My Grandmother's Toy Box

A story about toys

Written by Joanne Clyne and Liz Suda, illustrated by Cat MacInnes.

An illustration of a chest full of old toys
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 1

Hannah was sick. She didn’t like having a snotty nose and sore throat. She was also beginning to feel quite bored with staying home from school and not being able to play with her friends.

An illustration of a girl having her temperature taken by a woman
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 2

'Why don’t you watch television?' her mother asked.

'There’s nothing on,' Hannah whinged.

'You could tidy your room,' Mum suggested.

Hannah gave a loud sniff and hid under the doona.

A girl hiding under the doona
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 3

'What did you do when you had to stay at home sick?' Hannah quizzed her mother.

'OK. Put on your dressing gown and slippers and follow me.'

Hannah followed her mother outside to the garage and watched as she moved boxes, pot plants, the Christmas tree stand and the lawnmower out of the way.

'What are we looking for?' grumbled Hannah.

Finally Mum pulled out a dusty old box.

Hannah and her mother in the garage. Books, bikes, a suitcase, a lawn mower, gardening tools are stored in the garage.
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 4

Once they were back in the kitchen, Mum dusted off the box and opened the lid.

'This,' she said 'is a very special box. It was made by your great-grandfather and has toys inside which people in our family have played with since 1845.'

Hannah's mother cleaning chest
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 5

'Here’s something your dad put in. It was a very popular toy when he was 13.'

'It looks like a computer,' said Hannah. 'But it’s different.'

'It’s actually an early computer game,' said Mum. 'And you’re holding the Barbie I got for my birthday when I was your age.'

'I have a Barbie too!' chimed in Hannah. 'I didn’t know that Barbie was that old!'

'People have been playing with Barbie since 1959,' Mum explained.

Hannah's mother holding an early computer game and girl holding a Barbie doll
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 6

'And here’s another doll,' smiled Mum, reaching into the box again. 'She belonged to your Grandma.'

Hannah looked carefully at the next doll. She was beautiful. She reminded Hannah of some folk dancers she had seen perform.

'Does she come from Australia?' she asked Mum.

'She was made for your grandmother by the lady who lived next door. Her name was Ella and she had come to Australia to live during World War Two.'

A girl holding a peasant doll with thought bubble of girl holding a doll
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 7

Hannah rummaged around and pulled out another toy. It was a black box with a glass panel on the front and some holes. She looked through the peep holes but couldn’t see anything.

'What’s this?' Hannah frowned.

'It’s a Box Brownie camera,' Mum explained. 'It belonged to your great-grandfather Jack. It was made in the 1930s. Here are some photos he took with it on Christmas day in 1933.'

Box Brownie camera and two prints
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 8

'Your great-great-grandmother Lucy owned these paper dolls,' said Mum.

'How do you play with paper dolls?'

'You cut them out and change the outfits by folding these little tabs over,' Mum explained. 'These clothes are just like the ones people wore in the 1920s.'

'Can I make clothes like mine to put on the doll?'

'Sure,' said Mum. 'That’s a good idea. Look at this. Lucy's twin brother Leo put some of his toys in the box too.  They were a present from his Dad who fought in World War One.'

Girl playing with paper dolls
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 9

'Wow, that’s such a long time ago!' exclaimed Hannah.

'Well, going back even further …Your great-great-great-grandfather Robert lived in Little Lonsdale Street right in the middle of the city. He had seven brothers and sisters and they all lived together in a very small house. They didn’t have many toys, but Robert loved reading. His favourite place was the Coles Book Arcade where he could sit and read for as long as he liked without buying anything. He bought this copy of Coles Funny Picture Book for one shilling as soon as he had saved up enough money from selling papers.'

Hannah opened the book. There were lots of pictures of monkeys and funny people.

Girl with thought bubble showing boy reading a book
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 10

'What else is there?' Hannah asked, peering into the box.

'Well, Robert’s mother, that’s your great-great-great-great-grandmother Sue, didn’t have much money either. They lived in a tent on the goldfields in Ballarat while Sue’s father looked for gold. Her father made this skipping rope with some bits of wood and rope.'

'Daddy should make me toys too!' Hanna giggled.

'That’s a good idea,' said mum. 'It’s probably more fun than just buying them.'

A girl imagining the goldfields
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 11

Hannah peered into the box again and reached in to pick up the last toy. She pulled her hand back quickly with a squeal.

'Ooh, I think it’s an animal!'

Mum laughed and picked up the soft furry ball and threw it to her.

'Your great-great-great-great-grandfather, Leo was given this as a present from an Aboriginal boy he met by the Merri Creek. It’s a Marn Grook – a ball made with possum skin and dried grass.'

Hannah jumped up and down excitedly and threw the ball back to her mother.

A woman's hand reaching for the Marn Grook
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Page 12

But then … there was nothing left in the box.

'Is that all?' Hannah sighed.

She had enjoyed playing with the old family toys.

'Not really,' said Mum, giving Hannah a big hug. 'Now you have to decide which toy you would like to put in the box for your children and grandchildren to discover.'

'Wow, that's a great idea!' Hannah exclaimed. 'But what should I put in? I've got so many toys, it's hard to choose!'

A girl in the box
Illustration by Cat MacInnes

Can you help Hannah to choose?

What toys would you keep for the future, and why?

An old wooden box with an open lid
Photo: Benjamin Healley

Connect with Museums Victoria

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest news about our exhibitions, special events, programs and offers.