When my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I went to Chicago in April, we just had to go in the American Girl Store, and I was reminded again how wonderful the American Girl concept is. Expensive and highly commercialized, yes, but really awesome too. I loved history even as a child, and really learned a lot from the American Girl books. They each had (and I hope, still have) a historical appendix with real photos from the era and deeper explanations of the events and issues touched on in the book. Through the fictional characters and their stories, children learn about real, important issues in American history. From Kirsten's stories, the difficulty of immigrant assimilation and harsh life on the frontier. From Felicity (pictured below), how Patriot and Loyalist neighbors turned against one another in the Revolutionary War. From Samantha, girls learn about child labor and women's suffrage.
In the years since I grew out of dolls, they added diversity with Addy, Kaya, and Josefina--African American, Native American, and Mexican American characters, respectively, as well as Depression-era Kit Kittredge, whose movie is awesome.* I think the historical doll and book concept is fabulous. It is a great way to learn history and culture, and to give kids great examples of smart, brave, compassionate, resourceful girls.
During our visit to the American Girl store, I discovered the newest doll and was absolutely enamored. Rebecca Rubin is a Russian-Jewish immigrant living in New York in 1914. If there are four things I love, they are Russia, Judaica, New York, and the Edwardian Era. Isn't she gorgeous?! (I need to make sure Kate has seen Titanic enough by the time she is eight years old that Rebecca will be the doll she wants! j/k... sort of.)
I'm personally not as into the American Girls' "Just Like You" dolls--mainly because I just love the historical dolls so much--but the modern collection encourages the same sort of go-getter girlhood as the historical dolls, with accessories for every hobby and activity a 21st century American girl could want. I was drawn to the doll who--like me!--broke her leg playing softball.
My sister-in-law was a little creeped out by the "clones"--the display of basic "Just Like You" dolls to choose from, according to your eye, hair, and skin tone.
Clones aside, I was just reminded during our visit how awesome and empowering American Girls are. Yes, it's fun to dress up the dolls and go nuts over the adorable accessories, but there's something valuable underneath. "This is so much better for girls than the whole princess thing!" I gushed as I blubbered over Kit's typewriter and Felicity's horse and riding habit. As I mentioned in my posts about marriage last week, I'm not into the "princess" thing for little girls (promotes this "happily ever after" notion of romance, and general superficiality) but neither do I consider myself much of a feminist (Matt calls me a "post-feminist," meaning I take my equality with men as a given). I really feel that--aside from the consumerism, which I should probably not dismiss so quickly--American Girl promotes great values for young girls, and especially with the turn that its publishing line has taken in the last couple years really encourages smart, healthy behavior in girls. Their "Smart Girl's Guide" series is really impressive. They have books on how to handle middle school, boys, parents' divorce, money, manners, body care, etc.
I ordered a book today called The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. I definitely worry about this sort of thing, seeing the way trends for little girls are going. I remember reading a blog post a couple years ago from a mom complaining she couldn't find normal underwear for her six-year-old because everything was low-riding, bikini-cut, or had suggestive words written on them. And this isn't even the tween stuff! I'm not the sort to flip out about the "degradation of society" or whatnot, but seriously--have you seen Miley Cyrus' new video?
Kate may or may not like to play with dolls. Whatever. But you can bet I'll be getting those historical fiction and Smart Girl's books for her, and praying she'll have the good sense to follow her own dreams and stand up for what she believes is right.
*Ok, now for my aside about Kit Kittredge. The Kit movie will forever be wrapped up for me in the "thinking Kate was a boy" story. I took the Intelligender test on my birthday in 2008, at about 12 weeks pregnant. The test--which claims to detect gender from 10 weeks on--clearly said "boy." Mom and I were planning to go see the Kit Kittredge movie that day, but I was so depressed about not having a little girl, I couldn't bear to go see the American Girl movie, and instead moped around and totally ruined my own birthday. If you weren't reading this blog then, seriously, check out our wild ride of taking the test (there's a video!) and then seeing the ultrasound two months later. Crazy times. And for the record, Matt and I are both thrilled Kate is a girl, and I promise I will adore any sons that come along.