The Children's Book Compass

The Friendship Doll

Posted on: August 18, 2011

The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson.  (2011).  208 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Grades 5-8.

In her author’s note, Larson writes, “In November of 1927, fifty-eight Friendship Dolls arrived in the United States as a gift from Japanese schoolchildren.”  Larson takes that historical fact and builds five short stories around one of the dolls, Miss Kanagawa.  The stories span the time period from 1928 to the current time.  Each story follows Miss Kanagawa on her travels across the United States starting in New York City and ending in Seattle.  Four of the stories focus on a young girl and her experience with the doll.  Miss Kanagawa’s own voice is woven into the stories and the hearts of the girls.  In the second story, Lois Brown sees Miss Kanagawa at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Lois finds herself eye to eye with Miss Kanagawa in a display.  “It was as if those eyes were movie screens, shimmering with images that slowly flickered into focus.  Lois couldn’t tear gaze away.  On that screen Lois sees scenes with her friend.  Lois feels a poke in the chest and a voice speaks in her heart, “A good friend gives our heart wings.”  Lois reconsiders a plan to spend money on herself and buy a gift to take back to her friend.  The encounters between Miss Kanagawa and the girls change Miss Kanagawa.  She fulfills the wish of the dollmaker who created her that she “will find a doll’s true meaning: to be awakened by the heart of a child.”

Larson’s author note at the end gives more information about the actual historical events in the stories.  The last and the shortest of the stories is about Mason whose grandmother is Lucy, the star of the fourth story.  Mason discovers Miss Kanagawa in his grandmother’s attic.  That discovery brings Miss Kanagawa into the light and a new opportunity to teach a child.  This book fulfills Larson’s hope, “…through this book I can in some small way, pass on their (the doll’s) message of friendship and peace.”

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