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The Friendship Doll Hardcover – May 10, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with Author Kirby Larson
Your first novel, Hattie Big Sky, was a huge critical success and won a Newbery Honor. Can you describe what it was like to start a new book, and how you got the idea?
It was overwhelming to begin a new book after winning the Newbery Honor (with my first novel, no less!) and, in fact, I suffered mightily from what my friend Cindy Lord calls "The Dreaded Second Novel Syndrome." Everything I wrote after Hattie Big Sky seemed wretched, nothing near the quality of that book. One day, I was walking with my husband, pouring out my tale of writing woes, and he reminded me that I'd said the same things about early versions of Hattie's story. When we got home, I looked at my very first draft of Hattie Big Sky...and it was awful! I was thrilled. I figured that if I could whip a manuscript that bad into shape, I could do it again. In addition, I had an idea that wouldn't leave me alone, inspired by a photo I'd run across while researching Hattie Big Sky. Taken in 1928, it shows a Montana farm girl standing next to an exquisite Japanese doll, nearly the girl's size. It was so intriguing to me--how on earth did such a doll end up in rural Montana? Answering that question took me over five years. An early version of The Friendship Doll tried to incorporate a contemporary child into historical events. And it really didn't work at all. My wonderful editor, Michelle Poploff, told me two things that helped me find my way into the heart of the story. She said the story really took on energy when I was writing about the past. She also pointed out that we are living in hard times now, and that a story set during the Great Depression would definitely resonate with today's kids. I pitched that early version (not without some pain and grumbling) and started completely over. It was the absolute right thing to do.

The new book takes place during the Depression. Do you feel there are parallels between the Great Depression of the ’30s and what we are experiencing in our country now?
I do, and I feel proud to have been able to write a story that shows that love and friendship can soften hard times.

In addition to Hattie Big Sky and The Friendship Doll, you’ve written a few picture-books as well as a book in the Dear America series. What draws you to historical fiction?
If you had told me 15 years ago that I'd be writing historical fiction, I would've laughed out loud. I was never a student of history until I learned that my great-grandmother may have homesteaded by herself in eastern Montana as a young woman. In attempting to find out if that really did happen, I discovered that history is not just dates and battles and footnotes, it's people--people like you and me. And I find people completely fascinating! I love the challenge of learning enough about a different time and place to be able to take a reader there. Growing up, I always thought it would be fun to be a detective, and with historical fiction, I feel like I can be one--without the danger.

You’ve traveled all over the world to discuss your books, but you’ve also traveled with relief groups to troubled parts of the world. How do you think these experiences inform your creative process?
People often ask me what I want readers to take away from my books, and I always say, “I want readers to take away what they want to take away.” That being said, I think both my writing life and my personal life are a lot about figuring out what it means to be a decent human being in this world. My experience helping out with Hurricane Katrina clean-up certainly informed and enriched my contributions to Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, co-written with my dear friend Mary Nethery. My trip to the Middle East, especially after speaking with kids in Beirut, certainly fed my desire to explore why we humans often set up barriers of prejudice and suspicion and added to the impetus to write about the War Relocation Camps in World War II, as I did in The Fences Between Us.

I want to write books that offer hope. That's one reason the story of the Friendship Dolls--the ultimate example of hope--wouldn't leave me alone. In 1927, Dr. Sidney Gulick wanted to do something to improve the rocky relationships between the U.S. and Japan. A former missionary, he knew how important dolls were to the Japanese culture, so he organized a drive to send blue-eyed baby dolls overseas. Thousands of kids--in Sunday schools, Camp Fire Girl groups, schools in every state--participated and, in the end, over 12,000 dolls were sent to Japan. In gratitude, the school children there contributed the equivalent of one penny each and 58 amazing Friendship Dolls were created and sent here. Sadly, these positive efforts were undone by WWII. But Dr. Gulick never gave up hope, holding firmly to these words: "We who desire peace must write it in the hearts of children."

When Hattie Big Sky received a Newbery Honor, the announcement was made at the ALA conference that just happened to be in your home town of Seattle that year. How did it feel to achieve this honor among so many local supporters?
Aside from my wedding day and the day each of our children was born, that was the best day of my life. After the very early morning call (and the admonishment not to reveal the news until 9 a.m.!), I was so overwhelmed, I burst into tears. Hattie Big Sky is a very personal book--I call it my love letter to my maternal grandmother, who was a huge influence in my life. She died before the book came out so the big news was bittersweet.

A few minutes after I hung up the phone, I began to wonder if it was a practical joke. But we decided to drive into the city anyway for the press conference. I found a seat in the very back--still wondering if it was true. My husband (to whom the book is dedicated) marched right up front. As soon as the cover appeared on the big screen, the room erupted into the loudest cheers I've ever heard. I began to cry all over again. To share that news with so many local booksellers, librarians, and fellow book creators was sweet indeed. Though there have been rough patches, I feel completely blessed to be able to pursue my passion of writing books for children and young adults.

