Each year for her birthday, I get my daughter a nesting doll. Most have come from Russia and the art work is usually exceptional. I choose a theme based on what she was into that year, such as The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Scooby Doo, Pokemon, and The Wizard of Oz. This year I just couldn't find a theme that fit. She was really into the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborn and was just finishing the 28th (and last) book in the series. Therefore, for her birthday I wrote one more book in the series just for her. One in which the main characters, Jack and Annie, travel to Russia and help a little girl find her missing nesting doll.

I had a softcover version of the book printed, about the same size as the Magic Tree House books. I gave her the option of keeping the story all for herself, or sharing it with her friends. She wanted to share. So I had more copies of the book printed to give to her friends. And I created this web page for anyone else who might enjoy the story.


This is the cover art I chose for the print version of the book. It's called The Rooks Have Come Back by a Russian landscape artist by the name of Alexei Savrasov (1830-1897). It depicts birds returning home while emotionally showing the transition of nature from winter to spring.

The Story

Chapter 1

"Annie, hurry up!" shouted Jack. "Mom and dad will be back any minute."

"Just a minute, Jack. I'm getting us some cookies."

"O.K. But please hurry up. And bring me some of the chocolate chip."

Jack and Annie's parents were in the backyard planting some vegetables in the garden. The family loved fresh vegetables in the summer, especially carrots, peppers and tomatoes. Jack and Annie were helping with the garden but came inside to get a snack. They then decided to sneak away for a few minutes before their parents even knew they were gone.

Soon Jack and Annie were out of the house and hurrying to their favorite place in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, their very own special and magical tree house. It was special because they got to spend time playing together in it as brother and sister. It was magical because it took them on exciting adventures. In one adventure Jack and Annie traveled to Ancient Greece and saw the first Olympic games. In another, they traveled to the time of the American Civil War and met Clara Barton. And in yet another, Jack and Annie crossed the Delaware River with George Washington, who later became the first President of the United States.

"Hey, where's the tree house?" said Jack.

"Wait for it. Wait for it." said Annie.

Then magically far up in the big tree they saw twinkling stars, which then turned into the shape of a wooden box.

"There it is!" yelled Jack. "Let's go!"

Jack grabbed the ladder first and began to climb up to the tree house. Annie followed close behind him.

When they entered the tree house all the books were neatly arranged by colors. The blue books were on the left, the red books were on the right and the white books were directly in the front of them. There were piles of brightly colored books everywhere.

The kids sat down to enjoy their cookie snack.

"So where do you want to go today, Annie?" asked Jack. "Should we go back and visit the bottlenose dolphins, or how about we take another ride on that big ship. What was its name?"

"You mean the Titanic? Those were all really fun adventures, but I think we should pick something new for today," said Annie.

"O.K. Let's see. How about this book about some baseball player named Babe Ruth? Or this one about astronauts landing on the moon?"

"Or how about this one with this really colorful building on it?"

"That looks like a cathedral, Annie! I learned in school that a cathedral is a very large and important church which usually has a bishop in charge of it."

"Neat. That looks like a really cool place to visit. What does the cover of the book say?" asked Annie.

"It says Moscow, Russia," Jack replied.

Jack and Annie put their hands on the book and said together, "I wish I could go to Moscow, Russia."

A cool breeze came in the tree house window and blew Annie's hair into her face. Soon the tree house was swirling around and around like a merry-go-round at an amusement park, only a lot faster.

When the wind calmed down they heard birds tweeting outside the tree house. Both of them stood up and looked out the window.

Chapter 2

They were in a forest right outside of a town. They could see houses and stores in the distance. They heard children laughing and playing somewhere close by.

"Come on, Annie, let's go explore."

The kids carefully climbed down the ladder and began to walk toward the town. They turned around once to look up at the tree house to make sure they would remember where it was among the trees. They knew that it was best not to forget where they left the tree house since it was their only way to get back home.

