Little Women Sesquicentennial!


Little Women Sesquicentennial!

It’s been 150 years since Louisa May Alcott published her novel Little Women. During that time, the book has never been out of print! It has become a classic, and has been made into movies and plays, including the brand new production by PBS starring Emily Watson as Marmee.


The house where Louisa wrote Little Women, Orchard House, is located in Concord, Massachusetts, where the Alcott family enjoyed close friendships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among other members of the Transcendentalist movement. Orchard House is now a museum and educational center open to the public. In honor of the sesquicentennial, Orchard House will host a Summer Discussion Series as well as costumed tours of the house by members of the Alcott family!  Click here to check out their website.

Why do you think Little Women is still so popular and relevant in the 21st century? What will you do to celebrate this literary milestone?  Maybe a tea or a book group discussion? Let us know so we can share it with others!



Crazy for Oysters


Crazy for Oysters


Can you imagine going to your favorite fast food restaurant, and ordering a burger with a side of – oysters? Of course not! After all, oysters are a fancy food served only at expensive restaurants, right?

That may be true today, since oysters are relatively hard to come by. But back in the 1800s, oysters were sold on every other street corner in coastal cities like New York. In fact, they were so plentiful and cheap that they were considered poor folks’ food, and preceded hot dogs as the first fast food sold by street vendors!


During Colonial times, the east coast had produced enormous amounts of oysters, each region having its own special types. Oyster shells were even used in the foundations of buildings from Boston to New York as well as for paving pathways and roads.

By the middle of the 1800s, New York City had become an “oyster capital” supplying millions of oysters to London and Paris as well as to American cities and towns.  Little restaurants called “oyster cellars” proliferated across the city. And a quick look at any 19th-century cookbook shows entire sections of recipes devoted to oyster dishes. They were served roasted, creamed, broiled, fried, spiced, pickled and scalloped, and in dishes such as oyster pie, oyster patties, oyster macaroni, oyster toast and oyster omelets.  

So why did oysters go from being a cheap source of protein for the masses to a pricey delicacy for the few? What happened? Overharvesting is a term used to describe harvesting of a natural resource that exceeds the ability of that resource to reproduce itself. Oysters require time to mature and reproduce, but shortsighted merchants saw only the quick profits to be made by harvesting as many oysters as they possibly could as quickly as they possibly could.

Click here  to see photos of the Union Oyster House through the years.

Click here to see photos of the Union Oyster House through the years.

In addition, the growth of industries along the eastern seaboard led to pollution of the waters where oysters lived. Waste poured into the ocean destroyed natural habitats, and made remaining oysters unfit to eat. Today, there are organizations committed to restoring natural habitats and cultivating oysters. And, if you’d like to experience a taste of the 19th-century oyster craze, you can still visit the oldest continuing restaurant in the country, the Union Oyster House in Boston. 


Hot Cross Buns


Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns!  Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Do you remember this nursery rhyme from your childhood? Have you ever eaten a hot cross bun?  What exactly is a hot cross bun and why do we still hear about them at this time of year?

History is a bit sketchy on their origins, but tradition has it that a 14th century monk, Brother Thomas Rocliffe from St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, England, would give spiced sweet rolls marked with a cross to the poor on Good Friday. The first recorded references appeared in the late 1700s as part of a London street merchant’s cry, one that sounded a lot like our nursery rhyme!

Today hot cross buns are often served on Good Friday or Easter, marking the end of the season of Lent, with the cross representing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the spices representing those used to embalm Jesus’ body at his burial.

Cookbooks from the 18th and 19th century regularly include recipes for hot cross buns.  Here’s Fanny Farmer’s version from her famous 1896 cookbook:

Hot Cross Buns

1 cup scalded milk
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup raisins, stoned and quartered, or ¼ cup currants
½ yeast cake dissolved in ¼ cup lukewarm water

Add butter, sugar and salt to milk; when lukewarm, add dissolved yeast cake, cinnamon, flour, and egg well beaten; when thoroughly mixed, add raisins, cover, and let rise overnight.  In morning, shape in forms of large biscuits, place in pan one inch apart, let rise, brush over with beaten egg, and bake 20 minutes; cool, and with ornamental frosting make a cross on top of each bun.

