Our love affair with the American Girl books started with a desire to get the twins excited about reading on their own, for fun. I wanted to find something that would keep their interest and make them want to come back for more.
My cousin (who is just enough ahead of me in this parenting journey and oh so wise) told me how great the books are and what she did to encourage her girls. We tried out her advice with great success!
A Bit of Bribery
Basically, I showed each twin the different book series options and let them pick which character most interested them. Then I showed them the corresponding doll and told them that if they could read the whole series (6 short books), they could each earn the doll that looked just like that character. Oohing and aahing commenced and they were ready to get started. Maisy chose Samantha, and Laurel picked Molly.
Side note: Samantha was an easy doll to purchase. Molly, on the other hand, took some creativity since she is no longer available. A little bit of searching on eBay produced glasses and Molly’s signature outfit; then we went to the website and purchased the Truly Me® doll that looked most like her. Voilá we had a Molly doll!
Tip: If you can, get the older versions of the books that include all of the beautiful illustrations. The newer versions don’t have pictures!
Different Reading Levels
One of the twins got into the books right away. They were just at her level; she couldn’t put them down. She finished within a couple of weeks. From there she has taken off, reading anything she can get her hands on!
The other was not quite there and frustrated. At first, I thought it might have been a mistake to introduce the idea so early. But, with a little tweaking, it turned out to be a great thing for her. We read together; taking turns on each page. If there were words above her level, I quickly read them, and we continued. This reduced her frustration and helped her enjoy the story.
We had many (now 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 in Girls’ Terms
As we read together and I saw the girls’ love and fascination with the characters, I realized that these books are a fantastic tool to teach American History!
After the girls finished their books, they both wanted to know more about “Samantha’s time” and “Molly’s time.” It was natural to want to dig deeper and learn more. Together, we read about Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth and her sister Margaret as young girls living in Windsor Castle. We enjoyed connecting the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe to Molly’s time and learned more about Queen Victoria and English Workhouses because of Samantha.
The way the stories weave principles of loyalty, friendship, sacrifice and family love is magic. I also like how the parental characters are morally strong and respected. The girls learn about the importance of service 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, integrity, and pluck.
American Girl Book Club
We love these books so much that 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 way 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 on a doll for each my girls! I honestly considered buying an off-brand doll 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 number of less qualified toys from entering our home!). 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 and it makes me sad that many of the original dolls based on these fantastic books are discontinued. I know it is all consumer driven. I guess I just wish more people were interested in the historical dolls instead of luxury baths and purple hair extensions. But that’s just me. I’m weird. We have never purchased more than the dolls from American Girl choosing instead to let the girls be creative in making their own outfits and accessories. I went a little crazy last Christmas making doll clothes…it’s pretty addicting!
So that’s how American Girl helped my girls love to read and learn about history.
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?