Itty Bitty Books: Uncovering a Lost Storybook From Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, Plus Make Your Own Tiny Book Library

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Image: Chronicle Books

A Note of Explanation

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Mary. But she wasn’t any ordinary girl. She would grow up to become a queen. And, as an adult queen in the 1920s, a magnificent Doll’s House was built for her, in a 1:12 scale (one inch equals one foot). The Doll’s House was extremely detailed, including an elevator, running water, and a marble staircase. Its walls were covered with tiny works of art created by famous artists, and its well-stocked library included tiny leather-bound books from 171 prominent writers from the time who had each penned stories in volumes no larger than a postage stamp. Vita Sackville-West’s A Note of Explanation was among them.

Written in 1922, the story tells of the dollhouse itself and all that it contains and all that it might contain, if one could just look closely enough. It tells of the fabulous dollhouse “ghost” who isn’t really a ghost. She was present for many well-known fairy tale stories. She explores the fashions of the world and spends time in every room in the dollhouse.

Check out the publisher’s trailer for a look at the book’s interior.

In this (much larger) reprinting of A Note of Explanation, the playful story is told once again, and illustrated in a gorgeous art nouveau style, reflecting the era of the book’s original publication date in tiny form in the 1920s. Originally placed in Queen Mary’s intricately detailed dollhouse, along with tiny books written by other famous authors of the time such as Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, A.A. Milne, and J.M. Barrie, we can now read it again. While many of the other tiny books contained there have been known for years, A Note of Explanation has remained mostly hidden, until now.

The book is exceptionally well written, which we can expect from such a writer as Vita Sackville-West, who was a well-known and well-connected novelist, writer, and poet, along with being a celebrated garden designer. She was also the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and was associated with the Bloomsbury Group. This book is a refreshing read in these days of bad grammar and missing punctuation.

The illustrations, masterfully created by Kate Baylay, are perfection itself, setting the scene and lending an air of sophistication to a story that most definitely deserves it.

The book also includes a brief Afterword, written by Matthew Dennison, who previously wrote a biography of Vita Sackville-West entitled Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West. In the Afterword, he analyzes the mysterious “ghost” character from A Note of Explanation, comparing her to Vita herself.

The tale keeps me coming back for more, reading and re-reading it, imagining myself in the dollhouse, yearning to see it in person. (It’s for sure on my list of attractions for my eventual trip to England; it is on display at Windsor Castle.) But, if you can’t make it to England in person, there are a few books available profiling the dollhouse.

With its gorgeously decorated cover and the engaging and captivating tale inside, the reproduction of Vita Sackville-West’s tiny masterpiece, this time in normal book size, brings back an interesting and mostly-unknown bit of history and literature. A Note of Explanation is available now, to place in your own library. Though it’s a quick read, you’ll turn back to it often to study the gorgeous illustrations, and to find new meaning in its pages. Additionally, I recommend visiting the Royal Collection Trust’s website to learn more about the dollhouse, and even see a case study.

My Miniature Library

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If you’re interested in having your own teeny tiny library, you don’t need to be the Queen of England. The My Miniature Library set comes complete with a library room, bookcase (some assembly required), and 30 classic DIY miniature books. With titles ranging from Little Red Riding Hood to Mythical Creatures to Atlas of the World, there’s something to interest everyone. These books have been created or recreated in tiny, abbreviated form with detailed illustrations. The set also includes eight books with story and theme starters (family album, fairy tale, etc.) and two completely blank books for you to fill out and decorate yourself. Once assembled, all 30 books fit (with a bit of room to spare) on the cardboard bookcase included in the set. Add your own dolls and dollhouse furniture, action figures, or hand puppets to the scene.

To assemble the books, cut out the strips of book pages, fold them up like an accordion, and glue each half of the book’s interior pages together. Then cut out and fold the book’s cover, which is printed on sturdy cardstock, and glue the pages inside. Complete instructions are contained in the included booklet, and the accompanying images are very clear. They also show slightly imperfectly folded pages, which helps one feel better about their own imperfect folding abilities.

Fun for kids, but extra fun for parents or grandparents of little ones, this My Miniature Library set closes up to be a self-contained secret room. Take some time with your kids and make and read these books. All you need are scissors, glue stick, and a steady hand.

Note: A copy of each of these was provided for review purposes. But I love them both just the same.

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