Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

The Friendship Doll
Author: Kirby Larson
Publication: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2011)

Description: I am Miss Kanagawa. In 1927, my 57 doll-sisters and I were sent from Japan to America as Ambassadors of Friendship. Our work wasn't all peach blossoms and tea cakes. My story will take you from New York to Oregon, during the Great Depression. Though few in this tale are as fascinating as I, their stories won't be an unpleasant diversion. You will make the acquaintance of Bunny, bent on revenge; Lois, with her head in the clouds; Willie Mae, who not only awakened my heart, but broke it; and Lucy, a friend so dear, not even war could part us. I have put this tale to paper because from those 58 Friendship Dolls only 45 remain. I know that someone who chooses this book is capable of solving the mystery of the missing sisters. Perhaps that someone is you.

My Thoughts: What a wonderful and touching story about a Japanese doll and the young American girls who were touched by her and who had their lives changed by her. Miss Kanagawa was the final doll made by a famous Japanese dollmaker and begins the story very proud of her role as an ambassador of friendship. 

The story ranges in time from 1927 when the dolls arrive in the US to the present day. But the bulk of the story talks about the doll's interaction with four young girls. The first if Bunny. She is a wealthy girl in New York City but she is the lonely youngest child in her family. When a chance to be recognized and thought as important as her older sister is taken away from her by a school rival, she has to decide whether to play a mean prank or react with kindness. Miss Kanagawa encourages kindness. 

The next little girl is Lucy who lives near Chicago in 1933. Lucy is a daredevil who wants to fly like her idol Amelia Earhart. When her great-Aunt takes her to the Chicago World Fair, she has to decide if she will spend the quarter her father gave her on a ride about the fair or on buying a gift for her friend who couldn't afford to go to the Fair. After seeing Miss Kanagawa at the doll exhibit, Lucy makes the right choice.

The third little girl is Willie Mae. It is 1933 and deep in the Depression. Willie Mae lives with her mother, sister and baby brother in the Hollers. When she gets a chance to go live with a rich woman and read to her, Willie Mae knows that she has to do it. The rich woman has bought Miss Kanagawa in an auction along with some fossils she really wanted. Miss Kanagawa changes both Willie Mae's life and the life of the older woman.

The final little girl is Lucy. It's 1939. Lucy is from Oklahoma and it is the Dust Bowl. After her mother dies, she and her father head off to California to start a new life. They eventually find their way to a camp in Oregon. Lucy goes to school and a kind teacher takes her to a museum that has a Japanese room and Miss Kanagawa is a featured exhibit. That part of the story ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Miss Kanagawa being packed away again.

The last piece takes place in the current day where Lucy has grown old and suffers from Alzheimer's. When a young boy who doesn't know how to deal with the changes discovers Miss Kanagawa in Lucy's attic, the old Lucy briefly returns and tells the story of her life.

The book is not long but it is very descriptive and really gives a feeling for what it was like to be young children at a very difficult time in our Nation's history. I know that I cried a few times as I was reading it. This would be a great story to share with middle graders as they study the Depression. I don't think I could read it aloud without tearing up though.

Favorite Quote:
Once during a powerful dust storm--Mama was still alive then--Lucy had been out in the barn, playing with the new kittens. The rule was to get to the house as soon as the dust began blowing, so Lucy nestled the kitties back under their mother and ran to the house. The storm had kicked up a devildervish of static electricity, so that when Lucy touched the doorknob, she was knocked flat on her hind end from the shock. It was such a surprise, it didn't even hurt. Just like the jolt she got now, looking at that doll from Japan.
I chose this book from the Amazon Vine program for review. You can get your copy here.


  1. What an interesting story. From the title it didn't seem like something I'd want to read, but your review makes it a definite 'to-read'! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for the heads up with your wonderful review. One of my favorite all time books is Hattie Big Sky. Just this review alone made me tear up-I love her writing! Headed over to Amazon this moment to buy it.

  3. Kathy, your lovely review was posted on my birthday, of all things! Thank you so much. i do very much appreciate thoughtful readers like you.


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