I have been meaning to write this post for some time, but perhaps I am a little embarrassed about the topic. My 8 year-old daughter is into the American Girl Doll Books and we often read them to her during the day or as bed-time books. At first I rejected the whole American Girl Doll thing as terribly mainstream. Since our kids go to a Waldorf School, we are fairly counter-culture in how we go about parenting. Just look at the things:
They reminded me too much of the whole “Just Like Me” dolls and the hyper-narcissism that they imply. Our daughter did manage to get two American Girl Dolls (as gifts) but I really started to balk when the books started showing up in the house (from the library).
But then I took the time to actually read one of them to my daughter and I realized they were fairly interesting. Each book is based on a specific girl from a period in history (I think there are several based on current times as well). All the girls in the stories are between the ages of 10 and 12 (I think) and are based in different eras and generations:
When my wife and I were reading through the “Julie” stories we were struck by how well the reflected the times we grew up in. Of course it did not hurt that Julie lived in in the San Francisco Bay Area (where my wife grew up) and she was in exactly the same age group. But the portrayal of the times, with divorced parents and rebellious older siblings was a good picture of those times. Likewise the world of Kit, growing up in the Depression Era gave a very clear (and different) picture of what those times were about. The books have a somewhat moralistic tone (the kids are mostly do-gooders) but the times they live in are fair representations of history.
Reading the stories about the 1930′s were a particularly interesting lesson. One of the important concepts of generations is that we often repeat generational cycles because we don’t have a living history of those cycles. But books that give a 10-year-olds view of the Great Depression (a time similar to our current part of the cycle) are a great window into how to view that era and the people living in it. Hearing the compromises, fears and triumphs of kids living in the Depression (who would later go on to be the WWII heroes) is a unique perspective. Giving kids a perspective on what other children their age, in different times, have dealt with is a gentle introduction to how generational cycles work. My daughter did roll her eyes when she heard me say something about generations after reading one of the books. The kids hear enough about that stuff with Dad around…
It is also interesting to note that although the GIs, Silents and Generation X are represented in the series, there are no stories about the youth of the Boomers (born 1943-1960). Did Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best cover that period already or was their childhood just so boring that no one would be interested?