A few weeks ago I trekked to the new American Girl attraction at the Mall of America to pick up a Kit Kittredge doll for our own little American Girl. I’d missed the free shipping available for early online purchases, and buying in person was my attempt at cost-cutting by avoiding shipping and handling fees.
If you’re chortling now, it’s no doubt because you know enough about the American Girl product line to think I was hardly being frugal. But if you have a 7-year-old daughter, and the alternative is the Disney trifecta of Hannah Montana, High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls, American Girl really does seem the common-sense alternative.
And for many of us, Kit is the AG doll of choice this Christmas. Girls across the country were introduced to the character in a summer movie release, which featured the adorable Abigail Breslin as the scrappy Kit in Depression-era Cincinnati. When Kit’s father loses his job and heads to Chicago in search of work, her mother gets creative: sewing flour-sack dresses, taking in boarders, planting vegetables in her flowerbeds, and even raising chickens in the backyard for eggs to sell in the neighborhood.
Stop the film. This is where I get uncomfortable. Is this where we’re headed now?
Like many middle-class people, prior to the economic downturn our family was already budget conscious. We regularly shopped at thrift stores and garage sales, even before my husband lost his job in November. Two of my friends are considering taking in renters to help meet their (fixed-rate) mortgages. And our household will be planting the biggest garden to date next summer. Could chickens be far behind?
While none of these options suggest absolute desperation, they are the new deal for several generations of middle-class Americans. (And unfortunately, there are plenty of people in even worse situations.) But as an educational content producer, who thinks about the learning objectives behind materials for children, I’m can’t help wondering what exactly our daughters will be learning after they unwrap their Kits this holiday season.
Surely the product developers at American Girl never imagined their historical dolls would be positioned to teach girls about the past but also prep them for the future. That’s what I’ll be thinking as our daughter opens her pretty new doll in front of her grandparents, who lived through the real deal as children back in the 30s.
Life imitating art imitating life. And I’ll say a prayer for us all.
Joan Freese is the manager of promotion, publication, and web for DragonflyTV, a science show that airs nationally on PBS Kids.
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