I am an American Girl Dad. No use hiding it, no reason to lie. A significant portion of my non-work life and my living room is occupied by AG.
My wife and I took our girls to the American Girl Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Black Friday a couple of years. This past summer, I was the only solo dad standing in an enormous line at 7:00 on a steamy morning for the grand opening of AGP in Columbus. “Props to you,” all the eyes pointed at me seemed to be saying, “but you’re out of your mind mister.”
But, truly, I love American Girl. Mainly because of what it has meant to my daughters over the years.
- I read all the Felicity Merriman (1774) books to them when they were little. When we finally made it to Williamsburg some years later, they remembered the stories and went to find the places we read about and were able to find their own way in to the living history being played out in front of them.
- We learned a ton from the stories about Rebecca Rubin (1914) as a Russian immigrant in New York City. These characters and their well-researched fictional worlds are miles from my daughters’ life experience but the best part of a later visit to NYC was an unplanned side trip to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Not only were the familiar touchstones of Rebecca’s story there, but the Italian immigrant experience in that same place was my own ancestors’ real life in the 1920’s.
- Julie Albright’s life in San Francisco (1974) was during mine and my wife’s own childhoods and many issues of that time came alive for our girls more clearly in these books than in any personal stories we could share.
So you can perhaps see why a recent blog decrying the inclusion of a tiny replica Pearson textbook in a school-readiness pack as “Common Core indoctrination” raised my hackles enough to pen this response.
The school-readiness pack described is one of dozens which are intended to stimulate the imaginations of AG doll owners to create their own stories and lives for their dolls. They are for the “Just Like Me” dolls, not the historical collection described above. The modern day “Just Like Me” dolls come with various skin tones and hair colors and hair lengths, so that a child can find a doll who looks like her if they wish or completely different so as to live another life different from her own.
One of my daughters is particularly fond of pets and their accoutrements. She and her doll friends currently have more faux pets than I have owned in my entire life. The other daughter prefers her doll friends to have elaborate back stories, including one in a wheelchair, one with a hearing aid, and one with food allergies (yes, there’s a kit for that too – call it “empathy indoctrination” if you like).
Thanks to AG and their generous grandma, our children have been vicarious dog owners, caretakers, wilderness campers, artists, 1970s environmental activists, Jewish immigrants, and even school teachers. It seems weird to me to be defending a giant corporation, but it’s really more about defending what my family has gotten out of the American Girl dolls, stories, and – yes – products. We cherished every story we read together, each nugget of history we gleaned on our trips, and the “Dad stood in line for two hours in the hot sun to get us in to AGP’s grand opening” story is legendary already.
American Girl reflects reality in all strands of their products – the historical dolls don’t sugarcoat history but take great pains to try and show what life might really have been like for their young protagonists in real eras in American history, and the diverse modern-day dolls encourage children to let their imaginations run wild to reflect their lives, hopes, and aspirations. That tiny replica textbook on our living room floor is no more an indoctrination tool for the Common Core than that replica sky-blue car is an indoctrination tool for my girls to buy VW Beetles when they grow up!
And not to prolong this too much, but there is also the matter of AG’s “Girl of the Year” strand. These modern-day character dolls with interesting lives and headstrong natures have been developed in connection with organizations as diverse as the National Wildlife Federation, Americans for the Arts, and the Ophelia Project. Check it out here.
Last year’s Girl of the Year – Saige Copeland – was engaged in a project to raise money to restore arts funding to her school after budget cuts. This year’s Girl of the Year – Isabelle Palmer – faces challenges in a tough new arts school where her parents have moved her in their efforts to help her become a dancer. Sounds like a great balance to me that reflects the reality of the world of young girls today – as does that replica Pearson textbook. Homeschooling parents have found plenty to like about AG as well. Sorry to hear that our cranky blogger above is not one of them.
The only thing AG doesn’t yet offer? A leather biker jacket for the proud dad of two awesome American girls. I’m waiting...