The first thing they noticed when they got to the town was the surface of the streets, which were paved in cobblestones. "Wow, look at these neat roads, Annie! I learned about cobblestones in school. They're a bunch of rounded rocks that were used to make pavements and roads, but they aren't used much anymore, at least not where we live."

The next thing the children noticed was how close the houses were to each other, if you would even call them houses. It seemed like one big, long house that went on and on and on. You could only tell where one ended and the next one began by the change in the color of the house. The colors were so beautiful. There were brightly painted doors and windows. Many of the houses had pretty planter boxes in the windows with fresh flowers in each box. Every now and then there was a balcony with an iron railing.

There were little tables set up in the streets with people selling things. Annie saw a guy selling apples and oranges. Jack saw a woman selling blankets and scarves. There was wonderful music coming from the street next to them. They followed the sound until they arrived at a water fountain where they saw other little kids playing and splashing in the cool water. The music was coming from a guy who was sitting near the fountain with something that looked like a box sitting on his lap. The box had strings attached to it, which reminded Jack of a guitar.

"I know what that is, Jack. It's called a gusli. My music teacher brought one in to class one time. She said it was an old Russian stringed instrument. She played it for us but it didn't sound nearly as nice as this."

The kids sat down next to each other in the street and enjoyed listening to the music and watching the other kids play. The music sounded heavenly and the kids were almost lulled to sleep. Then the music stopped. For a moment they thought they heard someone crying. They looked at each other.

"Did you hear that, Annie?" asked Jack.

"I think it's coming from over there," replied Annie. She pointed to an alleyway. The kids took a few steps into the narrow path between the houses and discovered a girl about Annie's age sitting on a step. She was crying with her hands on her face and was wiping away tears that kept coming from her eyes.

"Hi there," Annie whispered so as to not scare her. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes, something is very wrong," the girl replied as she wiped away another tear.

"My name is Annie and this is my brother Jack. What's your name?"

"My name is Isabella."

Chapter 3

"What's wrong Isabella?" Jack wanted to know.

"I lost my doll. I've looked everywhere and I just can't find it."

"What does it look like?" asked Annie. "Maybe we can help. I have a few baby dolls at home myself. Is she wearing a dress? What color is her hair?"

"It's not like a regular doll, Annie. It's a nesting doll. My grandmother called it a matryoshka. Some people call it a babushka, which is the Russian word for grandmother. I just like to call it a nesting doll."

"Do you mean one of those wooden figures that opens up and inside there's a smaller one and then another one inside that one too?" asked Jack. "They remind me of an onion. When you peel away a layer of an onion there's another smaller onion on the inside. And then another smaller onion inside that one."

"Yes. The nesting doll was given to me by my grandmother for my first birthday. My grandmother was an artist and she made these dolls. She had a shoppe in which she worked to make them and sell them. Although it was a business, my grandmother loved what she did and just loved to make these beautiful dolls. People traveled from very far distances to come to my grandmother's shoppe to buy these dolls. She died recently and I've been carrying the nesting doll around in my backpack as a way to remember her. This morning I was in my bedroom playing with them. I lined up all six pieces from the tallest to the smallest on the window ledge. But then a strong gust of wind came along and blew them out the window. When they hit the pavement the pieces went scattering all over the place. When I came down here to pick them up, I couldn't find them anywhere. Somehow they just disappeared."

"Well that's weird," said Jack. "They must be here somewhere."

"Look around if you want to, but they're just not here. Someone must have picked them up before I was able to run down here. I just don't know what to do." Isabella was quite upset. Jack and Annie looked at each other and knew that they had to help Isabella find the missing nesting doll.

"Don't worry, Isabella, we'll help you find your nesting doll," said Annie.

"We just need to come up with a plan," began Jack. "They couldn't have rolled too far from where they fell out of the window. Do you happen to have a picture of them, Isabella?"

"As a matter of fact, I do have a picture. It's a sketch that my grandmother made, which she gave me with the nesting doll. It shows all six dolls lined up next to one another, just like I had them lined up when the wind blew them out the window."

"That's perfect!" Jack said excitedly.