To adapt this recipe for today, you will probably need to substitute dry yeast, since cake yeast is difficult to find.  Add one package of dry yeast (do not dissolve it in lukewarm water) directly to the milk mixture while the milk is still hot.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake 12-14 minutes.  You can also simply cut a cross in the dough before baking instead of adding a frosting cross after baking.  Enjoy!

Wishing you and your family and beautiful and blessed Easter.  Christ is risen!


Did You Know…?  Japanese Internment Camps


Did You Know…? Japanese Internment Camps

Trudging through the mud during rainy weather at the Jerome Relocation Center

Trudging through the mud during rainy weather at the Jerome Relocation Center

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was famously bombed by Imperial Japan, directly resulting in the United States’ entry into World War II. But did you know that on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced relocation and incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, more than half of whom were American-born US citizens?

After Pearl Harbor, political and military leaders suspected that Japan was planning an attack on the West Coast, which was also the region with the highest population of Japanese Americans.  As a result of the president’s order, entire families, including some 30,000 children, had to abandon their homes and businesses. They were placed in camps known as Relocation Centers where they lived in tarpaper barracks, without plumbing or cooking facilities, for up to four years, until the end of World War II.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a movement began among young Japanese Americans seeking a formal apology from the US government and financial reparations for those who had been interred. This led to formal investigations and eventually to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, both of which allocated funds for financial redress to remaining internees.

February 19, 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.  To learn more about these events, check out your local library. You can also find photographs documenting these events online, including many by famous Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange.


A Victorian Christmas Dinner with Fannie Farmer


A Victorian Christmas Dinner with Fannie Farmer

Fannie Farmer is famous for her classic 1896 cookbook, which was the first to present recipes with standardized measurements.  This revolutionized the art of cooking, making it into a science and leading Miss Fannie to a successful career that included her own Boston Cooking School and a string of articles and cookbooks.

Her 1896 cookbook includes the following menu for Christmas dinner:  

Dressed Lettuce with Cheese Straws
English Plum Pudding        
Brandy Sauce
Frozen Pudding    
Assorted Cake    
Cafe Noir

Bread Sticks
Salted Pecans
Roast Goose    
Potato Stuffing  
Duchess Potatoes        
Cream of Lima Beans
Chicken Croquettes with Green Peas

So, how does this compare to your menu today? If you'd like to try one of these recipes yourself, you can find her cookbook online.  Yes, it's still in print!

Introduce your daughter to Fannie's story with the wonderful picture book Fannie in the Kitchen written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.


Betsy and Tacy and Tib—and the Syrians


Betsy and Tacy and Tib—and the Syrians

I recently reread a book from Maud Hart Lovelace’s classic Betsy-Tacy series for girls.  Mostly I was hoping to find some period music or project ideas for my next Girls Making History workshop, set in the early 1900s.  What I found instead was a plot involving Syrian immigrants, a topic very much in today’s news. 

In Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, three best friends who are almost 10 years old discover that on the other side of the hill where they play lives a small community of Syrian immigrants, deep in the valley and far from town. The girls had heard frightening stories about Little Syria, and about one dangerous man in particular, but they had never realized how close to home the strangers lived.

One day, the girls take a picnic lunch to the ridge overlooking Little Syria. After tucking the picnic basket into a cleft of the rocks, the girls spend time reading news clippings about the upcoming coronation of a boy king in Spain. They decide that they are all in love with him, and write him a letter expressing their desire to marry him (with their regret that they can’t because they’re not of royal blood).

Returning to get their picnic basket, Betsy, Tacy and Tib discover that it’s disappeared!  One glance toward Little Syria reveals a goat running with it toward the valley.  The friends chase the goat until it’s stopped by its mistress, a young girl wearing strange clothes and scolding the goat in an odd language; she is clearly from Little Syria. Immediately interested in getting to know one another, the four girls manage to break the language barrier through a bit of charade-like play, and the Syrian girl, whose name is Naifi, shares in the picnic.

