The pre-tween set is abuzz with the rumor that the newest American Girl doll is Jewish. Officials at the Wisconsin-based company confirm that she is, indeed, a Jewish character, calling her “a lively girl from New York City,” but have embargoed her name and most other story details until May 29th.
American Girl dolls, for those who haven’t yet been indoctrinated, are larger-than-usual (18-inches tall) dolls with well-made clothes and overpriced accessories that inspire cultish devotion among the demographic that can afford them.
The company, started by a Wisconsin woman in 1982 and bought by Mattel in 1998 is indeed part of the entertainment-industrial complex, but I’ve found the dolls a welcome relief from the Barbie doll universe, which is dominated by dolls in makeup, clothes and heels that look more appropriate for grown-up play in the old Times Square than they do play for little girls.
Don’t even get me started about inappropriateness of Bratz dolls, who dress like the Pussycat Dolls and are hardly the models of womanhood, even if only in plastic, that I want in front of my young daughters.
American Girl dolls have a different feel. The historical dolls that are the backbone of the AG enterprise are built around fully-fleshed-out characters, about 10 years old, who behave like real girls — full of spunk and intelligence.
The dolls are built like actual girls, with none of the unrealistic wasp waists and implant-inspired breasts that ruin other popular brands for me. Each character comes with books filled with details about the periods when the characters lived, from the 1700s through the 1970s, and give readers easy-to-imbibe history lessons along with the escapades.
The catch is, though, that they’re all expensive — about $100 for each doll, including a book and outfit — and sold only through the AG catalogue, Web site and stores, which also sell matching human-sized clothing for girls. Accessories can be lavish and are priced to match, ranging from a few dollars for a pair of doll shoes or glasses, to $349 for a doll storage cabinet.
American Girl Place stores are impressive exercises in savvy marketing. Each has a fancy café where a girl and her grown-ups can have high tea or lunch, complete with doll-sized teacups and chairs. The stores have salons where, for a price, used-and-abused dolls are put into beauty-parlor chairs and given the French braids or curls of their girl-owner’s choice, and the girls get matching hair do-dads.
The New York store’s personal shopper recently sent out an email promoting the Jewish AG doll’s official debut day on May 31st, with an array of activities at the store and at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. In June,you can go on an AG New York City harbor cruise and dinner — kosher-style, with glatt-kosher available.
Plus, the AG Web site has just started offering a “Chanukah gift set” for $20 — replete with a doll-sized menorah, dreidel and gelt. Probably getting an early start on the rush for the newest American Girl doll.
My 10-year-old daughter and her pals can’t wait.