I wanted to give you a bit of an inside look into my love and passion for these books and the dolls!
Here’s a few articles that I read and reviewed while working on this post:
- A New Twist on Timeless Toys (Pleasant Rowland, CNN Money, October 2002)
- The American Girl way (Chicago Tribune, December 2011)
- The Rise of American Girl Rebecca Rubin (Forward.com, January 2013)
- 25 Spirited Facts About American Girl Dolls (Mental Floss, September 2015)
Before we dive into my love / passion for these books and dolls, here’s a brief history of Pleasant Company and American Girl.
Pleasant Company was launched in 1986 by former textbook writer Pleasant Rowland. The idea was sparked when she wanted to buy dolls for her nieces, ages 8 and 10 at the time, and the only options available were Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies.
She then took a trip with her husband to Colonial Williamsburg, and she was inspired by the history there. She thought girls would be interested in learning more about history by connecting with dolls associated with certain historical time eras.
There were three original Historical Characters when the company started in 1986:
- Kirsten Larson, 1854
- Samantha Parkington, 1904
- Molly McIntire, 1944
Here is the complete list of Historical Characters the company has created:
- Kaya, 1764
- Felicity Merriman, 1774
- Elizabeth Cole, 1774 (Felicity’s best friend)
- Caroline Abbott, 1812
- Josefina Montoya, 1824
- Marie-Grace Gardner, 1853
- Cecile Rey, 1853
- Kirsten Larson, 1854
- Addy Walker, 1864
- Samantha Parkington, 1904
- Nellie O’Malley, 1904 (Samantha’s best friend)
- Rebecca Rubin, 1914
- Kit Kittredge, 1934
- Ruthie Smithens, 1934 (Kit’s best friend)
- Molly McIntire, 1944
- Emily Bennett, 1944 (Molly’s best friend)
- Maryellen Larkin, 1954
- Melody Ellison, 1964
- Julie Albright, 1974
- Ivy Ling, 1974 (Julie’s best friend)
In 1995, the company debuted its American Girl of Today product line, where girls could pick from a variety of hair, eye, and skin colors to make their own dolls. Today, it has been relabeled several times, and it’s now branded as the Truly Me line. The company even offers dolls without hair for girls with alopecia, hair loss, or going through cancer treatments.
In 1998, Rowland sold Pleasant Company to Mattel for approximately $700 million dollars!
In 2001, American Girl launched its “Girl of the Year” (GOTY) line. With the exceptions of Lindsey (2001-2002) and Kailey (2003-2004), all GOTY dolls have only been available for one calendar year, with the new doll being unveiled on January 1st.
Along the way, several Historical Characters have been archived – Samantha and Nellie, Kirsten, Felicity and Elizabeth, Molly and Emily, Marie-Grace and Cecile, and a few others. The decision was made for all the “Best Friends” dolls to be archived by August 2014. Caroline Abbott was the most recent character to be archived, in spring 2015. The only two Historical Characters to have been brought out of the archives, so far, are Samantha, and Felicity.
In the summer of 2014, American Girl revamped its Historical Characters line into the BeForever line. The original six-book set was redesigned into two main volumes, and then what’s called a “Journey Book,” where a modern-day girl goes on a journey with one of the Historical girls.
Currently, in 2017, the BeForever line has approximately 10 characters, with the 11th being Nanea Mitchell, 1941, scheduled to officially debut at the end of August. Gabriela is the current GOTY. There is a new Contemporary Characters line of 18-inch dolls, consisting of Tenney Grant, Logan Everett, and Z Yang. Logan Everett is the company’s first boy doll. Z Yang is the first doll to be created from American Girl’s popular YouTube channel. The WellieWishers are a series of five 14.5-inch dolls, designed for younger girls. Bitty Babies are also available for children ages 3 and up.
Now, if I remember correctly, I was given my Bitty Baby doll in 1994 or 1995. I have some photos from a few vintage Pleasant Company Holiday Catalogs below.