The Spanish coronation, followed by a school recitation about “Queen o’ the May,” leads to a fascination with royalty and a summer conflict between the three friends and their older sisters: Each group wants to stage the coronation of its own Queen of Summer, but how could there be more than one Queen? The parents allow both groups to canvass the neighborhood for votes to determine the winning Queen.  When the three friends find themselves losing the race, they gather their courage and descend into the valley to solicit votes from the Syrians.

Spoiler alert: Betsy, Tacy and Tib discover that Naifi is a real princess! Her father, who is neither frightening nor dangerous, had given up his noble title to make a better life for his family in America. When the friends urge the princess to reign over their neighborhood celebration (since they are now certain they have enough votes to win the election), the father adamantly refuses to allow it. He is determined to be a true American, and sees a display of his daughter as royalty to be inconsistent with the social equality of America.

The friends convince the father that this coronation will be a thoroughly American celebration, complete with the American flag and national anthem. The father relents, and Naifi, in full regalia, enters the world on the other side of the big hill, bringing rich color to new neighbors who warmly welcome their very own princess.

This story, based on the childhood of the author, takes place in an era when record numbers of immigrants were entering the United States, especially through the gateway of Ellis Island, adding to the cultural melting pot that became 20th century America. Its emphasis on bridge building and hospitality echoes the work of many current efforts to assist Syrians seeking refuge in a new country.

If you know of such an outreach in your area, please share the details in the comments below so that others can become involved.  For those who live in the Boston area, please know that there is an initiative in Ipswich, Massachusetts, to help resettle a Syrian family there; let us know if you would like information on how to be of assistance.

And, if you or your daughter hasn’t yet read the Betsy-Tacy books, we encourage you to find them at your local library or bookstore.  Get ready for a treat!


Lockets as Pockets


Lockets as Pockets

Lockets have been popular jewelry pieces for centuries. But did you know that throughout history their primary purpose has been to provide a private place for carrying treasures? Sort of like a small pocket or purse kept close to the heart. 

In the days of religious pilgrimages, a person might touch a small cloth to a relic and then carry the cloth in a locket. And in days when personal hygiene was, um, a bit less - thorough - than today, lockets held perfume or scented cloth so that courtly ladies could freshen up as needed!

But it was two famous English queens who made lockets popular for carrying mementos of loved ones close to the heart. Elizabeth I wore a locket ring that contained a miniature painting of her mother, Anne Boleyn. She is said also to have given lockets containing her own miniature portrait as gifts to favorites in her court.

It was Queen Victoria, however, who made lockets popular among the masses. She received one from her parents as a very young girl, and another from her beloved Prince Albert. Her husband’s included a heart for each of their children, and tucked into each heart was a lock of the child’s hair.

When Albert died, Victoria went into a state of perpetual mourning, always wearing a locket that contained a lock of hair from her beloved prince. This began a rather macabre trend known as “Mourning Lockets,” which sometimes even contained the deceased’s ashes or some soil from the burial site.

After the advent of photography in the 19th century, lower classes were able to add photos of loved ones to their lockets as reminders of their enduring love. And by the start of the 20th century, lockets could be manufactured cheaply for the general public. During World War I, countless American soldiers gave lockets containing their own pictures as gifts to their sweethearts back home.

Lockets have continued to serve us as pockets for keepsakes, from tiny keys to bits of clothing to folded poems and messages. Today, much of the romantic connotation has been lost, but lockets continue to evolve as pieces of personal expression, sometimes even with clear fronts that display contents such as beads and charms.

Whatever the purpose, lockets make unique gifts for friends and loved ones, and they have the added advantage of secretly carrying our personal treasures close to our hearts.

Do you have a favorite locket story to share?  We’d love to hear from you!


Katherine Paterson, Author and Champion of Outsiders


Katherine Paterson, Author and Champion of Outsiders

Children’s book author Katherine Paterson (1932 -  ) has created some of literature's most memorable characters. In novels such as Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Jacob Have I Loved, her protagonists leap off the page, inspiring our imaginations and compassion. But have you ever noticed how many of these characters are outsiders, kids who just don't seem to belong?

Katherine Paterson knows what it feels like to be a kid who’s an outsider. Born in China to American missionaries, she returned to the United States at age nine only to find herself excluded and teased by classmates at her new school. She wore hand-me-down clothes from the missionary barrels and spoke English with a strange accent.  

