February 19, 2007


Valley of the Dolls: As the anti-Barbie, the American Girl doll is an exceptional artifact that combines the commercial with the good, writes AMITY SHLAES. Mattel makes money, and kids learn history. (Amity Shlaes, February 02, 2007, America)

She has a round childish face, the braidable hair of an eight-year-old, and, at least sometimes, glasses. The deeper difference, however, is that the American Girl's culture is rooted in fact, not relationship. The glory is a series of 11 period dolls, each rep­resenting a different phase of American history.

At first I resisted this anti-Barbie. The cheapest starter kit for Felicity, the colonial doll, goes for $87. The American Girl product generally exudes an odor of political correctness--there's a doll for every ethnicity--that made me want to bolt and splurge on the Barbie Hot Tub Party Bus ($64.74 at Wal-Mart). American Girl's founder, Pleasant T. Rowland, used to be a teacher, and that too was irri­tating. In 1998, Mattel bought Pleasant Company, and a short time later, I relented. We acquired Kit, the Great Depression doll.

Then a friend handed down a Molly, American Girl's World War II doll. Daughter Number One approved of her accessory school desk and the fact that she knew about knitting blankets for soldiers.

Next, we purchased Addy, the Civil War doll. She, like each of the dolls, came with a novelette about her time period. A bad plantation owner sold Addy's father to another plantation; a bad overseer made Addy eat slugs. Then Addy and her mother escaped to freedom (we reread this story several times). Although we don't have Josefina, we do have Josefina's herb-gathering outfit--thank you, Grandma. And we do know she is Hispanic and lives on a rancho in the colonial New Mexico of 1824.

The facts and the stories hooked us. On Fifth Avenue, there's an American Girl store we have vis­ited twice. Molly had her hair done there. After an unfortunate blow to her eye, Kit went off in a wheel­chair to the American Girl hospital. I have drawn the line at buying tickets to an American Girl play (about Addy's flight), but my daughters are working to change their mother's mind.

So are millions of other girls, including, appar­ently, those who live far away from the three American Girl Place stores. One and a half million girls and their parents traveled an average of over four hours last year to visit the American Place flagship in Chicago (there's another in Los Angeles), spending an average of four hours and $225 there, pursuing such activities as dining on pancakes with their dolls.

The genius of the doll is that they get the Mothers hooked just as surely as the daughters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2007 7:57 AM

And even more so the grandmothers as I can confirm from personal experience.

Posted by: jeff at February 19, 2007 8:29 AM

And this from a hooked grandmother: they and their outfits and accessories are significantly more expensive than Barbies.
Next month I'm taking my granddaughter to an American Girl tea at a hotel in Boston. A seat for her, a seat for me, and one for the doll. My granddaughter doesn't know about the event yet, but when I asked which of her many American Girl dolls she'd take to an event, she replied, "I'd have to see how their outfits were working that day!!!!!!"

Posted by: dcj at February 19, 2007 8:58 AM

A relative insisted on buying these every year for my three daughters. They could have cared less. When they came of age they happily disposed of the stuff on E-bay.

Posted by: curt at February 19, 2007 10:01 AM

Between this an Build a Bears, my money is going out the door fast.

Posted by: pchuck at February 19, 2007 11:02 AM

pchuck, you ain't seen nuttin' yet. Start saving for the teenage years.

Posted by: erp at February 19, 2007 11:47 AM

My daughter is completely hooked and we are getting overrun. It's been a good lesson though as we make her save for her own clothing and accessories. You can good deals at Target and at the internet store that I started to give Mother who are hooked less expensive options Doll Clothes for 18 inch dolls and American Girl dolls

Posted by: inspirallc at February 20, 2007 11:07 AM