Before I even received my first 18-inch doll, my “American Girl of Today” that I named Stephanie, I absolutely fell in love with the American Girl books!Before the BeForever line was introduced, each Historical Character had a “Central Series” of six books. I’ll use Molly’s name as an example:
- Meet Molly: An American Girl
- Molly Learns A Lesson: A School Story
- Molly’s Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Molly!: A Springtime Story
- Molly Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Molly: A Winter Story
The six books cover approximately two years of each character’s life. I loved reading and re-reading these books. There were beautiful illustrations in every one! My personal library had all of Felicity’s books, and Samantha’s, in hardcover. I borrowed the rest from the library, over and over. When I was in speech therapy for most of elementary school, I distinctly remember reading Felicity’s books out loud to my parents as practice.
Eventually, I gave away most of my American Girl book collection to other girls, and the library. Now, I’ve been feverishly rebuilding my childhood library, and then some! I have a huge copy paper box in my office space that is overflowing with books. I’m so excited to get my huge bookcase from my parents, and promptly fill it up.
In addition to the Central Series, American Girl has published other contemporary titles for girls, and I owned many of them (Games and Giggles, Tiny Treasures, Help!, The Care & Keeping of You, etc.). They have also published multiple short stories and mysteries featuring the Historical Characters. I’m also very fond of the 22-book History Mysteries series, as well as the eight Girls of Many Lands books.
I will never stop loving the books!
This is one of the vintage Pleasant Company catalogs that I recently purchased from someone on Facebook. I loved looking through these as a kid, over and over.
Here’s some photos featuring the American Girl of Today line!
I absolutely love the older catalogs! I’ve had so much fun recently, looking through the three that I recently purchased. So many memories!!
Here’s a fun quiz:
- Which ’90s American Girl Doll Are You? (MTV, May 2015)
Here’s my results:
“Hey, Molly. You either wanted to be a Samantha but got stuck with a mom who gave you Molly (raises hand reluctantly), proudly wore glasses, loved World War II, or all of the above. Either way, be proud of your inner Molly — though you suck at doing math.”
I’ve always loved Molly! I definitely wore glasses, from sixth grade on. And I definitely suck at math!
This past week, American Girl officially launched their newest product – “Create Your Own” American Girl!
The new doll line is a bit more expensive than the other dolls, around $200. But, after nearly 20 years of having a blonde doll, I think it’s high time that I have one that actually looks like me!
My doll collection, at the moment, consists of five dolls:
- Stephanie, my American Girl of Today, 1997 — Mom and Dad bought Stephanie for me for Christmas. I was a very happy 9-year-old!
- Molly McIntire, 1944 — Molly was the first doll that I bought with my own money, right before she was archived in 2013.
- Kit Kittredge, 1934 — Al bought her for me for my birthday in August 2016.
- Chrissa Maxwell, Girl of the Year, 2009 — I quickly identified with Chrissa’s character several years ago. Her story revolves around bullying. Chrissa came home to me in early 2017.
- Unnamed American Girl of Today, circa 1996 — I bought this doll off eBay in 2016, trying to help out someone on a Facebook group with creating Harry Potter dolls. That never happened, so I kept her. I may turn her into Hermione Granger someday 🙂
I have a few other dolls on my wish list. Aside from Bethany, my Create Your Own, I would love to eventually own Nanea, 1941, and Maryellen, 1954.
As long as I live, I don’t think I will ever get “too old” for American Girl. It’s been such a staple in my life since the mid-1990s!
I’ve always appreciated Pleasant Company’s and American Girl’s dedication to historical accuracy. I give immense credit to these books for making me love history!
I’ve written Book Reviews on several of the new BeForever books, including Maryellen’s and Melody’s stories. For my birthday last week, Al bought me the two Classic volumes of Felicity’s books, and I can’t wait to read those. I’m also very excited for several new releases this winter (I may or may not have already pre-ordered these from Amazon):
- The Underground Railroad (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time)
- Titanic (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time)
- A Girl Named Hillary: The True Story of Hillary Clinton (American Girl: A Girl Named)
- A Girl Named Rosa: The True Story of Rosa Parks (American Girl: A Girl Named)
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