When she became an adult, however, Katherine Paterson realized that most people have felt like outsiders at some point in their lives. Maybe that's why we identify so easily with Paterson's characters, even when they seem to be very different from ourselves.



Lilias Trotter, Artist and Pioneer Missionary to North Africa (1852-1928)


Lilias Trotter, Artist and Pioneer Missionary to North Africa (1852-1928)

In 1886, the influential writer and art critic John Ruskin told Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) that she had a rare artistic talent, and that with his teaching and social influence she could become a famous painter.  But to do so, Lilias would have to give herself over completely to her art. In her early 20s at the time, Lilias was dividing her time between her art and volunteer work with the prostitutes and poorest women of Victorian London. She ultimately chose to give herself over completely to God’s call on her life, taking the name of Jesus to the Arabs of Algiers in North Africa.

For 40 years Lilias ministered there, especially to the veiled and cloistered Arabic women.  She never became a famous artist, yet she left a legacy of sketchbooks, watercolors, diaries, and devotionals that, while never completely forgotten, have recently been brought to public attention by American writer Miriam Rockness.  

Now a new documentary film based on the life of Lilias Trotter, "Many Beautiful Things,” has been released to limited audiences. Boston friends can view a screening at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 17th at AMC Loews in Danvers, MA.  This beautiful film features Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey” and John Rhys-Davies of “Lord of the Rings.”  Click on the link below to buy tickets.  Hope to see you there!



Pursuing a Passion

Learn about two 20th century girls who pursued their passions and made an impact on the world. 

As a girl growing up in Seattle, Betty Greene (1920-1997) was fascinated by aviation and admired famous pilots like Amelia Earhart.  She learned to fly during her teen years, and became a professional pilot during World War II as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).  After the war, Betty combined her love of God with her passions for flying and adventure, helping to found what became Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and carrying missionaries into some of the world’s remotest regions. 

Find out more about this history maker here


During the 1970s, Karen Carpenter (1950-1983) and her brother Richard became one of America’s most successful singing groups, the Carpenters.  But when she was growing up, Karen’s first love was the drums.  She began playing at age 14, and went on to play in a jazz trio.  Karen’s brother often said that, even after she became a famous singer, Karen always considered herself a “drummer who sang.” In an era when girls rarely became drummers, she pursued her passion and inspired other girls to pursue theirs. 

Check out this link to see her drumming! 


Letters from Caroline


Letters from Caroline

“Letters are what history sounds like when it is still part of everyday life.” ~ Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler, Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999

Once upon a time, in long ago New England, a little girl named Caroline Whittredge was born.  She came into the world in 1806 in Hamilton, Massachusetts. How do I know?  Because she left behind a little booklet of letters, bound together with a piece of 19th-century wallpaper.  The booklet must have been treasured by someone, because it was kept long after Caroline’s death.  It eventually found its way into a room at Hamilton’s old town hall, where the Hamilton Historical Society carefully kept it for over a hundred years.  No one knows for sure how often anyone looked at it during that time, but by 2011 it had clearly been read by a member of the historical society, who mentioned it in a book about nearby Wenham.  In 2013, I read that book, found those letters, and typed a transcription at my computer so that others could meet Caroline too.

The booklet turned out to be a collection of drafts of letters written between 1828 and 1830.  It was not uncommon for women to compose first drafts of their letters before sitting down to write a final version in the elegant, precise handwriting taught in schools at that time.  In an era before email, phones, or even the telegraph, letters connected families and friends who lived both far and near.  A collection of letter drafts served as something comparable to an email “sent” folder, reminding the writer about what she’d told to whom.


This is a photo of one of Caroline’s letters.  Good penmanship was such an important skill that school students kept “copybooks” in which they copied a sample of a proverb or saying over and over on a single page.  One of Caroline’s copybooks, from her school days in Hamilton, is located in the library of the Peabody Essex Museum.  

