Ship of Dolls

A few minutes ago, I finished reading one more of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. (Only one more to go!) The book was Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau.

While I’m not one to seek out much historical fiction, I admit that I liked this book more than I thought I would. It takes place in the 1920s, one of my favorite historical periods, but Ship of Dolls is not all flappers and speakeasies. No, this book is set in Portland, Oregon, and it tells the story of Lexie, a young girl trying to find her way after being sent to live with her grandparents. (Sounds a bit like the book I posted on earlier today, doesn’t it?)

The year is 1926, and Lexie Lewis would like nothing more than going back to live with her mother, a singer and flapper who is always the life of any party. That party is currently far away in San Francisco. Lexie’s new stepfather doesn’t think this life is a place for a child, so Lexie is living with her grandparents in Portland. She’s not happy about the situation–especially since her grandmother is so strict–and she longs to be reunited with her mother.

At school, Lexie may have an opportunity to see her mother once again. Her class has been collecting money to send a Friendship Doll to Japan. Letters will be sent along with the doll on its long journey, first to San Francisco and then to Japan. The student who writes the best letter will get to accompany the doll on the first leg of the journey. Lexie is determined to win this all-important contest, travel to California, and be reunited with her mother…permanently.

But winning this contest is not as easy as one would hope. Lexie gets into a bit of trouble trying to get inspiration for her letter, and that trouble leads to even more as her little lies turn into big ones. Then there’s the matter of Louise Wilkins, Lexie’s rival at school. Louise is also determined to win this contest, and she’s willing to do anything to get her way.

As Lexie works on her Friendship Doll project, she continues to focus on being with her mom again. Sure, working on this project has brought her closer to her grandparents, especially her grandma, and maybe they’re so strict for a reason, but Lexie belongs with her mom. Right?

Lexie’s potential reunion with her mother is growing closer and closer, and, soon enough, Lexie faces an important decision. Should she go with her mom on whatever adventure is next, or should she stay with her grandparents in Portland? The answer may surprise even Lexie.


Lexie Lewis’ story is fictional, but it is based on an actual event…and one that I had never heard of. In the late 1920s, Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll Project, which sent over 12,000 dolls from the U.S. to Japan in an effort to foster friendship and peace between the two nations. Japan reciprocated with fifty-eight Dolls of Gratitude sent to the U.S. While the two countries did eventually engage each other in World War II, the dolls of friendship were remembered years later, and some of them have been found, restored, and displayed in museums.

Aside from the interesting historical events in this story, I think Ship of Dolls is a good book for addressing concepts like honesty, friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance. Lexie, her grandmother, and even Louise grow throughout the course of the book, and it’s interesting to see how their interactions change–particularly in regards to the concepts listed above–as the story progresses.

If Ship of Dolls sounds like the book for you, there’s more to enjoy. A second book, Dolls of Hope, follows the very doll in Lexie’s story on it’s journey in Japan. A third book, Dolls of War, is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release, and there will also be a fourth and final book in the series called Dolls of Secret. You can find more information on all of these Friendship Doll books on author Shirley Parenteau’s website.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up and enjoy my last few hours of freedom before the new school year begins. So long for now!

 

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