the story. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever been in Zach's position, torn between doing what you wanted to do and what others wanted you to do? How did you handle it? Do you agree with Zach's dad? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think Poppy was telling the truth about being haunted by the doll? What evidence from the story do you have that makes you think this way?
  3. What is Zach's relationship with his father like? How does the way he feels about his father influence his decisions about this adventure?
  4. How do they come to find out who the deceased girl is and where they are to take the doll? 
  5. Toward the end of the story, Zach says "Maybe all stories were true ones" (pg. 240). What do you think he means by this?
  6. Poppy closes out the story by saying, "You want to play?" What do you think their next adventure will be? How will it be different from their past endeavors? Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and write down what you think would happen if the story continued.
  7. If you want to find out what it took for Holly Black to write this book, read about it here. You'll learn about how she struggled to produce the finished product and how perseverance and dedication enabled her to create Doll Bones.

Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!