Esther, who is Jewish, and Michi, who is Japanese, live in Vancouver and are best friends. It’s 1942, and one of their favorite games is playing Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, who they have seen in newsreels of the London Blitz and admire as heroic role models. When a local gift shop displays two matching dolls in the window, one dressed as Princess Elizabeth and the other as Princess Margaret, the two friends ache to each own a princess doll of their own. When Esther receives one of the dolls as a gift but Michi does not receive the other, a rift begins between them — one that might otherwise have healed naturally in time, but during wartime, life is much more complicated. While Esther and her family worry about the fate of their Jewish relatives who remain in Europe, Michi and her family face prejudice and suspicion at home, culminating in the relocation of Japanese families to faraway internment camps.
This intimate story of two young girls learning about true friendship intertwines with the stories of larger populations and their wartime tribulations. As Esther and Michi struggle with personal disappointments, they also feel the pressures of wartime life. Esther can’t easily make up with her best friend if her friend has been interned a distance away as a suspected enemy alien.
The story resolves in a heartwarming way — the world at war, less so. Prejudice and fear of the other remain potent forces in today’s world, and this novel brings these issues to the forefront in a way that is easily relatable to children.
This touching tale of two girls and two dolls gives readers ages 9 to 12 a look at how the Japanese citizens of the United States and Canada were treated during World War II, and provides valuable ethical insights.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to children and books and her greatest joy is reading to her grandchildren on both sides of the ocean. Michal lives in Great Neck, NY and Efrat, Israel.