If you don’t have a little girl in your life you may not have heard of American Girl dolls. But if you have a daughter, granddaughter or niece, you’ve likely heard about these very special dolls. Yes, I said it. There is something special about American Girl dolls.
It took me awhile to warm up to the dolls because the price tag troubled me. At $110 a doll, I thought it was terribly wasteful. Do my granddaughters really need such an expensive toy? What’s the difference between a $20 doll from a discount store and these higher-priced dolls?
It turns out that there is a significant difference. It comes down to the dolls’ hair—and marketing.
My daughter-in-law Sara wisely didn’t want to invest in these costly dolls until she was sure her girls really wanted one, that it wasn’t just a passing thought. So she first purchased “knock-off” American Girls at a big discount store. My granddaughter AnnaBelle adored the doll and took as good care of it as a 4-year-old can, so the decision was made to make the big investment. All three of my older granddaughters, ages 9, 7 and AnnaBelle, 5, now have American Girl dolls. And little Eloise, 2 years old, has an American Girl “Bitty Baby,” an infant American Girl.
There is a difference. The American Girl dolls are amazingly well made in the USA, in Middleton, Wisconsin. Their bodies are solid and their hair is wonderful. The hair on the knock-off dolls seems to be some sort of acrylic material and it frays and tangles and becomes impossible to comb, let alone braid or decorate with hair ribbons. The American Girls, though, have soft, silky hair that can easily be styled. They are dolls that with care will last a lifetime. I imagine there are many, many, American Girl dolls sitting in a place of honor in college dorms and guest bedrooms of adult girls all over the country.
The hair is nice but what makes the dolls really different is marketing. American Girl is a very savvy company. They offer girls the option of creating a doll that looks just like them. At the American Girl store, there are dozens of dolls lined up in elegant cases. There are dolls with green, brown or blue eyes, with short blond hair or long black hair, short or curly. There are dolls with a wide variety of skin tones, with small smiles and wide smiles, with thin faces and rounder faces. Some have a sprinkling of adorable freckles. So little girls can create a doll that looks just like them. Granddaughter RaeAnne, for example, has a doll with glasses, just like hers.
I also like that the dolls exude caring and confidence. Along with the expensive dolls and the more-expensive accessories, there are books and games and crafts that empower girls. The historical line of dolls teaches snippets of history through the lives of special dolls such as Felicity, a spunky colonial girl growing up in America at the brink of the Revolutionary War or Molly, a World War II era girl who plants a Victory Garden and works with the Red Cross.
Of course I may be swayed by the adorable Great Depression doll, Kit Kittredge, who writes her own newspaper. That is a doll I would have adored when I was a little girl.
The American Girl dolls’ stories don’t just teach girls that they can accomplish great things; there is also an emphasis on doing good works. Kit Kittredge, for example, helps around the house because the family is forced to take in boarders to survive the Depression. She also rescues a homeless old dog. The theme of helping others makes the beautiful dolls more than just pretty playthings.
Being sold on the American Girl dolls, I happily accepted the invitation to travel to the American Girl doll store at the Mall of America with Sara and my three oldest granddaughters. The day at the mega-Mall was fun, but the American Girl store was a complete delight. The girls had a little shopping lesson. Accessories for their dolls are terribly expensive. There was a lot of pleading for little dresses or hats or boots and a lot of whispering, “It’s too expensive. We’ll look for it on Ebay later.”
The girls were good about being denied their requests, perhaps in part because the plan was to have lunch in the American Girl café. Or, perhaps because this grandmother, a sucker for the cute little dolls, offered to pay for the dolls to get their ears pierced. I wasn’t being overly generous—it was the cheapest option in the store! For $14 each doll got her ears pierced at the American Doll salon and got six pairs of earrings. It was fun to see how “brave” the dolls were.
The highlight of the day was of course our lunch at the American Doll café. A server who looked like she herself was a doll greeted us. She seated us in the cheery pink lunchroom and asked my granddaughters for their names. Throughout lunch, she called them by name and treated them like sophisticated young ladies. There were little pink highchairs for the dolls, so our doll friends Blueberry, Flower and Emily, had seats of honor as well. They had little pink plates and tiny teacups that matched ours. Dessert was a delicious doll-sized ice cream cone with sprinkles.
When we joked that little boys forced to join their moms or sisters at lunch must hate all the pink, our server smiled sweetly and said, “For them, it’s not pink—it’s light red.”
The lunch was lovely from start to finish, tasty and beautifully presented. It was expensive so it is not something you would do every day. Our server offered to take our picture together and it turned out to be a nice photo of all of us. The explosion of pink makes me smile. Thanks American Girl!
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Family and friendship are worth
more than anything you could ever
Kit Kittredge, American Girl