Growing up as an American Girl

This semester, I’m in a class titled African American Women Writers. To be honest, I was not all that excited to take the class. I register for it because it was a twofer. It took care of a diversity studies requirement and it finished off my electives for my English major. I would have much rather taken a class for modern short fiction, or some sort of creative writing, but once you’ve taken ten semesters of higher education, you realize that time is no longer of the essence and that  you want to get the hell out of college. At that point, you take whatever classes will let you do that.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoy the class. It helps that my professor – Norlisha Crawford – is an extremely engaging woman. I’ve had a few similarly themed classes – you know, minority or comparative studies – but they were fairly unremarkable. I took a Toni Morrison class that was incredible in a very Toni Morrison sort of way. Just when you think you know what’s going on with Morrison’s characters, she throws in a dead ghost baby or gossip from unnamed characters. The African Women’s literature (note the lack of American) class I took last semester was so incredibly dull. The class failed to peak any interest in colonialism. I thought the books on my syllabi were supposed to vie for my attention. They’re supposed to be strong examples of good literature that will drive me to learn more about the class’s topic. I’m sure my lack of interest in colonialism makes me a terrible liberal arts student, but whatever. You win some, you lose some.

Anyway, two weeks ago, we read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (read it for free here!) and one of the assignments for the class is a journal presentation. Basically, we can take any topic that we’ve mentioned in class, do some sort of research or elaboration and present it to the class. It’s extremely open-ended. Though I haven’t started the project, I’m planning on comparing Jacobs’s book with the story of Addy Walker. I’ll look at the differences between the reality that’s presented in the novel to the fictional account of Addy’s tale that was read by young girls.

I grew up with the American Girl Dolls. I first got a Bitty Baby – which I named Tia. I got the hispanic one, and I specifically remember deciding I wanted that one because it was different. I knew other girls would get the white baby with the blonde hair and blue eyes. Geez. Even as a seven-year old I was determined to be different. For Tia’s first birthday, my mother gave me silver Gerber spoons. When I was deemed both old enough and responsible enough, I got a real American Girl doll – Samantha. Over the course of a few years, my mother made clothes for Samantha, my dad and my grandfather made doll-sized furniture. My bedroom had more doll furniture than it did actual furniture. And it was awesome.

The awesome land of make believe and dolls aside, I also read the series ferociously. I had the entire collection – Addy, Samantha, Kristen, Molly, Felicity, and Josefina. These books were awesome. I went home this afternoon to get the Addy books for my presentation and I was able to look at my collection of books from my childhood. They were virtually all historical fiction. American Girls, Dear America, and Little House on the Prairie. I was such a cool kid. The American Girls of today are hardly recognizable. It looks like they replaced the historical education portion of the books with modern problems. I don’t have a problem with that, really. The company seems to have the same sort of mission – to encourage girls to be smart and socially aware. I think it’s just my sentimentality that makes it an issue. Where will nerdy girls get their historical fiction if not from American Girls? Where will they find possibly not very historically accurate representations of life throughout the history of America? If there is another company that does this, I’d like to know, because when I have a daughter I want her to be a socially aware, historically informed, brilliantly imaginative child.

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