Shirley Parenteau's SHIP OF DOLLS - Guest Post and Giveaway
SHIP OF DOLLS by Shirley Parenteau
When asked where I get ideas, the answer is easy. Although we have no grandsons, we have six granddaughters, four of them living nearby and currently between ages nine and thirteen. A few years ago, frogs croaking in the stream near our 100 year-old farmhouse made me think “counting book,” although I had been writing women’s fiction since our own three children grew older. After a number of rejections that turned out to be blessings, the book found a home with the publisher of my dreams, Candlewick Press. I was delighted when my daughter reported that her then two-year-old Elizabeth learned to relate written numbers to letter numbers through many re-readings of One Frog Sang.
About a year later, I watched Elizabeth in a bookstore play area putting stuffed animals on small chairs. Bears on Chairs, a rhyming book on sharing resulted. Editors often warn against writing in rhyme, partly because rhyme can be hard to translate. Yet in Japan where rhyme is not used, a translation of Bears on Chairs has been so popular that the bears are now available there as plush animals, on notepapers and more. I have to credit David Walker’s irresistible illustrations for much of the bear’s success. Happily, the books became a series. Candlewick published the third, Bears in the Bath, this year and has scheduled Bears and a Birthday for next year.
My son’s oldest daughter Michelle inspired Ship of Dolls, a middle-grade novel. When she was three, Michelle’s parents took her to Japan to visit maternal grandparents and take part in the traditional girl’s day festival of Hinamatsuri. (Later they took Michelle and her younger sister Nicole, above, to the festival.) They returned with photos that suggested ideas for a picture book.
In an online search for details of Hinamatsuri, I discovered an event in our history that was entirely new to me, the Friendship Doll project of 1926 when children across America sent more than 12,000 dolls to children in Japan in hope of friendship and peace. Japanese children sent back 58 exquisite dolls of gratitude, each about 3 feet tall, with many accessories and wearing kimonos in patterns by the Empress’ own dressmaker.
I’ve visited one currently on display in a museum in Reno, Nevada, and fell instantly in love.
I longed to tell the story of the dolls as a middle-grade novel and worked on it from time to time, setting the story in NW Oregon because I grew up on the Northern Oregon Coast. But I was absorbed in my picture book series. Somehow years swept by. Then a writing friend called to tell me about a newly published book, Kirby Larsen’s The Friendship Doll. My heart sank. Had I waited too long? When I read Kirby’s book, I found it far different than mine, featuring one of the lovely Japanese dolls. I stopped revising and proposed Ship of Dolls to my Candlewick editor. She loved the idea of the Friendship Doll Project and not only wanted the book, but suggested a second book, set in Japan to tell the story through the eyes of a girl there.
Ship of Dolls saw publication this past August. Dolls of Hope will follow in 2015. Cover artist Kelly Murphy created a stunning cover using Japanese papers for waves and vintage clothing for the girl’s and doll’s dresses. And to my surprise and absolute delight, Lexie, as Kelly has painted her, looks very much like my now eleven-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth, something Kelly had no way of knowing.
Reviews have been wonderful. I love the conclusion of a review in School Library Journal that says, “Fans of (Beverly Cleary’s) Ramona will have no trouble connecting with and rooting for lively and likable Lexie.”
The most exciting news of all—the publisher of Japanese translations of my bear books has purchased translation rights to Ship of Dolls and Dolls of Hope. I’m especially touched that he plans to tie publication next spring to the 70th anniversary of the ending of the war in the Pacific. He believes the book will help express to young readers his company’s wish for world peace and friendship. I can’t think of a more gratifying reception for a story that came straight from my heart.
My current writing spot is not yet a fave. In August, we moved from our old farmhouse to a more convenient single-story home. I prefer a desktop computer and have installed it on the former owner’s craft table while I research desks (and try to keep my calico cat, Folly, from the keyboard).
Candlewick has kindly offered a free copy of SHIP OF DOLLS to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below: