I guess this is a little bit of a carry-over from the Shelf Discovery Project this summer. I remember reading this book over and over as a kid. I didn't have my own copy, but checked it out many, many times from my school library.
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower are two Japanese dolls that have been abandoned for a while, until Nona and Belinda's Great Aunt Lucy mails them all the way from the U.S. to where the cousins live in Britain. Nona is a recent arrival at Belinda's house; she was born in India, but after her mother died, she was sent to live with Belinda's family. Nona is horribly homesick and scared of everything in England. But when the dolls arrive, they give her a purpose and something to focus on: she must have a Japanese dollhouse for them to live in, a very proper one with a garden and sliding screens and mats and tiny teacups (with green tea, because that's what they drink in Japan).
Along the way, her quest for the dollhouse draws in her older cousins, who help her research, build, and outfit the house, as well as a schoolmate whose mother provides bits of fine fabrics for the house, and even a gruff, geezer-y bookseller who takes a shine to Nona when she tells him she would never touch a book without washing her hands first.
You can probably figure out where this is all going: Nona comes out of her shell, makes friends, becomes happier to be in England. But in a nice, and likely very realistic, twist, cousin Belinda becomes very jealous of the attention Nona gets and finally strikes back.
This is just such a sweet book. I can see why I loved it as a kid: how exotic, a girl born in India who moved to England and researched a Japanese dollhouse! I'm not sure why I never asked my dad to build me a dollhouse like that, given that there are pretty explicit instructions in the back of the book. I'd also forgotten about the Star Festival, held on the "evening of the seventh day of the seventh month", which happens to be my birthday--shoot, wish I'd read this earlier this summer!
Best of all is the story of the dolls themselves, who long for someone to understand them and love them. It brought to mind this, from the wonderful Toy Story 2:
OK, excuse me while I go off and sniffle for a while. Anyone read any of Godden's adult books? I've only read her children's books and loved them.