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I still have my Samantha doll. I was in an American Girl club when I was in second grade (you didn’t need to have a doll to join, but I got one for Christmas that year). I grew up in the kind of place where most of my friends had at least one, if not two, American Girl dolls. A friend of mine had horse, that a part of me still covets today. American Girl (AG) was a part of my life that I look back on fondly, but never really explored again. In recent years, there have been podcasts and other media focusing on the brand’s impact on the lives of people who grew up with Felicity, Samantha, Kirsten, Molly and Addy (and, later, Josephina, Kaya …and after that I lost count, so the scope of this article will be girls from the 90s and very early 2000s).

The announcement that Brit Bennett had written the book for Claudie, a new American Girl doll growing up in 1920s Harlem made me realize that I had no idea who had written the American Girl books. ID grew up with. I hadn’t thought of them as having authors at all – they just sort of were. My second, most likely guess would have been that the books were written in some kind of Carolyn Keene situation.

A Brief History of American Girl Publishing in the 1990s.

The first American Girl books were published in 1986 and focused on the three dolls available at the time – Samantha, Kirsten and Molly. 2016 marked the first time American Girl was licensed with an outside publisher, Scholastic. The cookbooks are now published by Simon and Schuster while some of the fiction books are published by Random House Children’s Books. Some of the original historical novels are hard to find, but I’ve seen a bunch of them on Etsy and AbeBooks. Some are also available for Kindle.

The 1990s weren’t just about dolls, of course. There was the magazine and monthly catalogs that seemed to find any home with a preteen girl. Who hasn’t spent an hour going around all these miniatures out of reach of most families? My friends and I also loved the advice books, which were a slumber party staple and when we ran out of AG-approved embarrassing moments, we turned to the internet with far less wholesome results. AG cornered the market on things like craft books, cookbooks, and guides on how to be a good friend and responsible member of the community. They are now posting a line called A smart girl’s guideincluding A Smart Girl’s Guide: The Digital World and A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race and Inclusion.

One of the best-known non-fiction titles published by AG of my time was The care and custody of you, written by Valorie Lee Schaefer. It is still being published and has sold over five million copies to date. A revised “older girl” book was published in 2013, but you can still get the original “younger girl” edition (but without the stamp spread). This incredible article gives a great overview and history of this particular title. Spoiler alert: there have always been people who wanted to keep us in the dark about our own bodies.

The women who brought us the girls

My recollection of the texts themselves are slightly fuzzy and only relate to things like Samantha and the accidentally salty birthday ice cream, Molly sitting in front of a plate of turnips stilland Felicity describing the smell of a tannery.

And while the titles of the early American Girl books all followed the same pattern of introductions, birthday celebrations, Christmas, “saving the day” and “changes” (you can still get some of those classics 90s as Kindle books), A quick search of the American Girl site tells me that all of their historical books still don’t feature their authors on the covers. With the exception of Meet Claudie by Brit Bennett. Despite the fact that they always seemed to exist for me, the American Girl books of the 1990s had authors.

Valerie Tripp wrote many of the early American Girl books, including books for Samantha, Molly, Felicity, and Josefina. The most recent book is Izzy Newton and the SMART Squad (with illustrator Geneva Bowers) for National Geographic. She has also written about Greek mythology and worked on mid-level adaptations of classics such as Sherlock Holmes and Tom Sawyer.

Kirsten’s books have been written by Janet Beeler Shaw, who has also published two collections of poetry‚ a collection of short fiction‚ and a novel for adults‚ Take a vacation. She is also the author of the Ambersand Castle trilogy.

Shaw is also the author of the Kaya books. American Girl worked with indigenous peoples to create the face mold for the Kaya doll (other American girls until then had smiles that showed their teeth, which would have been considered disrespectful). The brand has worked with the Nez Percé (Nimíipuu) but has not hired an author with a related background, which they have done more often in recent years for their historical and modern characters. Kaya’s books differ from the early American Girl books because her life milestones would not include things like Christmas.

Contributors to Samantha’s story were Susan S. Adler, Maxine Rose Schur, and Valerie Tripp. Schur has written other children’s books, including his most recent Finley finds his fortune and child of the sea. She is also a travel writer who wrote a collection called Places in time.

Addy’s books were written by Connie Rose Porter, who is also the author of Imani all mine and Bright courtyard. Porter was honored as an Uncrowned Queen Culture Builder by the Uncrowned Queen’s Institute for Women’s Research and Education. Porter and Brit Bennett also met recently at the American Girl Store in New York for the release of Bennett’s book and the photos are stunning.


Even though I never understood the American Girl video game and will always feel like “my” American Girls were the pinnacle of the brand, I’m so glad the girls of today still have the girls from before to look up to and that those girls now come from a wider range of time periods and diverse backgrounds than I had access to (but ask me again how I feel when the day comes and I am facing a historical doll from 2020. Courtney’s 1986 is about as far as I want to go).

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