THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL by Kirby Larson

Our Christmas vacation has been relatively quiet. I've read and reread and reread the CYBILS poetry nominees, and finally picked my five. We went to Colorado Springs and spent Christmas day with my family. I've spent time with my book club buddies and seen a couple of movies. I've done a little cleaning… What I haven't done, at least as much as I usually do, is read, at least not in the voluminous way I usually do during vacations.

Yesterday, I did pick up THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, a historical fiction novel by Kirby Larson. THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL follows Miss Tanagawa, one of 58 "ambassador dolls" sent to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren (this actually happened), in 1927. The historical fiction/fantasy line is blurred occasionally, as Miss Tanagawa interjects her voice into the lives of five different characters in five short, novella-like episodes. The first four episodes are set against the backdrop of the Great Depression era, and there is a lot of history embedded.

When Miss Tanagawa arrives in New York, she is greeted by a group of children, including Bunny, a wealthy, high society child, who is disappointed that a Roosevelt heir has been chosen over her to give the speech welcoming the dolls to the United States. Next, Miss Tanagawa travels to Chicago, where we meet Lois, a child who has dreams of flying like Amelia Earhart. After that, Miss Tanagawa is sold at an auction and ends up in the closet of a crochety old lady, whose heart is finally awakened by Willie Mae, a poor young girl whose father has been killed in a coal mining accident in the Appalachian mountains. From there, Miss Tanagawa travels to a museum in Oregon, where she encounters Lucille, who is traveling cross country with her widowed father, following the crops during the Great Depression. Miss Tanagawa plays the role of conscience or comforter.

I really enjoyed how Kirby Larson structured this novel to capture the lives of several characters during the era from 1927-1941. I was fascinated by how she used Miss Tanagawa as the common thread tying the stories together. I can't wait to share this book with some of my girls next week…