American History with American Girl

Our family has a long history with American Girl’s historical dolls (now called BeForever), beginning with me. I have both the oldest and (almost) newest dolls in our house. I received the now-retired Kirsten over 25 years ago, and Melody was a birthday gift from my children this summer.

Bunny is the proud owner of the most dolls in our home…six of them, including two pairs of friends, (which is currently half of our total collection!), at least half of which she’s purchased with her own money over the last seven years:

And Ladybug has a nice collection of four dolls, including one pair of friends and the two dolls in our cumulative collection that represent the earliest parts of American history:

The dolls we own embody American history from the Revolutionary War era (Felicity) through the Civil Rights era (Melody). The total American Girl/BeForever line covers America’s past from the time before the Revolutionary War (Kaya) through the 1970s (Julie).

Our dolls personify the times of three different wars (Revolutionary, Civil, and WWII), the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, pioneer days, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Era, plus everything in between.

The girls (and I) love playing with the dolls, but American Girl is so much more than that. If you’re familiar with the company, you know that each historical character has always come with a series of books that allow the reader a glimpse into daily life in that time period. That books have changed format since the years I had the first editions (which I read so many times they felt apart long before I had children!), but the stories have remained the same. So while we don’t have all the dolls, we do have all the book series, for our dolls, and dolls we had hoped to buy but weren’t able to before they retired, and dolls we still hope to add to the collection someday.

We have used those books in our homeschool studies since the very beginning. When the children were smaller, I read the books out loud for fun, and they loved the interesting stories they were hearing without even realizing they were getting a glimpse into American history. I have used them to supplement special summer school units (especially in 2010, when we learned about colonial America, and this year, when we studied the pioneers and Westward Expansion), and as the basis for a “Christmas through American history” study, which included craft and food ideas that came to us while reading. I’ve also read them alongside  our regular history lessons, and of course, the older two girls have read through them all on their own. And now I’m starting again, from the very beginning with Kaya, and will read through the full scope of American Girl American history through Julie’s time to Chickadee, who isn’t quite old enough to read them herself.

We have been able to cover so many topics with the help of these books. We’ve learned fun things, like what holiday and birthday celebrations were like in the past, and we’ve learned hard things about wars, racism, injustice, and parents and friends dying. We’ve learned what it was like to be a child through all these different events, and while the books are clearly marketed towards girls, the boys have listened to the stories and learned some things, too.

The historical information isn’t limited to only the books, either. The dolls and their accessories have allowed us to get a good look at the fashions of different eras.  Bunny has even been inspired to make clothes for her dolls herself! We have had hands-on experience with what school supplies and lunches looked like throughout history. We’ve seen how children might have spent their free time. We’ve even had glimpses of what furniture looked like at different points in history!

And, for those more STEM inclined, American Girl has even had a place in our math lessons, and the more dolls we collect, the more fun we have! Chickadee can practice her counting by identifying how many dolls have blond, brown, black, or red hair, or she can sort them by eye color or other identifying features. We can use the information she gives us to make graphs and do statistics…what percentage of our dolls have freckles? Pierced ears? Curly hair? It’s very basic math, but it’s a start, and very fun and hands-on when you’re five!

We’re not done collecting…Chickadee hasn’t even received her first BeForever doll yet, but she has an idea of which one she wants to be her first (one that none of us have yet). We wait with anticipation every time we hear a new doll is coming, because we can’t wait to learn her story.  And we’re always keeping an eye out for new fashions for the dolls we have, and we all will save our money when there’s something new for one of our dolls. I love the way American Girl has helped history come alive for my children, through play and imagination and books that show us what the past was like!

American Girl Night at the Ballpark

Tonight was American Girl Night at Busch Stadium, so of course I had to take the girls. It was very fun!

We had good seats:

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The highlight of the evening was seeing Kolten Wong hit a grand slam…very exciting! Ladybug has been wanting to see a grand slam for a long time, so it was a dream come true for her, and I enjoyed watching her excitement. We had a very fun girls’ night out!

Ladybug Turns Seven!

Today is Ladybug’s seventh birthday. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for almost a year. Here’s why:

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Last year, not long after Ladybug turned six, American Girl announced that they were retiring the one doll Ladybug had always wanted…Molly. She thought this meant that she was never going to be able to have her. What she didn’t know, was that I went out and bought Molly the day they announced the retirement, and put her away for this birthday. Ladybug was confused when she opened the box, and then ecstatic. I’m so happy we could do this for her!

For the first time, she requested a non-decorated cake for her birthday. She decided she wanted me to make the Schlafly sticky toffee pudding cake. I was happy to comply!

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Happy birthday little Ladybug!

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Retiring Molly

Today was kind of a sad day:

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This was sad for me because Molly was the last of the original three American Girl dolls standing. They had already retired the doll I had (Kirsten), and the doll most of my friends had (Samantha), plus the not-quite-original, but also not-quite-second-wave doll (Felicity). While they have introduced new characters, there was something about knowing that one of the dolls that had been in the catalog when I was a little girl was still in the catalogs that my girls pour over.

This was especially sad for Ladybug, because Molly is the doll she wants. Ever since she got her glasses when she was three, and noticed that Molly had glasses, too, she has been waiting to get her. Seeing the Molly movie several times has just made Ladybug love her more. I almost got Molly for her birthday this year, but I didn’t think Ladybug was quite responsible enough to take care of her. Hearing this news was rather crushing, I’m afraid.

