If you were a girl in the 80s who loved to read and loved dolls, then chances are you probably had an American Girl doll. In 1986 The Pleasant Company released really expensive 18-inch dolls with accompanying books that portrayed ten-year-old girls of a variety of ethnicities living in various times throughout American history. The first three that were released were Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. You may remember them:
For some reason all the girls live in years that ended in the number 4. Kirsten Larson is a ten-year-old Swedish pioneer girl living in Minnesota in the year 1854. It should come as no surprise that Kirsten was the first one I read, and was obviously my favorite, even though she’s poor and her best friend dies of cholera. Samantha Parkington has an awesome name and is undoubtedly the coolest of the trio, living in New York in 1904. She doesn’t have parents, but lives with her rich, old-fashioned grandma and wears awesome dresses. Molly McIntire is the most modern of the three and lives “on the homefront” in Illinois in 1944 during World War II. It sucks that her dad is fighting overseas, but Molly has a really good sense of humor, which gets her through the day.
Riding the popularity of these first three dolls and books, Pleasant Company started releasing more girls. Felicity is a Revolutionary War girl living in Virginia in 1774; Addy is the first American Girl of color, being a Civil War slave girl living in the North in 1864; Josefina, a Latina, lives in New Mexico before it was New in 1824; Kit lives in Ohio during the Great Depression in 1934; Kaya is a Native American girl living in the Pacific Northwest way back in 1764; Julie is a hippie child living in San Francisco in 1976 (the first time the year doesn’t end in 4); and Rebecca “Beckie” is a Jewish girl living in New York in 1914.
The books all follow the same pattern. The first book of each series introduces us to the character, for example, Meet Kirsten, Meet Samantha, etc. The following five books are as follows:
- (Name) Learns a Lesson – A School Story
- (Name’s) Surprise – A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, (Name) – A Spring Story
- (Name) Saves the Day – A Summer Story
- Changes for (Name) – A Winter Story
After they introduced Kaya, they started to change up the titles of the books a little, and that’s actually when I stopped reading the books. I’ve collected them all up through Meet Kaya, which I haven’t even read yet. I guess that’s what happens when they start changing things on me. That and the fact that I am rather old for these books.
So now that I can look back on the series in retrospect, I can think of some opportunities Pleasant Company had in picking their new characters. There’s obviously some parts of history that are missing from the collection, and I feel it’s my duty to share with the world what could have been.
Alice Greensmith – 1692
Alice is your typical ten-year-old Puritan girl living in Salem, Massachusetts, except for the fact that she’s been accused of being a witch! She suffers through infamous Salem Witch Trials with her best friend Honor Parsons, whose father is the very man who has accused Alice of being a witch! Which side will Alice’s friend take, and will Alice survive to see 1693?
Caroline Woodacre – 1865
Caroline is a beautiful Southern Belle living in Savannah during the Civil War. Her brother has enlisted for the Confederacy, and she lives each day wondering if she’ll hear from him again. Her best friend Ada is also her maid, and it’s Ada to whom Caroline spills her secrets. Witness the collapse of the Confederacy and the takeover of Savannah through the eyes of Caroline, who manages to keep upbeat and positive throughout the whole thing.
Sarah Jacobs – 1899
Sarah is a New York girl who loves her dresses. But when her father gets injured on the job and can’t make money to support the family, it’s time for Sarah – the oldest of two girls – to step up. The only job she can get is putting on pants and a hat and disguising herself as a “Newsie”, a boy who sells newspapers on the street for a penny a pape. Read about Sarah’s hilarious adventures with the other newsies, from getting into fights with scabs to jumping off the docks in Brooklyn. But will someone discover Sarah’s secret?
Isabella Paolini – 1923
Isabella has just immigrated from a small town in Italy to the big city of Chicago in the year 1923. Her parents open an authentic Italian pizzeria, which becomes the official hangout of Al Capone and his gang. Al sees “Bella” as the daughter he never had and showers her with extravagant gifts every time he sees her. Until “Uncle Al” is charged with tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years in Alcatraz.
Kyoko Oshiro – 1942
Kyoko is a fun-loving Japanese-American girl living in Southern California in 1942 during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Shortly after the attack, Kyoko and her family are taken to Manzanar War Relocation Center because the United States was “taking precautions” and they’re held for three years as “political prisoners”. Kyoko meets Midori, a spunky tomboy who loves to play practical jokes on the guards. Kyoko knows she’s stuck, but her friendship with Midori and her way of seeing the good in everyone gets her through the day.
Karen Adams – 1962
It’s 1962, and Karen is a quiet, bookish ten-year-old whose home is on the island of Key West, Florida. Everything is hunky-dory until rumor has it that Russians have missiles in Cuba, which is only 90 miles away from Karen’s house! From air-raid drills during school to building nuclear-resistant bomb shelters, the whole island is on edge, fighting for food in grocery stores, and wondering and waiting if they’ll live to see tomorrow. Will shy Karen find a way to bring everyone together? And will Key West escape a nuclear attack?
Jennifer Williams – 1985
Valley girl Jennifer’s favorite thing to do with her friends in Northridge, California, is go to the mall. Rain or shine, you can bet Jennifer is hanging out at Claire’s, drinking an Orange Julius, or playing with the puppies at the pet store. Join in on the fun with Jennifer and her mallrat pals as they take over the Northridge Fashion Center and buy huge hoop earrings, leg warmers, cassette tapes, and LA Gear Sneakers.
Clearly there’s a ton of opportunity for more American Girl stories – Pleasant Company just needs to know where to look. And hey, since I already have the ideas in my head, they should just hire me. I can take the company and these stories to a place they’ve never been.