I was one of those kids who played too much with dolls. (A sentence I cannot say now with a straight face, but hey.) I had the Barbies, the paper dolls both purchased and punched out of the middle of American Girl Magazine (I always wanted to be one of those girls they paperdolled, but I wasn’t interesting enough [yes, even as a nine-year-old I was self-deprecating]), and the 18-inchers. A proper American Girl doll, a Magic Attic Club doll. For American Girls, I had Kirsten, the Swedish girl in the mid-1800s (so, basically, Sofia Metz if she had cousins and brothers and her family didn’t get slaughtered, you know); for the Magic Attic Club, I had Megan, the bookish redhead with glasses (OH MAN THE TYPECASTING. I mean, I’m not a ginger, but I do end up being them sometimes in fiction). And I had the books that went with them. I don’t have every single of their respective series’, but I have a lot of them, and the rest I’d get from the library at least six times apiece.
I bring this up because watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning like the sap I am got me curious. They haven’t sent me an American Girl catalogue in years (they did for far too long, hoping maybe I’d have a sister or something, I guess – and I’d always look through, because I’m just like that) so I didn’t know about the state of the collection. I liked to think when I was little that I’d be able to pass my American Girl doll onto whatever children I ended up having (even if her left arm is falling out of the socket — they can fix that, right?) and pass the books along with her. They weren’t great literature, they weren’t that long, but they were sweet, and good history lessons, and I enjoyed them. (And they’re my justification for babbling about this on Thursday.)
So I opened up the American Girl website to look at the collection as it now stands. When I was a kid, the dolls were: Felicity, Josefina (she was my second-favorite), Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, Kit, and Molly. It was a pretty diverse bunch, you had almost all the requisites: Felicity was the feisty redheaded colonial girl, Josefina was the feisty New Mexican girl, Kirsten was the shy but still feisty Swedish immigrant girl, Addy was the feisty and smart escaped slave girl, Samantha was the proper but feisty turn-of-the-century girl, Kit was the brainy and feisty Great Depression girl, Molly was the feisty and sassy World War II girl. (Yes, they were all feisty in their way.) They all had good stories to tell.
The last times I got the catalogue, they were introducing dolls of some of the girls’ friends: Felicity’s bestie Elizabeth (who was shyer than her, and I know, because I played her in a ridiculous third-grade one-act production) and Samantha’s bestie Nellie (who was less affluent than her) and Kit’s bestie Ruthie (who was more polite than her) and Molly’s bestie Emily (who was more British than her [British at all]). I was okay with that. But then they started retiring dolls and thus retiring their stories, and adding new girls in.
Samantha and Emily were apparently the first to go. I’m okay with that. Their turn-of-the-century stories weren’t that special, and you can read the same kind of thing in more detail in my pet Betsy~Tacy books. Then Kirsten was “archived,” and that makes me really sad. Because stories about immigrants are always fun to read, especially in child-oriented historical fiction! There’s adventure and learning and disease and travel and friendship and whimsy all in the same place. Felicity and Elizabeth got retired, too, and that’s also a shame: the Revolutionary War is a really interesting time to read about (and the clothes are pretty, too).
They’ve still got Josefina, Addy, Kit, Ruthie, Molly, and Emily. In addition, there’s Kaya the feisty Native American girl, Marie-Grace and Cécile the… I don’t know what, but probably feisty, interracial besties (Cécile is African-American, Marie-Grace is white) in New Orleans (in the 1800s, so the interracial thing is a big deal), Rebecca the feisty Jewish girl (she’s only ten years off of Samantha’s time period, so it’s not too different, but it’s more interesting, because “she follows her dreams in the big city”), and Julie and Ivy, the feisty interracial besties (Julie is white, Ivy is Asian… I mention these interracial things ’cause the American Girls of my youth tended to mostly hang out with like people; not out of racism, I’m sure, but just out of the nature of their stories – nonetheless, it’s interesting) experiencing ~changes~ (in the world) in the 1970s. There’s also Kanani, a modern Hawaiian “girl of the year” doll, this year.
And these are my thoughts on that:
- Okay, Kaya’s legit, I’ll allow that.
- Marie-Grace and Cécile have the vaguest online synopses, I can’t tell what their stories are about at all and therefore cannot judge.
- I’m pretty sure I read a Dear America with the same plot as Rebecca’s story. Dreams in the Golden Country. (They apparently also rebooted that series, and some of the new titles… actually sound sort of interesting. Even if they are super young adult. I was a nutcase for that series, too.)
- So there’s finally an Asian girl! Rock on. Even if she is just the blonde girl’s bestie, and I can’t tell what her stories are about at all, and I’d be more interested to read about an Asian girl around 1880-1910 (but that would be too dark for them).
- Really? The whole plot of Kanani’s two-book arc is that “she helps others by sharing Hawaii’s aloha spirit”? That’s not a plot. That makes me miss my Kirsten even more.
- With Felicity gone, there’s no redhead, and that’s sad.
So, children of the world: I really hope you’re getting as much out of these new girls’ stories as I did out of the ones I grew up with. Otherwise, I just might have to be sad.
–your fangirl heroine