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COMMENTARY

'American Girl': The Books and Beyond

By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer

Felicity, Samantha, Molly, Josefina, Kit – thanks to today’s marketing efforts, these young girls have been transported from just characters in historically based children’s books to a growing phenomenon for many of today’s up-and-coming young ladies age 7 to 12, complete with accompanying dolls, an online store, a well-circulating magazine, three Made-for-TV movies, several fancy American Girl Place stores with cafes, and most recently, a new major motion picture based on the character of Kit called Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which details the life of a 9-year-old spunky tomboy tasked with keeping spirits alive and solving a mysterious string of robberies during the Great Depression in Cincinnati. The G-rated movie stars Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin, Chris O’Donnell, and Julia Ormond, with Joan Cusack and Stanley Tucci.

And for some special young ladies who just happen to be in one of these blessed cities – New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, or Alpharetta (Ga.) –today, June 20, is when you get to watch a free advance screening of the film, or what the Web site is calling “exclusive engagements”.

For those unable to obtain those free tickets, you will get your chance to enjoy the new movie come July 2, when the film opens nationwide.

It’s About the Story, Not the Dolls

If all you know about American Girl is the American Girl Place stores and the dolls and all the stuff you can buy, then I’ve got news for you. You are really missing out on something truly wonderful, because at the core of American Girl are some really upstanding, inspiring heroines who tell great stories.

But if you are like some people that I know, that concept has gotten lost under layers of commercialism. As Beth Patch explains when I asked her if she was going to see the new American Girl movie, “I guess I just still have an issue with the fact that an American Girl magazine came in the mail addressed to my daughter, and she came running to me all excited about the dolls and the clothes and wanted to order stuff that I couldn't afford to get her.”

I missed the American Girl craze when I was growing up because I was an older teen in braces when the first book in the series came out in 1986 and I was more interested in boys than books. But I remember hearing about the books and about the dolls, and all I really knew was that it was very popular with young girls.

When offered the chance to see the new American Girl movie, Kit Kittredge, out in Los Angeles recently, I decided to brush up on my research. I took myself to my local Barnes & Noble and bought the whole Kit series, books one through six. I wanted to know about this Kit character and I wanted to know just how different the movie would be from the books, so I figured I had a lot of homework to do.

But what first started out as simply research became much more of a joy. I realized, “Hey, these books are really good!” I was impressed with the amount of history and good morals that author Valerie Tripp, who holds a Master’s of Education from Harvard, wove into each book in the series.

All those years sitting in history classes, and I don’t remember having this much interest in and understanding of the Great Depression as I had from reading a book about a young lady named Kit. If that’s what it does for adults, what more could these books do for young girls? The idea is brilliant: inspire young ladies toward greatness while celebrating family and a historical time period. Great idea, Valerie!

Kit's New Fans

My hope is that those who go and see the new movie will head back to the bookstore and read the Kit series for themselves or buy them for their daughters, grand daughters, or nieces.

Maybe this will inspire a whole new generation of avid readers and demonstrate to today’s girls that they don’t have to be bratty or sexy or rich to be popular or save the day. Instead, they can be like Kit: smart, generous, honest, hard-working, family honoring, and good-hearted. What parent wouldn't want a girl like that?

Look for Kit Kittredge: An American Girl in your local theatre July 2.

Find out more by going to these Web sites:

Kitt Kittredge: The Movie

The American Girl Site

Picturehouse

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More articles by Laura Bagby on CBN.com

 

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