"Come upstairs with me to my room and we'll get the picture together," said Isabella. She was beginning to feel a little bit better now that Jack and Annie were there to help her. She felt so helpless just a little while ago. She thought that the nesting doll was lost for sure, but now she was thinking that maybe they could find it if they worked together.

Chapter 4

Jack and Annie followed Isabella up a wooden staircase to a door, which opened to a small but brightly lit room. It appeared to be a sitting area with a couple of comfortable-looking chairs and a small table on which sat a vase of pretty flowers and several books. She led them through this room to another smaller room with a small bed and dresser in it.

"This is my room," said Isabella. She pointed to the open window. "That's where I was playing when the nesting dolls fell out the window."

She opened a drawer on the dresser and took out the drawing of the nesting dolls that her grandmother had sketched for her.

"This is what they look like. Each one has a different flower on it. My grandmother used to call me her little flower."

"Wow. These are really cool," said Annie. "This picture will certainly help us find them."

"Let's go!" shouted Jack. He was pretty excited to begin searching.

The kids left the house and walked carefully down the stairs to the pavement below.

"I have a plan. Do you want to hear it?" Jack asked.

"We sure do!" the girls said together. They looked at each other and laughed because they said the same words at the exact same time.

"O.K. I think we should take this picture and start on this side of the street." Jack pointed to the right side, the one closest to the window where the nesting dolls fell from. "We can go into each shoppe and ask the owner nicely if they saw anything that looks like these. If we go in order up this side of the street first and then down that side of the street next, we can be sure that we don't miss any of them."

"That's a great plan, Jack!" said Isabella. "I know many of the shoppe owners. I just know they'd be helpful."

The three kids walked up to the first business. They smelled something really yummy coming from inside the store and didn't need to read the sign on top of the door to know that it was a bakery. When they walked through the door they saw all sorts of funny-looking bread: big loaves and small loaves, twisted loaves and straight loaves, brown loaves and black loaves, and even a half-brown and half-black loaf that was all twisted up like a screw.

But what really caught their attention was a glass case directly in front of them. In the case were some of the most amazing cookies they ever saw. Some had chocolate frosting on them. Others had white frosting. A few had thin slices of strawberries and bananas on them. A couple of them had whipped cream with cherries on top. There were rows and rows of them. Jack's stomach started to growl. This was making him really hungry.

"Can I help you kids? Oh, hi there, Isabella!" the shoppe keeper said.

"Hi, Mr. Belova. These are my new friends, Jack and Annie."

"Well hello there young Jack and Annie. Can I interest you in some tea cakes?"

"A what?" asked Jack. Anything sounded good at this point but he was still curious.

"Oh that's funny. You're trying to be a little comedian." Mr. Belova laughed. He didn't know that Jack and Annie weren't from Russia and had no idea that tea cakes were very popular there. Although they were commonly eaten around Christmas time, most bakeries carried them all year long. They were made from nuts, flour and butter that were rolled into a ball and coated with lots of powdered sugar.

Mr. Belova went behind the counter and returned with a small tray of tea cakes.

"Wow. These are really yummy, Mr. Belova!" Annie said. "Thank you very much."

"Now, how can I help you kids?" asked the baker.

"We are looking for these," said Jack as he handed Mr. Belova the picture of the nesting dolls.

"Well, well. As a matter of fact, I found this right outside my door just a short while ago." Mr. Belova went behind the counter and returned with the largest of the nesting dolls in his hand. "I looked around but didn't see anyone in the street so I just brought it in here for safe-keeping."

Isabella took the nesting doll and thanked Mr. Belova over and over for finding it.

"Let's get moving! The others are probably around here as well," said Jack. "Good bye, Mr. Belova! And thanks again for the tea cakes. They were tasty!"

The kids all said good-bye and thank-you as they left the bakery.

Chapter 5

Jack looked at the sign in the next shoppe window. It read "Cobbler." Jack asked the girls, "What's a cobbler?"

