The Princess Dolls

Ellen Schwartz; Mariko Ando, illus.
  • Review
By – September 17, 2018

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.

Discussion Questions