Our love affair with the American Girl books started with a desire to get the twins excited about reading on their own, for fun. They were at completely different reading levels but I wanted to find something that would keep their interest and make them want to come back for more.
My cousins (who are just enough ahead of me in this parenting journey to be so wise) told me how great the books were and what they did to encourage their girls. We tried out their advice with great success!
A Bit of Bribery
Basically, I showed the twins the different book series options and let them pick which character they were most interested in. I then showed them the corresponding doll and told them that if they could read the whole series (6 short books) they could earn a doll that looked just like their favorite character.
One chose Samantha and the other picked Molly. Side note: Samantha was an easy doll to get but Molly took some creativity since she has been discontinued. A little bit of searching on Ebay produced her glasses and outfit; then we just purchased the Truly Me® doll that looked most like her and voilá we had a Molly doll!
Bonus tip: If you can, get the older versions of the books that include all of the wonderful illustrations. The newer versions don’t have the pictures!
Different Reading Levels
One of the twins got into the books right away. They were just at her level and she absolutely could not put them down. She finished within a couple of weeks. The other was not quite there and was getting frustrated. At first, I thought it might have been a mistake to introduce the idea so early to her. But, with a little tweaking, it turned out to be a really great thing for her. We read together; she read one page and I read the next. If there were large words above her level, I quickly read them and we continued on. This reduced her frustration and helped her stay with the story.
We had many treasured afternoons together reading these great books. By the end of the third book, she was reading more confidently than ever and taking on a lot of the challenging words herself. The dolls started as the motivation, but soon the story took center stage. They both LOVED the stories. I did too!
An Amazing Way To Teach History on Girls’ Terms
I’m so glad I got to read with my girl and experience Molly McIntire. To see World War II from a young American girl’s perspective was pretty cool. It helped me realized that these books are an amazing tool to teach American History!
After the girls finished their series, they both wanted to know more about “Samantha’s time” or “Molly’s time”. Together, we have learned about Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth and her sister Margaret as girls living in Windsor Castle, enjoyed connecting the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe to Molly and Queen Victoria and workhouses to Samantha.
The way the stories weave principles of loyalty, friendship, sacrifice and family love is magic. I like how the parental characters are strong and respected. And the girls learn about the importance of helping and seeing beyond themselves to help others. These books aren’t afraid to tackle hard/sad subjects in history, but do it in a way that encourages lessons in courage, true strength, integrity, and pluck.
American Girl Book Club
We love these books so much, we started a book club this year with a group of friends. It is called Liberty Girls. We are reading all of the main books in chronological order and celebrating a different character each month. The girls each talk about their favorite character, event, etc. and bring a craft, game, food, whatever from that era. Nothing too complicated, just something they’d each like to share. It is an easy and very effective tool to get our kids (and now their friends) excited about history!
My Love/Hate Relationship with American Dolls
The last thing I thought I’d ever do is spend over $100 a doll for each my girls! I honestly considered buying an off-brand and dressing it like the character. But after talking to many others who have gone both ways, I figured that the dolls were pretty superior in quality and would hopefully stand the test of time.
Our toy philosophy over here is quality over quantity (although it seems a never ending battle keeping the quantity of less qualified toys from entering our home – please tell me I’m not alone!). The dolls are cherished and played with more than any other toy and I believe they are a gift that will keep on giving.
That being said, I don’t appreciate how my girls get marketed to. I hate the branding, the “must haves” – all of it. American Girl has gone from small, sweet merchandise to overwhelming – I think the stores themselves and the magazines, movies, modern dolls, etc. that go with them is too much!
It also makes me sad that many of the original dolls based on these fantastic books have been discontinued. I know it is all consumer driven. I guess I just wish more people were interested in the historical characters instead of luxury baths and purple hair extensions. But that’s just me. We have never purchased more than the dolls from American Girl choosing instead to let the girls be creative in making their our own outfits, accessories, etc. I’ve had some fun making things too.
One Last Thought
If you’re thinking this would be a good idea for your child, I have one more thing for you to consider. With our first two, this system was great! Worked like a charm and turned into so much more than we could have imagined. But with our third daughter, who has a learning disability and has really struggled with reading, it has been a sharp reminder that she isn’t there yet.
It has been hard for her, as she has had to wait to get to the point of reading about her chosen girl. If I could have seen into the future when we started this with the twins, I may have done things differently…or not….who knows. The good news is that she is really motivated to get there. The bad news is that she sometimes does feel left out. She is determined though and we both know that her time will come. I think she will feel extra special when that day finally does arrive. Childhood is hard. Parenting is hard. The End.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on American Girl books and dolls! Have you read them? Did you have the dolls as a child? Do your children have them now?