Ship of Dolls

Shirley Parenteau. Candlewick, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7003-0

Parenteau (Bears in the Bath) deftly incorporates the 1926 Friendship Dolls project—in which American children collected and sent more than 12,000 dolls to Japanese children as a gesture of friendship—into the story of 11-year-old Lexie Lewis, who has been sent to live with her strict paternal grandparents in Portland, Ore. Her father dead in a car crash and her insouciant flapper mother remarried, Lexie is struggling to adapt to her new circumstances. Her class has contributed a doll to send to Japan, and when Lexie learns she has a chance to rejoin her mother at a farewell party for the dolls in San Francisco, she’s determined to win that opportunity. While Lexie encounters more than her share of bad luck, she never stops persevering. In Parenteau’s well-conceived story, transformations come slowly and believably; Lexie warms to her grandparents and mischievous neighbor, Jack; her grandmother comes through for her in unexpected ways; and even her nemesis, a snotty classmate, shows some character. Parenteau weaves in information about the Friendship Dolls so subtly that it never overshadows Lexie’s story; an author’s note explains the project in full. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)