Into her hands, the young girl placed the doll with curls cinnamon and wild, lips sweet and rosy.
On the child’s tanned face, a smile cracked open as radiant as a ray of new hope.
A little scar on her cheek dimpled with mischief.
Her eyes shone like stars as she cradled the doll.
She had travelled far, suffered much, and had so little.
Words were not spoken.
But this one act of kindness said that she was welcome.
It told her she was home.
The author, Nhung N. Tran-Davies, tells two heartbreaking and, at the same time, heartwarming stories centered on a doll. This little doll travels through time and connects two stories generations apart. One is decades ago. When a young girl and her family escape war from their home country, they are warmly welcomed at the airport in the new country. A beautiful stranger of the girl’s age offers comfort by giving her a doll. The other story is years later, and that refugee little girl has grown into an accomplished young woman, and it’s her turn to pass on the kindness and to welcome another newly arrived little girl with the doll.
The author writes her narratives in a cinematic style – highly visual in their language and in tandem with the illustrations. Like the author’s language, the illustrations by Ravy Puth provide a third-person angle of view. Readers become the audience and are emergent in the scenes. We see the receiver of the doll becomes the giver years later. We see the passing and growing of kindness over time. We see hope.
At the book’s end, the author thoughtfully adds her personal experiences which are the inspiration of the story. It takes great courage and vulnerability to empower others through one’s wounds, and that is why stories like The Doll are so powerful and touching. There is also a photo of “the doll”, Nhung’s doll, which is on display at the Canadian Museum of Immigration. After so many years and accompanying two little refugee girls, the doll’s hair is still shiny “with curls cinnamon and wild”, her lips still “sweet and rosy”.
Good children’s literature serves as windows and mirrors. The Doll is exactly this kind of literature – children see themselves as well as others in the book. I hope to see more and more young children – immigrants, refugees and locals – get the opportunity to read books like this one and spark conversations about these important topics.
Emma Chen is a Ph.D. student with a research focus on immigrant children’s heritage language education at the University of Saskatchewan.