"It's a person who makes or repairs shoes and boots," said Isabella. "Where did you say you were from?"

"We didn't," said Annie. "But let's just say for now that we are not from Russia."

The kids entered the shoe shoppe and saw a man sitting at a workbench hammering on a piece of leather. He looked very intent on what he was doing and didn't immediately look up from his work. On the table next to the cobbler was a brown leather boot. He appeared to be working on another boot to match it.

"Well hello there my friends!" the cobbler announced when he looked up from his work. "Is that you, Isabella?"

"Yes, Mr. Charkov. How are you?" said Isabella.

"I'm great. How's your mom and dad doing?

"They're just fine. We're all doing well. I'd like you to meet my friends Jack and Annie. We're hoping that you might be able to help us."

"Hello Jack and Annie. How exactly might I be able to help you? Do one of you need your shoes repaired today?"

"No. It's a lot easier than that. We're looking for these," Jack said as he pointed to the nesting dolls in the sketch from Isabella's grandmother. "Isabella lost these this morning and we're trying to find them. They fell out of her window."

"Well today is your lucky day! I heard a tap at the door to my shoppe not so long ago and, when I went to see who was there, this was on the ground in front of the door." Mr. Charkov reached down into a bag at his feet and produced the next biggest nesting doll from Isabella's collection. "It's quite beautiful. I can tell that someone took a lot of time to hand-paint this. Here you go."

"Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Charkov. My grandmother made this for me when I was a little girl. She was an artist and they are beautiful. I'm never going to let them out of my sight again."

Mr. Charkov smiled at the kids as they said their good-byes and left his shoppe in search of the four remaining pieces.

Chapter 6

"Thank you so much, Jack and Annie. You have been so helpful!" said Isabella.

"It's no problem at all," replied Annie. "It's actually been fun learning about what all these shoppe keepers do for a living."

"Well then you're really going to like this next one, Annie," said Jack. "Look at that beautiful dress in the window."

The kids didn't even look at the sign on the shoppe window as their eyes were drawn to a stunning wedding dress that was standing up straight like a real person, except it didn't have a head, which was a little bit creepy.

The kids entered the shoppe and were staring at the dress when a woman walked into the room. "Can I help you?" she said.

"Did you make this?" Annie asked.

"Why, yes, I did. It's a wedding dress for my daughter who is getting married next week."

"How did you do it? I mean, it's so pretty. How did you make something like this?" Annie was at a loss for words.

The woman explained that she was a seamstress, like her mom and her mom's mom. She told them that a seamstress is a person who is skilled at sewing. She is able to create, repair or make changes to clothing. They are sometimes called dressmakers, but they don't just make dresses. They can make pants and shirts too. And curtains and bed sheets. They are able to sew lots of things that require a needle and thread.

"And I know just why you are here," said the woman. "You're looking for this!" She held up the smallest of the nesting dolls, the one that doesn't open up but sits inside all the others.

"We sure are!" yelled Isabella. "How did you know?"

"I was just visiting Mr. Belova, the baker, to get a loaf of bread for dinner tonight and he was telling me about the missing nesting doll pieces that you kids were searching for. I found that one a little bit ago and placed it in my apron and almost forgot about it until Mr. Belova mentioned it. I thought I should come looking for you kids and then I found you in my shoppe."

"Thank you so much. We don't even know your name," said Jack.

"It's Mrs. Smitten."

"Thank you so much, Mrs. Smitten!" said Jack. "We have to get going now. We have three more missing pieces to find!"

Isabella placed the little nesting doll carefully inside the two larger pieces and the kids left the shoppe with high hopes that the others would be found soon.

Chapter 7

The kids were eager to continue their search and rushed to the next store. Above the entrance there was a sign that read: Ye Olde Blacksmith Shoppe. There was a picture of a hammer lying on top of an odd-shaped block with a squared end on one side and a pointed end on the other.

The shoppe was hot and it did not smell nice, certainly nothing like the wonderful smells inside the bakery. It smelled more like something was burning. Jack immediately saw a wall full of horseshoes and went to take a closer look. Annie's attention was drawn to some bins which contained forks and spoons and knives. Isabella was standing in front of something that looked like a fence or a gate.

"Hey," Jack yelled to the others. "Everything in here is made out of metal."

"Of course it's made out of metal," said a very big and strong-looking man that walked into the room from some other part of the shoppe. "I'm a blacksmith. That's what I do. I make lots of things using iron."

"Can you show us, sir?" Annie asked. "This all looks really interesting."

"I sure can. Come on over here and I'll demonstrate. See this here? It's called an anvil. It's a big block of iron that I use to bend and shape metal. It has a flat surface on top called the face that I use to flatten things using this hammer. If I want to make them round, I use the rounded section here on this end called the horn. I make all these things you see in my shoppe using a metal called iron. Some people call iron the 'black' metal because of its color. That's where the name 'blacksmith' comes from."

The blacksmith - his name was Boris but the kids were so interested in his work that they forgot to ask him - showed Jack and Annie and Isabella how to heat the metal to make it soft so that he could bend it and flatten it easily. Jack thought to himself that that must be where the burnt smell came from. The blacksmith hammered the iron and twisted it and heated it and hammered it some more. Annie thought it was really hot in the shoppe and Jack thought the hammering was really loud. The blacksmith finished and held up a horseshoe for the kids to see.

"Don't touch it yet. It's still hot," Boris said. "It will take a few minutes to cool and then one of you can add it to the wall over there."

"That was really neat, sir," Jack said. "Perhaps you might be able to help us with something." He showed him the sketch of the nesting dolls. "Our friend Isabella lost these today and we're trying to find them. We found these two big ones and the littlest one already. Did you happen to see the others?"

"I'm sorry kids, but I haven't seen anything that looks like those. I'll be sure to keep my eyes open though. Stop back any time you want. If I find them, I'll keep them right here for you."

Jack, Annie and Isabella left the blacksmith's shoppe a bit disappointed since they had found the first three dolls quite easily.

As Isabella turned to walk toward the next business something caught her eye.

"Hey, look over there!" she shouted.

Chapter 8

The kids ran to a bench which sat under a large tree. On the bench sat two more of the nesting dolls with a note under them. Isabella picked up the piece of paper and read the message to Jack and Annie:

I found these on the street this morning.

I hope they get returned to their owner.

They are very pretty.

"Wow, how cool is that?" said Jack. "You sure do have nice neighbors."

"Everyone is very nice," replied Isabella. "We all try to look out for one another and pitch in to do what we can to help each other."

The kids crossed the street and continued their search meeting many wonderful people along the way. They searched for another hour but did not find the last missing piece. They were tired and hungry. The kids started to walk back to Isabella's house when they saw a little girl playing with something that looked like the missing nesting doll near the water fountain at the center of the town.

"That's Sophia. I know her," Isabella told Jack and Annie. "She lives with her grandmother. I see her in school. She's very sweet."

"Hi Isabella," Sophia waved as the kids came closer. "Look what I found. I've never seen anything quite so pretty before. I've been playing with it all afternoon. Would you like to play with me?"

Isabella could tell that the nesting doll was making Sophia very happy. But it meant a lot to her as well.

"Hi Sophia. I'd love to play with you. Look what I have here," Isabella said as she showed the other nesting doll pieces to Sophia.

"Wow. They look just like this one," replied Sophia.

"It's because they are just like that one. My grandmother made these for me and earlier today they fell out my bedroom window. We've been searching for them all day."

The expression on Sophia's face changed suddenly. The kids could tell she was upset. "I'm sorry, Isabella, here are your dolls back."

Isabella told everyone to wait there for her. She ran back to her house and pulled a box from under her bed, which contained a carved wooden doll that was also made by her grandmother. She took the doll from the box and raced back to the water fountain and handed it to Sophia.

"Here, Sophia. I want you to have this for finding my nesting doll."

