Ship of Dolls

Ship of Dolls
Age Range
Release Date
August 05, 2014
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It's 1926, and the one thing eleven-year-old Lexie Lewis wants more than anything is to leave Portland, where she is living with her strict grandparents, and rejoin her mother, a carefree singer in San Francisco. But Mama's new husband doesn't think a little girl should live with parents who work all night and sleep all day. Lexie's class has been raising money to ship a doll to the children of Japan in a friendship exchange, and when Lexie learns that the girl who writes the best letter to accompany the doll will be sent to the farewell ceremony in San Francisco, she knows she just has to be the winner.

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Fascinating bit of history
In 1926, Lexie is sent to live with her grandparents in Portland, Oregon because her mother has remarried and is working nights. The grandparents love Lexie, but are angry with her mother because they feel her lifestyle led to the death of their son in a fast automobile. Lexie is having some difficulty fitting in at school, even though she has a good friend in neighbor Jack. Her class is involved with raising money to pay to see Emily Grace, a blonde, blue-eyed doll, to Japan as part of a peace initiative. Snotty rich girl Louise bedevils her all the time, and the two both want to win the letter writing contest because the winner gets to go to San Francisco to see the dolls off to Japan. This is important to Lexie, because her mother will be singing at the ceremony. When Lexie takes the doll out of her teacher's room at Jack's boarding house so that she can understand her better in order to write the best letter, her teacher "punishes" her by making her sew a new dress for Emily Grace. This is not without its difficulties, but Lexie manages to do this with the help of her grandparents, and also manages to write the best letter... but Louise steals it and passes it off as her own, winning the contest. Lexie's grandmother decides that Lexie should go to San Francisco as well, and accompanies her on the boat there. During the trip, Louise is very ill and eventually owns up to her deception. Things don't go as smoothly as Lexie hopes they will in San Francisco, but she realizes which adults in her life care for her the most. A sequel, Ship of Hope, is in the works and will be from the point of view of a Japanese girl who gets one of the dolls.

This would be a good companion to Kirby Larson's The Friendship Doll, and is a great introduction to a fascinating bit of history, since there were apparently more Japanese-American doll projects going on than I ever knew. Over 12,000 dolls were collected and sent to Japan, and although they were ordered destroyed during WWII, around 300 survive. Fun fact: more dolls were sent from my state of Ohio than from any other state!
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