fiction favorites…The Friendship Doll

The Friendship Doll, by Kirby Larson

Bunny stood on the top step at Mrs. Newcomb’s Academy for Young Girls, careful to avoid getting slush on her new white kid boots, peering around the statue of the school’s namesake to watch for Carson.  Most of the other fifth-levels were in a knot on the far side of the landing.  It’d been that way since Bunny started at Mrs. Newcomb’s in the fall, but today she didn’t give a fig about those other girls.  Just wait until they saw her name and picture in the paper.  That would show them.
Father’s new Minerva Town Car glided up to the curb.  Carson stepped out and came around to open the door.  With a posture that would’ve made their beleaguered charm teacher proud, Bunny swept down the fifteen marble steps — head high, shoulders back — placing her feet daintily to keep her boots dry…As Carson closed the door, Bunny stole a quick peek out the window, catching Belle Roosevelt sticking her tongue out at her.  Bunny didn’t even bother to stick her tongue out in return.  Absolutely nothing was going to spoil her day!
…Mr. Reyburn, president of Lord & Taylor, one of the oldest and best shops on Fifth Avenue, had telephoned to ask Father if Bunny might like to try out to give a speech.  The occasion would be a welcome ceremony for some Friendship Ambassador Dolls sent from Japan.  Bunny had said yes straightaway.  Even though she always got high marks in elocution, she could scarcely sleep for two nights afterward for the excitement of it.

In 1927, fifty-eight elegant dolls were sent by schoolchildren in Japan as ambassadors of friendship to the United States. This fictional story traces one of them, a 3-foot tall, ebony-haired beauty named Miss Kanagawa, as she moves about the country, passing from one set of hands to another, over a period of fourteen years, with a final leap forward to the present.  Beginning with the glittering display in New York City, Miss Kanagawa finds herself at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, in the hills of Kentucky during the heart of the Depression, in a small museum in Oregon at the outbreak of World War II.

Along the way, four young girls, from widely differing stations of life,  encounter this doll —  Bunny is from the upper-upper-crust in New York City, while Willa Mae is a poverty-stricken girl whose one bright spot is the visits from the Pack Horse Librarian; Lois visits the Chicago World’s Fair with her aunt, while Lucy is an Okie, fleeing dust and misery with her father.  As each of these girls meets and interacts with Miss Kanagawa, a lovely, mysterious, mutual connection happens.  Though elite Miss Kanagawa prefers to hold herself aloof from these children, she cannot help but see into their hearts, to understand their woes or errors.  As she silently counsels them, the girls grow in kindness towards others, grow in love with Miss Kanagawa, and in turn, her stiff doll’s heart is awakened, Velveteen-Rabbit-style.  Her role as a Friendship Ambassador is fulfilled beyond what she ever imagined.

This intriguing historical-fiction title offers a tasty sampler of American history and settings, aimed at girls, 9-12. Each new place is delightfully colored in with many historical details, before we’re whisked off somewhere else.  The narrative flips back and forth between the doll’s perspective and the girls’ stories, and includes news clippings and letters which add extra spice to the text.  Although a doll story could  become a bit precious, this one is quite grounded in reality, especially as much of the story takes place during the Depression.  In fact, there are several periods of deep grief in the story, so be aware — about on the scale of Little Women, I would say.  An interesting Author’s Note at the end speaks of which elements in the story were factual, and which were pieced together from known facts.

Reminiscent of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, this is a shorter, more emotional story, published just last year, that I really enjoyed.

Here’s the Amazon link:  The Friendship Doll