It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney
One of the reasons I love historical fiction is because these stories often lead to new discoveries about eras you think you know a lot about only to learn some new angle. Shirley Parenteau’s Ship of Dolls is a perfect example of this type of “learning surprise”. In 1926, a teacher-missionary by the name of Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll exchange as a means of promoting harmony between the U.S. and Japan. Through the aegis of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children, funds were raised to purchase and send 12,000 dolls to Japanese children; these dolls were received with much appreciation and fanfare, with elaborate ceremonies in which the dolls were welcomed into schools and homes. The following year, 58 dolls were sent in appreciative thanks, which were also warmly welcomed everywhere they toured before being permanently housed in museums. Kirby Larson’s fabulous book The Friendship Doll is also based on this slice of history.
Ship of Dolls is the story of eleven year old Lexie Lewis, who has been sent away to live with her rather strict and old-fashioned grandparents following the death of Lexie’s father. Lexie wants to be reunited with her glamorous mother, a quintessential flapper, who is pursuing a career as a singer in San Francisco. Lexie’s class is raising funds for a Friendship Doll, but Lexie is focused on writing the letter that will be chosen to accompany the doll. That winner will be the one who will travel to San Francisco to see the dolls off on their journey – and Lexie wants to be that winner, for it is the surest way to be reunited with her mother.
But, many obstacles get in the way of Lexie’s plan: a snobby classmate, who feels her father’s important position in town entitles her to win the contest, a grandmother who seems rigid and insensitive, and Lexie’s own mother – whose flightiness, however endearing and entertaining, is also a source of confusion and uncertainty. In the end, Lexie’s wishes come true in unexpected and rather wonderful ways. Ship of Dolls is beautifully written, with each character deftly created and the setting vividly imagined. Issues of growing up and complications of family relationships would make for interesting discussions, as would the historical context of the story.
Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece is Patricia Polacco’s true life story of conquering her terror of speaking in front of an audience thanks to the support and encouragement of Mr. Wayne – her drama teacher.
This book so reminded me of Thank You, Mr. Falker, where the kindness and sensitivity of one teacher makes all the difference for a child. Polacco’s illustrations are beloved for good reason – I’ve always loved the way she paints faces in their myriad expressions, from fearful, to wise, to exuberant. In fact, I sometimes pick up and leaf through her books just to enjoy the illustrations. This would make a great readaloud, for it’s a story that kids can relate to and would want to discuss. Here’s the author, introducing Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, as only she can: