Thursday, October 2, 2008

American Girl Dolls: Not Just Tea Parties and Hairdos

Several weeks ago, my husband Bill went into my daughter's room to tuck her in at bedtime and was alarmed to find her weeping. It turns out she was reading Meet Addy, one of the American Girl Doll Collection books. The main character is Addy Walker, an African American girl living in 1864, whose family has been separated by slavery. Hayden loved the book and was moved to tears by it. Bill does not get that; I totally do. Maybe it's a girl thing. The next day I downloaded a picture of Addy and knew I would blog about the incident sometime soon, but then we had a more intriguing American Girl Doll book moment that has been buzzing in my head ever since.

Bill and I have been trying to explain the economic situation our country is currently in to our children. It's no easy task. I'm finding it extremely challenging explaining the bailout plan. They listen to the news from time to time. The older kids have asked about the banks going under and the devastating hits the stock market has taken. At some point, either Bill or I mentioned people losing confidence in financial institutions. A light bulb turned on. Eight year old Hayden said it's like the Great Depression when people tried to buy things on credit and many lost their homes. She also understood how stock and other investments lost their value. Yes!, but how did she know about that? "From my Kit Kittredge American Girl Doll books."

American Girl is a line of dolls, accessories, and books based on pre-teen girl characters from various periods in American history. They were first sold in 1986, and according to Wikipedia (I know, I know), 14 million American Girl dolls and 123 million books about them have been sold since. I have some experience with these dolls. My daughter owns Samantha Parkington (1904) and Bill's cousin brought Kirsten Larson (1854) as a guest to our wedding back in 1997. We have read many of the books that feature the American Girls. Each book includes a few pages of historical background about its heroine's time period. Hayden all but devours these books.My sons have no interest in the fiction part, but enjoy those back pages. They especially want to know were there cars at that time, and if so, what did they look like. The Molly Mc Intire (1944) books gave them a much better understanding of World War II and what life was like for their great grandparents during that time.

Back to Kit Kittredge (1934). While Hayden does not have this doll, she has the boxed set of six books about her (Thanks for giving it to her for Christmas, Mom!), and has apparently paid attention while reading them. As I said, she has some basic knowledge of the Depression. She was able to tell me that during that time, people recycled even though they didn't call it recycling. They used flour sacks and animal feed bags to make clothes and turned old clothes into quilts. She had also learned that many people lost their jobs and often went hungry. The entire Kit series, along with Molly, Felicity, and Josefina, was authored by Valerie Tripp who holds a Masters in Education degree from Harvard University. In an excellent article called "The Thinking Girl's Barbie?" (July 3, 2008) four women writers from Slate discuss American Girl Dolls and books. While they do worry some about the "training in consumerism" the dolls provide, they generally come down in favor of them. One goes so far as to describe the American Girl collection as "a history gateway drug." Hey, I'm all for getting girls hooked on history.

Here's my only big fear: That Republicans are going to mail Joe Biden Kit doll and book sets. Meet Kit makes it clear that Herbert Hoover was President of the United States until 1932 when FDR beat him by a landslide. However, Joe Biden seems like such a nice guy, I'm sure he'd pass them on to his grandkids or maybe Sasha and Malia Obama who I've read are American Girl doll fans themselves.

No comments: