Monday, January 23, 2012

The Friendship Doll

School Library Journal (August 1, 2011)

Gr 4-6-Larson brings her talent for historical fiction to this story of one of the 58 handcrafted, child-size dolls Japan presented to the United States in 1927 as a goodwill gesture. Fans of doll stories will be enchanted by the way Miss Kanagawa changes the lives of five children of varying circumstances over a span of decades and learns to feel love despite herself. The theme of being kind to others could come across as didactic in less-skilled hands than Larson's, but the initial contrast between the doll's moralizing, superior tone and her actual disregard for humans lightens the mood considerably. The story is not solely lighthearted, however; heavy topics such as death, grief, and aging are addressed in a straightforward yet remarkably affecting manner. The book's background is meticulously researched, with the era of the 1920s-'40s evoked through slang and radio-show references, and authentic Japanese cultural details are thoughtfully described. An author's note explains that some pivotal plot points are fictionalized, but the true story of the Friendship Dolls is so intriguing that readers may be moved to learn more. A little research shows that the author cleverly constructed the narrative to match Miss Kanagawa's real-life fate, a detail that will delight historical-fiction enthusiasts. The idea of a doll becoming more human through its interactions with children may not be wholly original, but that is part of the comforting appeal of this lovely tribute to a little-known piece of history.-Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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