a trip down memory lane, American girl style

When I was growing up, I loved the American Girl books. The one thing my sisters and I wanted more than anything were American Girl dolls. To this day, my sisters and I are Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, and Josefina (in order of age–that makes me Kirsten) to my one aunt. We had picked our favorite characters and the nicknames stuck. Each girl had 6 books in her series:

  • Meet Kirsten
  • Kirsten Learns a Lesson
  • Kirsten’s Surprise
  • Happy Birthday, Kirsten!
  • Kirsten Saves the Day
  • Changes for Kirsten
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As far as some of the original AGs go, each had these 6 books, just change the respective name. The newer additions don’t go by these specific titles anymore. Growing up, Josefina (1824) was the new AG, and there were already Felicity (1774), Kirsten (1854), Addy (1864), Samantha (1904) and Molly (1944). Today there is also Kaya (1764), Rebecca (1914), Kit (1934), and Julie (1974).
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Anyways, I really liked these books growing up. The girls were my age. They were historical fiction–I always loved history. And they were inspirational. Something I find a bit cheesy reading them now, but I think it’s important for young girls to know they can do stuff. Lucky for me, my step-niece is almost 8 and she loves reading and loves her AG doll. So I bought her some of the AG books: Meet Rebecca (she has the Rebecca doll), Meet Kit, and Meet Julie. Those are the series my older sister doesn’t have from our past, so I thought I’d start her off with these new ones.
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And then a thought occurred to me: I should read the books before I give them to her 🙂
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So here are some thoughts on these three books.
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Meet Rebecca

by Jacqueline Dembar Greene — 77 pages — 9781593695200 — published in 2009

Nine-year-old Rebecca is a first generation American-born daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants. In typical pre-teen manner, she feels she is too young to do what she thinks she can do–light the Sabbath candles–and obviously too old for anything she is allowed to do. It is 1914 and her father’s brother’s family is still stuck in Russia under the tightening grip of the tsar. But Rebecca’s father doesn’t have the money to get them all to America. In a stroke of genius rebecca gets it into her head to sell her crocheted linens she has made for her trousseau–who needs a trousseau anymore?! Yes, her first thought was to make money to buy her own set of candlesticks so she could light them on the Sabbath. But, in the end, she realized it would be better to use it for helping others–a mitzvah.

I think this book really hit hard on the message that helping others is better than helping yourself. Rebecca wanted to buy her own candlesticks, but she had to remind herself 3-4 times that her poor family was more important than herself. I think that as a nine-year-old, that would ring pretty true. But reading it as a 24-year-old, I sort of felt that it was wrong to devalue oneself in order to help others–sometimes yourself is important too.

And, as always, I loved the historic context at the end of the book!

Meet Kit

by Valerie Tripp — 69 pages — 9781584850168 — published in 2000

It is 1932. Nine-year-old Kit lives in Cincinnati with her parents and older brother, Charlie (16), when unemployment finally catches up to the Kittredge family. Kit’s father is forced to close down his car dealership which had been running on his savings, leaving the family with nothing. But Kit’s mom knows just how to fix everything. In an offhanded remark, she says she will open the house to boarders–upon second thought, the family decides it is a good way to make money until the breadwinner can find a new job. Kit learns that change doesn’t always have to be bad, even if it’s not agreeable in the beginning. And, like Rebecca before her, that the overall picture is more important than a single person. Kit will need to make some sacrifices until the state of the country is better.

Interestingly enough, I found this story to be a little bland. That could be because it is of a slightly depressing nature, due to unemployment and the Depression. And it doesn’t seem that Kit plays any large role in the story, even though she narrates it. But, then again, I suppose that would make her very like a typical nine-year-old girl: nothing special (meaning not different from an average middle-class white girl).

Meet Julie

by Megan McDonald — 88 pages– 9781593692575 — published in 2007

At nine years old, Julie Albright already has a lot on her plate. Her parents just divorced, her older 15-year-old sister is being “just a teenager”, and she has to move, leaving her best friend across town. With her new school comes new struggles. She wants to play basketball, but the school’s coach won’t let her play on the boy’s team (and there’s no girl’s team). And thus the challenge that Julie faces is to change that. “Any time you try to change something it’s going to be difficult.” (p65)

I think this was a good one to start a little series set in the 1970s. It has a good nine-year-old perspective on a very tumultuous time, culturally and politically.

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