Retro Reads

Retro Reads Thursday: Meet Kirsten

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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14 thoughts on “Retro Reads Thursday: Meet Kirsten”

  1. 1.) You should totally have a tea party with your dolls. And you should post pictures.
    2.) I would have gone in the American Girl store anyway. Like a nerd.
    3.) I had Samantha, and I got her in the first grade, too! I also had professional pictures done with her and she always came with me to slumber parties with my friends, who also had the dolls. Ahhh, memories.
    4.) Looking back, the books are actually really good and perfect for the age level. I also had the theatrical versions of some of the scenes in the books. I have a very strong memory of performing Kirsten’s story on my front porch with my friends (we had a legit audience, too). We spent years reminding each other that “we all look at the same sun” because of that play.

    Thanks for the great Retro Thursday! I love these posts!

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    1. My friends and I used to do that too! Those dolls went everywhere with us. I think I had the play of Felicity’s Tea Party – it’s amazing how much stuff those dolls actually had associated with them! I’m glad you enjoy the Retro Reads posts – I love them to pieces!

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  2. I never read the American Girl books. The titles always sounded so patriotic to me, and as a Canadian it didn’t feel like I was supposed to read them, I guess XD

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    1. Haha, that’s kind of funny! I guess to other countries they aren’t as enticing to read, but over the past decade they’ve started introducing characters that are from different backgrounds – I think there’s a Hispanic girl, a Russian, a Native American. It’s not really that they’re “patriotic” so much as how the girls lived in America during their time period.

      Does Canada have any books that are similar to these?

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  3. I’m SO jealous of you. We couldn’t afford the dolls (but it’s not like I needed $100+ doll anyway) but I still loved all things AG. And you totally should have gone to the store! I will probably go if I ever go to NYC. I might even go the the restaurant thing too. 😛

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    1. Ha, yeah… Growing up I didn’t get a lot of toys and things throughout the year, so my parents were always good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) about doing something big for us at Christmas – hence the dolls. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed to convince my parents to spend that much on the dolls – they still tease me about them to this day. And yes! If you ever go to NY visit the store!

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  4. There is also an American Girl store in Dallas and every time I see the TV commercials for it, I beg whoever is in the room to have a daughter asap so that I can take her. I, too, do not want to be the weird old lady in the store for children.

    I remember reading the American Girl books in DEAR (drop everything and read) time in the first or second grade… even better, it was during gym class!

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  5. I love the AG dolls. My daughter has a few but really loved to collect the animals. So many accessories they have! It’s dangerous going into that store.

    That’s great that you collected the AG books and that they were so worthwhile. Love that they are a fun way for kids to learn about history. Kirsten’s books sound wonderful.

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  6. We are currently in the AG phase in our house. My oldest is ten and is totally into them and has been for a few years (she has Kirsten too!). My youngest is getting her first this year as an End of First Grade/Yea You Met your Reading Goal award. I am such a sucker for that whole experience. We go to the store in Los Angeles. We have lunch in that great black, white and hot pink dining room (the mini cinnamon rolls!) and then we shop. The books are great too. Love the whole experience and then I love how I spend $100 a pop and then my daughter never plays with them. 🙂

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  7. Oh, American Girl dolls! They’re SO DIFFERENT now than they were when I was into them. First of all, SAMANTHA has been DISCONTINUED. They still sell her books, but none of her things. *Sad face* I loved them all and had a few of them, but Felicity was always my favorite. I love that time period, and I LOVED her name! Kirsten was a close second, though, followed by Molly. But these stories were so awesome. I still read them sometimes, just for a little trip down memory lane.

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    1. I knew about Samantha being discontinued but yesterday found out that both Felicity and Kirsten have been discontinued! I was very displeased with this, especially about Felicity because she was supposed to be from a HUGE time in our country’s history. Ah well…

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