William's Doll

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William's Doll
William's Doll (1972 book).jpg
Author Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrator William Pène du Bois
Genre Picture book
Publisher Harper & John
Publication date
Pages 30 pp
ISBN 978-0-06-443067-8
OCLC 347798

William's Doll is a 1972 children's picture book by Charlotte Zolotow about a boy who wants a doll even though dolls typically are considered a toy only for girls. His father, uncomfortable with William's request, tries giving William toys the father considers more gender-appropriate, such as a basketball and a train set; while William enjoys these toys, he continues to ask for a doll. Eventually, the boy's grandmother fulfills the request, explaining to the father that William will use the doll to practice being a good father.

Zolotow has explained that although she is a feminist and appreciates that many feminists enjoyed the book's message, her inspiration was more from personal observations about her husband's early attempts to bond with the couple's son, Stephen, and about how men of the time period missed out on some of the pleasures of being closely involved with their children's development. She observed, for example, that by always exiting the room during diaper changes, her husband missed their son's first smile.[1]

The book often is used in the United States for lessons on gender roles, stereotypes, or general anti-bias education. For example, the journal article "'William's Doll' Revisited" was on a study comparing reactions of fourth-grade students in 1975 and in 2000.[2]


A song based on the story, with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, was included in the best-selling Free to Be... You and Me children's album and songbook in 1972, where it was sung by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas. (This same song was sung by B. D. Wong at the Ms. Foundation's 15th Annual Gloria Awards ceremony in 2003, where Marlo Thomas and former Ms. Foundation president Letty Cottin Pogrebin received the Creative Philanthropy Award for the album's creation.[3])

When Free to Be... You and Me became a television special in 1974, ABC asked producer Marlo Thomas to make two changes to the material, one of which involved the Zolotow story:

They wanted William's Doll cut, because it would turn every boy in the world into a homosexual — which isn't such a bad idea. And the other issue was "Parents Are People." Harry Belafonte sang the man part and I sang the female part, and we were walking down Fifth Avenue pushing baby buggies and ABC said it wouldn't play in the South. It looked like we were married. ... Thankfully, 'That Girl' was a hit on ABC at the time, so I had a little clout. Both things stayed in.

—Marlo Thomas, Forward, May 28, 2004[4]

William's Doll also became a 14-minute film in 1981.[1] The 1981 film starred Craig Salles as William and was shot in Graceada Park in Modesto, California. In 2010, the producers of RiffTrax, formerly Mystery Science Theater 3000, released William's Doll [1]. This was their "riff" of the aforementioned short.


  1. ^ a b Charlotte Zolotow on the origins of William's Doll, charlottezolotow.com (retrieved June 1, 2007)
  2. ^ Greever, Ellen A.; Austin, Patricia; Welhousen, Karyn (March 2000). "'William's Doll' Revisited" (PDF). Language Arts 77 (4): 324–30. ISSN 0360-9170. Retrieved July 31, 2012. Lay summaryEducation Resources Information Center. 
  3. ^ "Yoko Ono Presents Award" (undated article, retrieved June 1, 2007)
  4. ^ Majorie Ingall, "The East Village Mamele; Why 'Free to Be...' Still Kicks Butt," Forward, JCC Manhattan, May 28, 2004