American Girl claims to have new historical projects on the horizon, and I hope this is true. I’m sure the “Dolls of Today” are big money makers for them, but I’d hate to see them abandon what made the original company great…focusing on American history!

The American Girl Store

On Wednesday, we made the long-awaited trip to the brand new American Girl Store at Chesterfield Mall, in Chesterfield, MO. (The store’s “soft opening” began Wednesday; the Grand Opening is this weekend.) Of course, the girls were very excited about going, but I have to admit, I was pretty excited myself. I’ve had an American Girl doll for over 20 years, now, but had never actually been to one of the stores, so I had no idea what to expect. Even if I had had an idea in my head, I’m sure it wouldn’t have come to close to what the store actually is, from the sheer vastness of it and the way the displays are arranged to the “Doll Salon” and the charming little Bistro.

When we first walked in, we were greeted by a (somewhat overly) enthusiastic saleswoman.Her knowledge of the products and the history of the company was commendable, and she was very good at talking with the girls, (not to mention listening to them!), and directing them toward the things that would interest them the most. She also gave us a brief tour of the store, and explained how the different areas were set up. One thing that surprised me was that the “salon” was right in the middle of the store, and the dolls that were being “styled” were on full view for anyone who wanted to watch. For some reason, I thought that this would have been done in the back, out of sight.

From the center, the store was divided into a few main sections. On one side, were the dolls we were there to look at–the historical collection. The displays were very eye-catching, and set up in many different and interesting ways. There was, of course, a display for each  doll, to showcase her entire collection. There were also smaller vignettes set up here and there, to showcase something in particular…for example, new items in a collection, like Cécile’s and Marie-Grace’s new summer items, (what we were looking for), or a particular theme, like the bedtime collections for each doll.

Another side of the store was dedicated to the “My American Girl” collection–the line of modern dolls which are offered in a variety of hair colors and styles, and skin and eye colors, so that they can be customized to look like any girl.

And let’s not forget the Bitty Baby section in the back–that was Ladybug’s favorite part of our shopping trip!

The Bistro was also adorable…we didn’t go on Wednesday, but we did have a fun time peeking inside!

My only real complaint about the store was the way the check-out line was organized. It seems like there could have been a more efficient way to have people get through the line, because if you had a lot of items on the way to the register, or a large bag on the way out, you were certain to bump into somebody else in line, or knock over a display, or both.

It was a fun shopping trip. Because of the distance, (not to mention the cost!), it’s not a place we’ll be going often, but I’m sure we’ll go once or twice a year, to check out new items, or to go to the Bistro. Plus, I can’t wait to see what the store looks like at Christmas. I’m also looking forward to the day when we can go back and I can take the girls to have tea (or hot chocolate) in the Bistro!

My American Girl

When I was around ten, I received my first (and only) American Girl doll. Ever since I was old enough to think about having children, I’ve dreamed about the day I could share that experience with my daughter, and give her an American Girl doll.

That day finally came this weekend.

I know they’re suggested for ages eight and up, and Bunny just turned six, but she’s pretty responsible, and she has wanted Kit, and only Kit, for the last three years (that’s right, for half of her young life). So, it was time.

Her reaction was all I had hoped it would be. She was completely surprised–she’s even been saving her allowance to buy Kit herself. She has barely stopped playing with her since she got her–Kit goes through *many* changes of clothes daily. Currently, Bunny is reading Meet Kit *to* Kit. Irony.

It’s so fun sharing part of my childhood with one of my children!

American Girl

rebecca-rubinI’ve been a big fan of the American Girl collection almost since it’s beginning.  I still remember the excitement of “finally” getting my doll (Kirsten, if you’re interested), as a reward for making high honor roll in sixth grade.  It seemed like all the other girls in my class had theirs first, but I think I actually appreciated mine more because I had to wait and work for it.  I’m equally looking forward to when my girls get their American Girl dolls someday (Bunny had been wanting Kit for over a year, and I’m hoping maybe when she turns six she can get her).

While I’m still a little annoyed that the company chose to “retire” on of the original three dolls, Samantha, along with her friend Nellie, and all the stuff that went with them, I’m pretty excited about the new doll that just came out. Rebecca Rubin is part of a Russian-Jewish family in New York City in 1914 (thus replacing Samantha, who was from 1904).  I (somewhat surprisingly)  think it’s great that they’re introducing a Jewish doll–it’s a culturally and historically significant addition to the American Girl family.  I also think it’s great that among her accessories is a “Sabbath set,” and I’m hoping for a Hanukkah set in the future.

I do think it would be nice if they added a German Lutheran (shocking, I know!) or Italian or Irish Catholic doll at some point.  While I think the Christian faith of a few of the dolls has been mentioned in passing, I don’t think it’s ever been as big of a part of any of their stories (with the possible exception of Kirsten, and the celebration of St. Lucia Day, but even that seemed more cultural than religious) as this newest character.  And as I’m guessing that Molly and Kirsten, the other two “original” dolls will probably be retired soon, there is certainly opportunity to create a character whose Christian faith is as ingrained in her life as Rebecca’s Jewish faith appears to be in hers.