Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I love it when a great author brings hidden history to light.  Kirby Larson has done that with The Friendship Doll!
The relationship between the US and Japan has had its share of animosity. But back in 1927, an amazing American, Dr. Sydney Gulick, came up with a plan for creating goodwill. He facilitated the giving of more than 12,000 dolls to the children of Japan.  The Japanese loved the dolls and wanted to give back.  So they sent 58 stunning handcrafted dolls with intriguing accessories. These dolls began their lives in the US with a ceremony and a national tour! Then each state received at least one doll. 

I could go on about this but Bill Gordon has done it so much better at his Friendship Doll website.  What a history this is! I see why Kirby Larson could barely wait to write a fictional account of one of those dolls and her life in the US. A few months ago, Augusta Scattergood reviewed The Friendship Doll for me here.  And today, I'm honored to share a little dialogue with the author!
Kirby,  one of the features of the book is that that the doll, Miss Kanagawa, communicates with the girls in the story.  Can you talk about how these dolls speak to you, personally?

I was never a doll kid, though I did own a Midge back in the day. Growing up, I would rather read or play Man From U.N.C.L.E. with the neighbor kids. But when I was researching Hattie Big Sky, I came across this intriguing photo taken in 1928 of a little farm girl with a stunning and nearly life-size Japanese doll. I had to find out about these dolls and when I "met" Washington state's Friendship Doll, Miss Tokushima, I felt as if she was about ready to tell me something.I fell under her spell and, though it took many years, I knew I would write a book about the Friendship Dolls.
Kirby with Miss. Kantoshu, the ambassador doll who lives in the Rosie Whyel Doll Museum in Bellvue, WA.
Ms. Kanagawa's travels in the United States take her to 4 distinct locations - New York, Chicago, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. One thing that struck me as so authentic and natural in these stories was the use of language which seemed to grow right out of the landscape.  How did you choose the locations and familiarize yourself with the settings, characters, and dialogue in your story? Oh, do you have a few days?! After a big-time false start, I decided to set the story during the Great Depression. It impacted our entire nation and I wanted to try to capture that. In addition, the Friendship Dolls toured the entire country, visiting towns large and small and I wanted this story to reflect that,too. I will do ANYTHING to learn what I can about other places and times, from reading old newspapers to reading diaries and journals to scouring eBay for old letters, postcards and photos. I also collect old atlases, books of folk proverbs and spend many hours in our local university's archives. All for the sake of story!

Got a research story to share?  Some obscure detail you tracked down or some accomplishment you’re particularly proud of? I think I am proudest of bringing to light a bit of little known history, especially because the doll exchanges between the US and Japan were about building friendships, something I think we can never hear enough about.

What is your approach to researching, plotting, and writing historical books in general? 
(brief pause for maniacal laughter) I am a terrible plotter. I fully embrace the Karen Cushman model of plotting which involves getting to know your character as fully and deeply by putting them into pickles to see what happens. I do as much primary research as I can, and I try to tell my stories as honestly as possible. That's my approach to writing historical fiction. 

Ah, a kindred non-plotting spirit - I love it!  So, if you could be an ambassador doll from the US  where would you like to go? And why? Love this question! I would go to Lebanon because it is a beautiful country with such incredible people and yet so much sorrow and mistrust.

Kirby, I know 13 of the original Japanese friendship dolls are missing and that you're hoping your story helps to rediscover them. It's still early of course, but by any chance has someone come forward with one yet?  Not yet! But I am a relentless optimist.

Awesome! I have a feeling it will happen and I can't wait to hear about it. Thanks so much for stopping by.  I loved having you here.

Kirby is the award winning author of Hattie Big Sky (Newbery Honor), The Fences Between Us, Nubs, and Two Bobbies. My thanks to Provato Marketing for making my visit with her possible.  Please visit


  1. Thanks Joyce and Kirby. This story behind the story was fascinating. I will remember the line to put my "characters into pickles" and see what happens! What beautiful dolls. I think I'll have to figure out how to go see them in person. Road trip ahead?!

  2. How'd I not see a link posted to this fabulous blogpost today on FB?? To think, I almost missed it!

    Great interview and excellent info. Such fun to read. Thanks, Joyce and Kirby

  3. What a fascinating look at a fascinating subject. I've always loved dolls, so this sounds like the perfect book for me.

    I'm all for getting to know the character and then putting them into "pickles". Thanks, Joyce and Kirby for this great interview.

  4. Carol, we have one in Raleigh - according to Kirby's Author's Note it was the only friendship doll in the US to remain on display during WWII. But she was forced to face the wall.

    In Japan, many of the US friendship dolls were destroyed during the war. All very sad.

  5. Glad you discovered, Augusta. BTW - I just realized my link (in this post) to your review of TFD was faulty so I repaired that.

    Always love hearing from you!

  6. Clara - the history behind this is so endearing. If you're a doll lover, I hope you have time to drill down into Bill Gordon's site.

  7. Joyce and Kirby,
    Thanks for giving us more background on the way you approached this book. I recently read The Friendship Doll and really enjoyed it. In fact, In fact,it is in the stack of books I call TBRAP (or To Be Read Again Pile). Your book is fascinating! Thanks for writing it!
    And thank you Joyce for the excellent blog post!

  8. Very interesting interview! I also participated in the blog tour and am really enjoying reading about so many great writers!

  9. Great interview, Joyce and Kirby! And what a treat to read a story that happens not because of war but because of a positive aspect of a relationship between two countries.

  10. Thanks for the interview Kirby and Joyce. I checked out the book and I'm looking forward to reading it. I especially like that they are friendship dolls.