Sophia's face lit up. She smiled a great big smile. "You really mean it? It's beautiful. She's wearing a pretty red scarf and she's holding a kitty cat. This is the best gift ever, Isabella. Thank you so much! I'm going home to show my grandmother."

"I'm glad you like it," said Isabella. "Tell your grandmother that I said hello."

As Sophia skipped off down the road with her new doll, Isabella turned to Jack and Annie.

"I want to thank you both. This means so much to me to have this nesting doll back."

"It was our pleasure. We learned so much today," said Jack. "But I think we need to get going before our parents notice that we are missing."

"Missing? Where are you from?" asked Isabella.

Chapter 9

"You wouldn't believe us if we told you. Let's just say that it was some special magic that brought us here today," said Annie.

"Magic, huh?" said Isabella. "O.K. Magic it is. Well have a safe trip back to wherever you're from."

Jack and Annie hugged Isabella good-bye and walked back along the cobblestone road toward the forest where they first arrived. Finally they approached the forest area and saw the tree house high up in the trees. They climbed the ladder and sat down on the floor for a moment to rest.

"I forgot to write in my journal," Jack said. He took it out of his backpack and opened it. He wrote the following words:

tea cakes

"I want to remember a few things we learned today," said Jack. "When we get back home I can go to the library and learn more about them."

"That's a good idea, Jack. I'm definitely going to read more about that musical instrument - the gusli. Maybe I'll even save enough money from doing chores to buy one. I would love to learn how to play it. I could have sat by the water fountain and listened to that guy play it all day long."

"Me too," said Jack. "But then we wouldn't have gone looking for the nesting dolls with Isabella and met all those other great people. Isabella was such a nice girl. I'm glad we were able to help her and, in return, she was able to help Sophia. That was so nice. Russia was such a fun place to visit."

"So where is the book about Pennsylvania?" asked Annie.

"Right here," said Jack and he took the book from his backpack. He placed the book on the floor between them and pointed to a picture of their hometown of Frog Creek. "I wish we could go there."

The wind began to blow and it flipped several pages in the book. The tree house began to spin. Annie looked over at Jack who had his eyes closed and thought to herself that she had a wonderful big brother. These adventures were much more fun because he was there with her.
The tree house stopped spinning and Jack opened his eyes. "What are you staring at?" he asked.

"Oh nothing," said Annie. "But thanks for being such a great brother to me. I love you so much."

"Hey, don't get mushy on me. But I love you too, sis," replied Jack.

Chapter 10

Jack and Annie carefully climbed down the rope ladder and began to walk back to their house. They turned back once to look up into the trees but they knew that they would see nothing. The tree house had a way of appearing when they wanted it to and disappearing right after they returned from an adventure.

The tree house also had a way of stopping time. When they were away playing in the tree house the clocks seemed to stop. When they returned, it was always only a few minutes after they had left, even though their adventure could have taken hours. They knew that if they hurried back to their house their mom and dad would still be in the vegetable garden.

Before entering the house they stopped at the mailbox to bring in the mail. Jack noticed a catalog with cakes and cookies on the front. He flipped it over and pointed to something on the back.

"Annie, look! Those are like the tea cakes we ate in Russia," he said.

"Cool," replied Annie. "Let's ask mom to make some soon. We'll just tell her this picture looks really good and we'd like to try some of these. You know how mom likes it when we try new food."

They entered the house quietly and walked into the kitchen for a tall glass of cold milk. As soon as they sat down at the table the door from the backyard opened and their dad walked in carrying something that looked a little dirty yet quite familiar.

"Look what I found buried in the yard," he said. "I think it's one of those Russian nesting dolls."

Jack and Annie looked at each other and laughed. Their dad twisted open the doll and inside were more of the smaller dolls but the ones inside were a lot cleaner than the largest one.

"Dad, did you know that some people call it a babushka, which is the Russian word for grandmother?" Annie asked.

"No I did not," their dad replied. "I'm always surprised by how much you kids know. Did you learn that from a book?"

"You could say that," answered Jack as he winked at Annie.

The End