I have a confession to make. I was an American Girl. In my youth, I devoured the American Girl series books, and I owned many of the dolls, gifts from my grandmother on birthdays and Christmases. Samantha was my favorite doll, because she was the first. I even have a vague memory of taking her to church with my one morning. Of the books, I loved Addy’s story the most, because hers had the greatest drama, the struggle from slavery to freedom. Even then, I loved a little meat on the bones. When I was a bookseller, I ran an American Girl book club for young girls, and I loved researching the time periods and coming up with fun activities for us to do together. When we talked about Kaya, the Nez Perce Native American Girl, we talked together for nearly an hour about Nez Perce culture and history and we learned some Indian sign language. For our session about Rebecca, the newest historical girl in the series, I pulled out the television set and showed the girls some silent films from 1914, which satisfied the film geek in me and entertained the girls.
Kanani Akina is the 2011 American Girl of the Year, and along with the trademark doll comes two books, Aloha, Kanani and Good Job, Kanani. Her story takes place on the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i, in the small town of Waipuna. For one month in the summer, she’s going to be host to her cousin Rachel from New York, and she’s determined to make her feel welcome. Unfortunately, when Rachel arrives, she doesn’t seem to fit in to Hawaiian life. She tells Kanani all about the fancy places she visits in New York, she doesn’t want to go in the ocean, and she spends a lot of time alone. In Good Job, Kanani, Kanani tries to help the endangered monk seal by working her parents’ shave ice stand to raise money to print up posters, but ends up fighting with her best friend Celina, who wants to spend more time surfing. In typical American Girl fashion, both problems are solved by story’s end, in a way that is sensitive to all the girls’ feelings, supports environmental responsibility and the spirit of good, clean fun.
American Girl as a brand is a little tricky for me. On the one hand, there is the money-making side of the company, the overpriced dolls and clothes and furniture and little add-ons to buy online or through their catalogue. There’s even the line of American Girl stores, which feature doll hair salons and cafes and special party packages, all designed to bring in the dough. On the other hand, you have a company that has been dedicated to teaching good qualities to young girls for twenty-five years. Each American Girl story nowadays, including Kanani’s, can be guaranteed to encourage friendship, understanding, community outreach and physical activity. American Girl also prints non-fiction books geared towards helping girls deal with bullies, divorce, money and a myriad of other topics. They also publish one of the best “you and your body” books for young girls on the market today: The Care and Keeping of You. So despite big-corporation misgivings, I’ve always given American Girl the benefit of the doubt, and will continue to do so. I think the good that is spread through the books and activities outweigh the bad you might find.
Aloha, Kanani and Good Job, Kanai by Lisa Yee
2011, American Girl