About the Author

When KIRBY LARSON was researching Hattie Big Sky, she came across a 1920s photo of a Montana farm girl in overalls standing next to an exquisite Japanese doll. Kirby wondered what was the story behind their meeting? She did some research to satisfy her curiosity, but it would be several years before she could turn her full attention to the Friendship Dolls' story. Now here it is for readers everywhere.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 760L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) edition (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385737459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385737456
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,431,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born at Fort Lawton Army Hospital in Seattle and haven't moved very far from there since. When I was a senior in high school, I got into an argument with a guy in the school library. Four years later, we were married. We have a son, Tyler, who lives in Brooklyn and works in film and TV; a daughter, Quinn, who is such a terrific interior designer she can even make our house look good and a son-in-law, Matt, who thinks he has a full-time job as an accountant but his real job is helping me with computer problems.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Grier Jewell on May 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
ake four stories that span more than a decade of the Great Depression, each of which captures a pivotal moment in the life of a different girl, and link them through the awakening heart of a Japanese doll--you know what you have? One of this year's most compelling books in children's literature: THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL.

Although I am an admitted fan of Kirby Larson, I am not a big fan of dolls (unless they are the wicked, mangled, creatury kind); however, by the time I reached the end of the first story, I could not put this book down. Not only does Larson breathe life into the pretentious Miss Kanagawa, one of 58 Ambassadors of Friendship sent by Japan in 1927, she breathes life into the pages of this book with a subtle element of liminal fantasy that gives each episodic tale a mesmerizing mystical quality grounded in historical authenticity.

This is no easy feat, but when it works (as this does), the payoff is huge. One of my librarian friends read the ARC of this book a couple months ago, and she was raving that it "blew [her] mind." I had no idea what she meant by this, but I do now. The book--its four part structure and seamless blending of the magical with the mundane--has a numinous quality. And the voice--the voices--so pitch perfect in each narration they lend even more authenticity to the telling as Miss. Kanagawa is passed from place to place, suffering the hardship of years and diminished circumstances--but not diminished heart.

THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL closes with a fifth story that diverges from the other four by jumping to the present day. The leap jarred me at first, mainly because the Depression-era world created by Larson in the rest of the book is so hard to leave, but I can see that the book wouldn't have worked without it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kim L VINE VOICE on June 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before I read this book, I had no idea about the friendship dolls that Japan sent to the USA before WWII in an attempt to foster friendship between the two countries. There were fifty-eight of these dolls in all and two this day, thirteen of them are still missing.

Told from the pov of four girls living during the Great Depression and one of the dolls, Miss Kanagawa, "The Friendship Doll" is quite unlike anything I have ever read before. Larson is truly a gifted writer and her use of language is amazing. The description of the old master doll-maker, Tatsuhiko, dressing Miss Kanagawa in his deceased daughter's kimono was one of the most moving things I have ever read. I actually had tears in my eyes, and I am not the sort to tear up easily.

Likewise, the girls in the story seem so real that I actually felt like I had known people like this. Lucy Turner in particular is one character I will not soon forget. Overall, wonderful novel for young ones and adults whose message will resonate with many in these difficult times.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Karen K. Hart VINE VOICE on June 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At first I found the format of The Friendship Doll a little jarring. With the doll sometimes narrating and sometimes not, I wasn't sure where my attention was supposed to be focused. But the transitions in the book got less awkward, and I adjusted well to the format. I ended up feeling fond of the major characters and interested in the topic of dolls exchanged between the US and Japan as a gesture of friendship.
This book could easily ignite an interest in the Great Depression, in Japanese-American relations, in the World's Fair, in the history of Japanese dolls, or in the friendship dolls themselves. The facts at the end of the book aren't dry at all, but fascinating. I'd like to see one of the missing 13 dolls turn up on Antiques Roadshow, and I'd like to see The Friendship Doll make a difference in the life of a kid who might otherwise be preoccupied with cell phones and celebrities.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sunny Sewing Honeybee on June 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Cleverly masquerading as one story, _The Friendship Doll_ is a compilation of four stories, connected only by the fact that the main characters encounter the same doll. Miss Kanagawa is an "Ambassador of Friendship," made in Japan and sent along with 57 other dolls to the United States. She takes her role of being a friendship expert very seriously. She "speaks" to children through their hearts, but at first is not interested in her own heart being awakened through experiencing the love of a child.

It's 1928, and the first child Miss Kanagawa gets to know is Genevieve "Bunny" Harnden. Bunny lives in New York and, despite not caring a lick for dolls, desperately wishes to be a speaker at the Welcome Ceremony for them. However, she only gets to be on the Welcome Committee. Bunny's nemesis gets the honor of speaking, and Bunny is tempted to scheme of sabotage.

Next, Miss Kanagawa travels to be on display at the Chicago World's Fair. There, collectors will enjoy the cameos of such dolls as Madame Alexander and Bleuette. Illinois resident Lois Brown, who has always wanted to learn to fly, is headed there, and soon to meet Miss Kanagawa and learn a friendship lesson of her own.

The third girl the doll encounters is Willie Mae Marcum, in the 1930s. Willie Mae is an 11-year-old bookworm, whose father has died, and whose brother is away in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eager to help her family financially, she's excited to be given a month-long live-in job to read to an elderly woman. During this time, she meets the doll in an unexpected way.

Miss Kanagawa next meets Lucy Turner in the 1940s. Oklahoman Lucy is nine, and has just lost her mother. She and her father have fallen on very hard times, and decide to move by car to California, along Route 66.
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