But what fascinated Ermengarde most was [Sara’s] fancy about the dolls who walked and talked, and who could do anything they chose when the human beings were out of the room, but who must keep their powers a secret and so flew back to their places “like lightning” when people returned to the room.
“We couldn’t do it,” said Sara, seriously. “You see, it’s a kind of magic.”
—Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess
It’s an old story, the fancy about toys who come alive when we can’t see, but pretend to be inanimate when humans are around. Hans Christian Andersen takes a turn with it in “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and it makes an appearance in the Edwardian melodrama A Little Princess. But it also sits comfortably in a contemporary, computer-and-cell-phone-strewn setting, as in recent books like The Doll People and Toys Go Out, and in the “Toy Story” trilogy.