This time last year I went to visit a friend in New York City. I arrived on a Thursday around mid-afternoon so, of course, she was working. This meant that I was responsible for entertaining myself until she got off. In other words, I had to navigate the streets of New York on my own – no small feat for a small-town girl like myself (okay, I’m not really small-town; it just makes my story better).
At the time of my visit my friend worked at 30 Rock – not the show, the building – so of course this was an adventure in itself. After exploring 5th Avenue, realizing I was completely out of place in every store I went in, and trying to navigate the underground labyrinth of 30 Rockefeller Place, I ventured out into Rockefeller Plaza to explore. What to my wandering eyes should appear but The American Girls Store!
I didn’t go into the store, partly because I didn’t want to be that weird old lady who was shopping at a store designed for 7-10 year old girls but mostly because I knew if I went in there I would probably spend a small fortune. I’ve always wanted Felicity’s birthday dress or Kirsten’s winter outfit.
The American Girls, both books and dolls, were an essential part of my growing up – I have an even funnier story about my first AG doll, but that’s for another time – and helped to shape the woman I’ve become.
I know, I know. How can a doll shape a person? It wasn’t so much the doll but what the doll represented. Each doll had a series of books, stories of not only themselves but of the trials they faced each day as their world changed around them. I can still remember the triumph I felt when Felicity rescued Penny from the evil Jiggy Nye; the sadness when Marta, Kirsten’s best friend from Sweden, died on their trip to the West; the understanding Molly learned when Emily sought refuge from her war-torn home in England with Molly’s family. You get the idea.
For today’s Retro Read I am featuring my favorite of the American Girls books – Meet Kirsten.
Kirsten was the first of my dolls – yeah, I had 3 of them – and was probably the most loved of them. She and I had many adventures together, including taking professional portraits (my mom really spoiled me with that one). But it was her story that captivated me so much. Although I was much younger when I began my interest in AG – 1st grade, if I remember correctly – my love of the AG books lasted until… well until today, as I’m typing this.
When I was in 3rd grade my best friend Bethany and I were obsessed with AG and the dolls. I remember us having a discussion over whether or not Kirsten was truly an “American” girl if she was actually from Sweden. For 3rd grade, this was a pretty deep debate.
Kirsten’s adventures began in her journey to America from her home in Sweden. Her uncle’s family had moved to Minnesota years before and had invited her family to join them. Living Kirsten’s experience with her was amazing to my younger self; traveling on the boat, feeling sadness at leaving behind a favorite doll, the excitement of traveling on a train, the harrowing experience of losing a best friend to death… these were experiences that I would never have had had it not been for this book.
The 6 books in Kirsten’s series are all fantastic and strong classics I hope to one day share with my own daughter(s) (should I ever have any). Her adventures and lessons are timeless, a poignant look at a time in our country’s history that shows us that the people of yesterday aren’t so much different than we are today.
After writing this post I may be digging my dolls out of the attic and having a tea party tonight. It’s going to be epic.
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