We have a new member of our family, and she's sitting here in my office with me. Felicity. Yup, An American Girl Doll. At 18 inches high, she cost $95, including the accompanying book, Meet Felicity.
I was hoping we'd meet Felicity a couple of years down the road. Or maybe never. But Felicity came to us courtesy of my mother-in-law, who has a birthday the same week as my daughter. Leah, turning 6, was blown away when she opened it. So was I. Because, frankly, I'm a control freak, and I had no idea this was coming. And because I'm envisioning several years of buying the doll furniture, books, magazines, matching girl-and-doll outfits, and making pilgrimages to American Girl Place in Manhattan, where Felicity can get her hair done and we can have tea.
First let me say I am really touched my mother-in-law gave her granddaughter an American Girl doll. I think the look on Leah's face alone was probably worth more than the $95. Parents of boys, at this point you can stop reading and go make an extra payment to your son's 529 plan. You owe it to him, because you are saving money on the luck of his gender.
I spoke to Julie Parks, American Girl's director of public relations, to ask her, "Why is the price point for the dolls so high?" Which was really just a polite way of asking: "Ninety-five dollars for a DOLL? Have you people lost your minds? What are you trying to do to us decent and hardworking parents?"
Parks patiently told me about everything that goes into the making of an American Girl doll, especially the historical characters like Felicity, who is 9 years old in the year 1774. This explains why she's the only one in the house not trying to get on my laptop. Anyway, Meet Felicity is the first in a series of six chapter books about her, aimed toward girls who are independent readers, so ages 8 and up.
To conceive each character and the corresponding books, Parks says, American Girl employs a librarian and historical researcher, and consults with museum curators to create an accurate picture of how the world looked to a 9-year-old girl at that time. And Felicity herself is of high quality. "We know girls think of their American Girl doll as a keepsake, something to save for their own daughters to play with," Parks says. "Our dolls do hold up." (Yes, but maybe that's also because mothers like me have conniptions if the American Girl doll ends up under the couch like all the Walmart dolls.)
Parks has made me feel better about Felicity, though. And she does have a really pretty face and hair. Poor Fuzzy the stuffed dog, he just can't compete. But why, I asked her, are American Girl dolls made in China?
"In the very beginning, the dolls were made in Germany," Parks says. "It's one of those things, the majority of the world's toys are made in China, and we are no exception." My friend at the pool grumbled about this: "Couldn't it at least be a NAFTA country?"
And you do understand, I pressed Parks, that parents gulp at the price?
"I do," she says. "But I think parents who understand what we do, who have read the stories, they see the educational value and the self-esteem we try to bring to girls, and they see it as an investment. It's not just another thing they can get for their daughter. They see it as something they can do for them. The research on the tween years shows it's a relatively delicate time, and if you can help boost their confidence through American Girl magazine, or through one of our books, or reading about strong girls in history, I think it's something worth the value."
So I shouldn't look at Felicity as a toy, but instead categorize her as something that builds self-esteem and confidence...hmmm, what would that be...like swimming lessons? Well, then she's a bargain!
After speaking to Parks, I went to get the mail, where, ironically, the latest American Girl catalogue was waiting. Flipping through, I see I could get Leah and Felicity matching girl and doll pajamas ($54 for both sets), or I could get a 43-pound doll camper and gear for $295. I can't envision those items doing much for Leah's self-esteem. For now, I'll keep plucking the catalogue out of the mail before Leah learns of its existence, and we'll enjoy Felicity and the series of books about her. Available, for free, at the town library.