A Toy’s Adventure & Connecting CountriesThe Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
Published by Random House Children's Books on 2012-05
Genres: 20th Century, Family, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Multigenerational, United States
Pages: 201
Goodreads

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. From the Hardcover edition.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Jawaharlal Nehru

Suggested age range: 8 and up

Though I read this book late spring of this year, I am just now posting my review of the novel near the end of almost two months of travel abroad.

Think Hitty, Her First Hundred Years plus The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Those are two of my favorite novels so it is no surprise that Kirby Larson’s 2011 The Friendship Doll became a new favorite. This book is amazing!! It is a slim volume of 201 pages, and yet I tried to read it slowly, in hopes that I could draw out the conclusion. I would not have minded had the book continued on for several hundred more pages. It has been awhile since a book has moved me so, and my hope is that should you read the story, it will move you as well.

The story opens with a real historical event—in 1927, 58 amazing dolls were sent to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in a symbolic act of reaching out in friendship. One of those 58 dolls is Miss Kanagawa, the doll who narrates the story and encounters various girls over the years, whose lives she touches in profound ways. The time period of the novel begins in 1927 and ends in the present day. There are significant spiritual themes that emerge through these exchanges, such as compassion, hope, faith, and forgiveness. Miss Kanagawa is not able to talk to the people she meets, but even without explicit oral discourse, she is still able to communicate with them and touch their hearts. Through Miss Kanagawa’s travels, the reader meets Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy. All the girls face different challenges and issues through which they must work, such as unforgiveness and selfishness. They also develop traits such as bravery and kindness. It is with Miss Kanagawa’s help that they find resolution.

Needless to say, this story assuredly reflects multiple spiritual dimensions, and this reader can attest to the way the book nurtured my own spirituality and even encouraged me to become more aware of those around me who might be suffering, but do not show it. The story reminded me that small gestures of kindness can mean the world to another person, and also that sharp words can cause terrible damage and hurt. The historical dimensions of the book deepened my awareness of how relations between countries can be strengthened in surprising and creative ways. Perhaps this also points to the idea that connections between people can also be fueled in ways we would never have considered—the notion of exchanging dolls as gifts between America and Japan may not be something the average person knows about. Yet, Larson bases her story on a very real event when fifty-eight friendship dolls were given to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in 1927.

This is the perfect book to blog about while I am nearing the conclusion of a rich and wonderful journey through multiple countries (England, Belgium, France, Israel) this summer.

Are there any excellent children’s or young adult books you have read this summer that relate to travel or the meeting of other cultures?

What Katie Read