By the time Caroline wrote her letters in 1828, she was already 22 years old.  We first meet her when she is teaching school in Beverly, Massachusetts.  Here’s the first letter, to her friend Mary Whipple in Hamilton:

Dear Mary,

I resume my pen for the delightful purpose of writing a few lines in answer to your kind epistle, which was gladly received.  I highly appreciate your friendship and correspondence, and ardently wish their continuance.  Should you enquire how I like my new situation of employment, I would inform you that my walk to and from the schoolhouse is delightfully pleasant; the house is handsomely located and commands a good prospect of the surrounding beauties of nature.  My employment is very pleasing.  The schollars (if I may be allowed to form so hasty an opinion) are for the most part very docile.  I shall be in Hamilton at Election when I anticipate a great deal of pleasure.  Accept these few hasty lines from your affectionate friend C.W. 

Beverly April 26, 1828 to Miss Mary B. Whipple

The poet Lucy Larcom, who was born in Beverly in 1824, wrote a memoir with vivid descriptions of her hometown’s appearance during her childhood, so we have some idea of the environment in which Caroline was living and teaching.  Lucy remembered a rural town of farmers and fishermen, hillsides carpeted with wildflowers, the smell of salt wind from the bay, and lanes edged with bayberry, wild roses, and sweet fern.   The stagecoach rode through town each day carrying mail and passengers between Boston and Newburyport.  Her father, a former sea captain, ran a small dry goods store where Caroline might even have shopped!

Lucy Larcom also mentioned the celebration of Election each May.  This was a time of festivities, sometimes lasting two to three days, when the governor and other state and local officials were officially installed.  Election might include parades, special sermons, feasting, or even a ball!
What Lucy remembered best about Election was her mother baking “’Lection cake,” really more a sweet bread than a cake, but a special holiday treat all the same.  Recipes for Election Cake appear in many 19th-century cookbooks.  A version for modern bakers appears below, so you can enjoy a taste of Caroline’s celebration of Election with her friends and family.


What do you think of the language Caroline Whittredge used in her letters?  Does it sound like a letter you might send to a friend?  Why or why not?

For further reading:  A New England Girlhood by Lucy Larcom


Photo by Cleardesign1/iStock / Getty Images
  •         2/3 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)
  •         2 pkgs of active dry yeast (2 oz)
  •         4 cups all purpose flour
  •         2 teaspoons cinnamon
  •         1/2 teaspoon salt
  •         1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  •         1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  •         1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  •         1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  •         2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  •         2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  •         1 cup buttermilk
  •         1 tablespoon vanilla
  •         1 cup currants

Glaze Ingredients:

  •         1 cup confectioners sugar
  •         1 tablespoon milk
  •         1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Add warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast evenly over the surface and set aside for 5 minutes to let dissolve. Grease and flour two 8.5 inch loaf pans. Line the pan bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large bowl mix 3 cups of flour with cinnamon, baking soda, mace, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Check to see that yeast has dissolved and that mixture is bubbling. If so, add one cup of flour, mixing thoroughly. Add butter and mix until well incorporated. Add sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined. Add in eggs and mix until just combined. Lastly mix in flour, reserving a couple of tablespoons. Add currants to remaining flour and then stir them into the cake batter. Loosely cover loaf pans with a light hand towel and leave to let rise for an hour and a half.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake loaves for 50 minutes to and hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Place pans on wire racks to cool. Remove cakes from pans after 5 min.

In a medium bowl whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. Spoon over the tops of the fully cooled loaves so that it drizzles down the sides.


You don't say?


You don't say?

I’ve always enjoyed reading time travel stories, and have often imagined what it would be like to step back into another era of American history.  But it has occurred to me that I might have trouble understanding the language, not because they didn’t speak English (most did), but because they would have spoken it differently.  The first settlers from England would probably have spoken with what I think of as a “British accent.”

And what about slang expressions?  Just since my own girlhood in the 1970s, language for expressing enthusiasm about something has shifted from words like “neat-o” and “groovy” to expressions such as “totally awesome!”  And the Brits prefer “brilliant.”

Even formal language changes.  Vocabulary can shift in meaning over time, and new words are created to express new ideas, fashions, and technologies.  I’ve discovered that it can be fun just to compare an old dictionary to a modern one.  Certainly nobody wore Crocs or Uggs when I was growing up.  We did wear flip-flops, but we called them thongs, which of course has a completely different meaning today!

