Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bye Bye Samantha Parkington.....

There are few things that meant as much to me as my American Girl dolls when I was little. As a young girl who was raised in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was almost a requirement to have received one of the American Girl dolls. I remember making the hard decision, and it was tough, as to which Girl would fit my personality best and essentially which one would become my large Christmas present when I was ten years old. My friend Joanna had already received Samantha earlier that year for her 10th birthday, so after much debate, I decided to go with Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant, who was raised in Minnesota during the 1800’s. As a girl of Scandinavian descent, I felt that her story was the closest to mine, which was the original reason I chose her. The following year I was so intrigued by the story of Molly, a young girl dealing with some interesting struggles during World War II that I begged and pleaded with my mother to get her as a present that Christmas. Why the trip down American Girl lane? Well earlier this week American Girl and Mattel announced that they would be retiring Samantha Parkington, an original doll from the company’s inception in 1986. This news seriously broke my 27 year-old heart for various reasons. Obviously, it’s always weird to realize that a doll that was so fresh and interesting to you when you were a kid has racked up enough time in the passing years to become something worthy of retiring. It’s also sad that while this might only be around one doll, odds are other dolls will be retired soon, meaning maybe no more Kirsten or Molly. But overall the saddest thing about the story is the weight that these dolls and “their stories” carried with my friends and I and how other little girls will be missing out.

While many can look at American Girl dolls as overpriced and a true sign of our object crazy culture, I look at these dolls and their stories a bit differently. Sometimes kids need things tangible to learn and I believe that these dolls are the perfect examples of this. Many girls could be dissuaded to learn and become engrossed in history, because let’s be honest, it’s not a subject that covers a lot of women. Most of the stories in history books are about the struggle of men and the course they took, especially when it comes to that of American history. Also, if you are like me, you retain more information when it is presented in a personal way than if it was just spouted out as fact. The great thing about the dolls, their books and collections, was that it gave me an insider’s look at different generations of Americans and the struggles they went through. Samantha Parkington, was an orphan who moved in with her wealthy grandmother and told the story of growing up a little girl in 1904. Kirsten presented the difficulties that came with being an immigrant and a pioneer in the 1800’s and Molly gave a real life look into what it was like for our grandparents growing up during World War II. It was with their back stories that I learned about celebrating St. Lucia Day, the depression, adoption, and the overall struggles of Americans that came before the flashy 21st century. While other dolls have followed in their paths, it wasn’t the doll and clothes that made so many little girls fascinated with American Girls, but it was the story behind these girls.

Earlier this year, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which was the first major studio movie based on of the “lives” of an American Girls doll, came to the big screens and it energized a lot of little girls. American Girls in recent years started making various models of dolls that looked more like you, with many nationalities and races and hair colors to choose from, but these dolls lacked back stories. I want to make sure that children maintain an interest in reading and learning about those who came before them and I honestly think that Samantha, Kirsten and Molly helped so many of us learn things we might not have ever checked into. My hope is that Samantha was retired so a new doll, maybe celebrating the lives of young girls in 1960’s & 1970’s, can become available and get kids today energized in history. Samantha’s books will still be available and maybe her early retirement could make little ones even more interested in her backs story. But to American Girls’ credit, they are asking friends of Samantha to visit their site and share memories of Ms. Parkington. I personally will be discussing my first tea party that I had with Samantha devotees about 16 years ago. What’s your favorite American Girl story?