Book Review

The Toymakers – Robert Dinsdale


Do you remember when you believed in magic?

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…


Every now and again a book comes along that takes you by the hand and pulls you down into the pages, refusing to release you from it’s spell until the very last page. The Toymakers is one such book and I was captivated from the very first page. Dinsdale’s beautiful descriptions and style of writing made me feel as though I was right there in Papa Jack’s Emporium, and, as Papa Jack’s toys work their own special magic, I felt a sense of anticipation reminiscent of my own childhood Christmases. From the second I was introduced to the Emporium, the book lit up a childlike wonder in me, just as Papa Jack’s toys in the adults that loved them as much as the children that they were bought for. The real world fell away, and I was lost in a world of imagination.

The book follows runaway Cathy Wray as she discovers the wonderful world of Papa Jack’s Emporium, and builds a new life for herself among the toy-filled aisles, aided by the charming Godman brothers. Papa Jack’s boys couldn’t be more different from each other. The only things that flamboyant, charismatic Kaspar and sweet, gentle Emil have in common are their adoration of Cathy and a burning desire to make toys as good as their father’s. The outbreak of World War One changes everything, and just as it stole the innocence of the boys who went off to fight, so too did it steal the joy that lived inside the Emporium. As the magic begins to fade, desperate measures are taken that change the face of the Emporium forever.

The Toymakers left me with an overriding sense that even in the depths of despair and devastation, there is still magic to be found. The magic of Papa Jack’s Emporium lives on in all of the children whose lives the toys touched, and will live on in all of us, for as long as we have books like this, and, of course, our own imaginations.

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