Just for fun, I spent some time looking at Samuel Johnson’s famous 1755 dictionary, and have selected some words that sounded especially interesting to my ears.  Take a look, then try saying them out loud to have a listen as well!

dizzard n.s. (from dizzy)  A blockhead; a fool.

merry-andrew n.s. A buffoon; a zany; a jack-pudding.

draffy adj. Worthless; dreggy. 

blatteration n.s. Noise; senseless roar.

jogger n.s. One who moves heavily and dully.

ninnyhammer n.s. A simpleton.

nincompoop  n.s. A fool; a trifler.

skimbleskamble adj.  Wandering; wild.

woodnote n.s.  Wild musick.

spindleshanked adj. Having small legs.

muckender  n.s.  A handkerchief.

pledget n.s.  A small mass of lint.

speculum A looking glass; mirror.

tucker n.s.  A small piece of linen that shades the breast of women.

tattoo n.s.  The beat of drum by which soldiers are warned to their quarters.

yare adj. Ready; dexterous; eager.

It’s not hard to see how our current definition of jogger came to be, since jogging is really a slow, rather plodding form of running.  But it’s harder to imagine how our current definition of tattoo, as an inked image on the body, came from the idea of a warning drumbeat.  Does a tattoo machine make a drumming sound or motion?  Any thoughts on this?

I thought it would be fun to try writing a short note or paragraph using some of these words.  Then, I thought it would be even more fun to see what you might write!  So, I have a writing challenge for you, with a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card as the prize:

Correctly use at least six of the words above in a paragraph (at least four complete sentences) of your choice.  It may be fiction or nonfiction.  All entries will be judged by a panel of three educators, and the winning entry will be posted on the website!  Girls ages 9-12 may apply.  Please include your full name, age, and email address.  Send entries to  Be creative and have fun!

Are you yare?



Ship of Dolls

Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau (Candlewick, 2014)

Did you know that there is a Girls’ Day festival in Japan each year? And did you know that a Friendship Doll Project in the 1920s, created to foster understanding between the United States and Japan, resulted in thousands of dolls crossing the ocean between the two countries?

In 1926, a former missionary to Japan organized a Friendship Doll exchange between the United States and Japan in hopes of avoiding war between the two countries.  (A 1924 law enacted by Congress had recently barred new immigration from Japan to protect U.S. jobs.)  American children from across the country collected pennies to pay for the purchase and shipping of dolls from their own schools and clubs, and together they shipped more than 12,000 dolls to Japan.

This little-known event in American history ignited the imagination of author Shirley Parenteau, who created a fictional story about an 11-year-old girl who participates with her classmates in preparing a doll for the exchange.  Lexie Lewis has recently moved to Portland, Oregon to live with her strict grandparents after her widowed mother remarries. Struggling with the in-crowd at school, a neighbor boy who teases her, and the rigid expectations of her grandmother, Lexie is determined to find a way back to her mother, who is a breezy flapper and club singer in Seattle.

When Lexie’s teacher announces that the girl who writes the best letter to accompany their doll will attend the Friendship Doll send-off in San Francisco, the competition ignites conflict between Lexie and the school’s queen bee.   This well-written Middle Grade novel addresses classic issues of family, friendship, tough choices, and the importance of forgiveness, all within the setting of 1920s America.

For book clubs and homeschoolers, Ship of Dolls contains some excellent teaching connections as well.  In addition to history, there is a writing link to Japanese haiku poetry, a form that Lexie learns and uses as part of her letter.  The publishers, Candlewick Press, have also created a teacher’s guide that is available online at


We know from history that the American dolls arrived in Japan in time for the Girls’ Day celebration known as Hinamatsuri, and Japan responded by sending dolls to America in time for Christmas.  Sadly, the hoped-for peace between Japan and the United States ended on December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II.  In 1943, the Japanese government declared the American dolls to be “symbols of the enemy” and ordered them destroyed.

Some of those dolls survived, however, and have gradually resurfaced for museum display.  Likewise, many Friendship Dolls from Japan have been retrieved from years of storage, and are being returned to museums as well.  Additional information about the doll exchange and the subsequent recovery of surviving dolls can be viewed online at