Buy It, Borrow It or Bag It: American Girl’s BeForever series

Julie Albright     I have seriously struggled to understand American Girl’s marketing logic of recent years and I have to admit, that I am on board with everyone who feels that this unique line of dolls, books and accessories has gotten a little too “pink” for my tastes. There is too much “My American Girl” (the doll that looks like you) and not enough “historical” characters which were the heart and soul of the company that Pleasant T. Rowland founded so many years ago.

That being said, I am going to put my overall feelings aside and concentrate this post strictly on the new formatting of the historical characters into the “BeForever” series which takes the six traditional books and compiles them into two volumes of three stories a piece. There is also a third book which reads like a choose your own adventure story, but I will get to that in a minute.

I am not a huge fan of the new format even though technically, you get more for your money. The new volumes are $9.95 each while the individual books (when there were still six) were $6.95 each. I liked the books a little smaller. They were easier to digest for younger readers who may be intimidated by so many pages not to mention a story about….ewwww…history!!! LOL I also liked the inclusion of illustrations in the old volume, not only the gorgeous full color pictures on occasional pages but also the tinier photos that helped explain unfamiliar terms to readers. Those are gone in the new books and that’s a shame. Still I wonder if there is a reason for that. As part of the new format of the historical characters, AG has launched new outfits, accessories and other things to go along with the books and the presence of the classic illustrations might contradict what you can buy in the store. Fair enough…however, I am chagrined that Samantha’s (my all-time favorite AG character from 1904) new bicycle is pink even though her short story was specifically titled “Samantha and the Blue Bicycle.” I know it’s a small thing, but it sticks in my crawl.

Another issue that I have is that it appears AG hasn’t even read their own books. Yes, I know they faithfully research every piece and put plenty of attention to detail in everything they sell…don’t get me wrong…some of the new items are too cute for words…but I can’t help wondering if AG has lost touch with their characters. Take Kit Kitteridge for example. Kit (1934) is an aspiring reporter during the Depression who hated it when her mother choose a frilly pink bedroom ensemble for her. She would rather be climbing a tree, chasing down a story or watching the Cincinnati Reds so no nonsense clothes are the order of the day. So why is there a frilly (pink) “candy making” outfit for this poor girl and how can this family afford to make candy during a Depression? According to “Happy Birthday, Kit” the family is eating dandelion weeds out of the yard in their salads and raising chickens to sell eggs…Kit must be making one heck of a profit to afford a dress like that!

Am I nitpicking over BeForever? Yes…mainly because if they wanted to change things fine…but add some new books to the old series, help readers connect these dots. Did Samantha go to the hardware store and pick up some pink spray paint? If Rebecca is the daughter of a shoemaker, how does she have access to a costume closet (in her size) that could rival Gone With The Wind’s Wardrobe department? How did Caroline end up with Marie-Grace’s party table (when there was no ball going on in 1812) and a dress that looks suspiciously like Elsa’s from Frozen? Come on AG, who are you fooling? (Don’t even get me started on what they have done to poor Kaya…the Nez Perce should sue!)

To me, AG is all about the books…six stories about a girl who lived during a very different time in history and readers got to step into HER world where everything wasn’t always pink and frilly. This was the point. It was to educate and to give girls something different…now every doll has a blinding array of colorful outfits that have little in common with the stories and some that contradict their personalities completely. Eliminating the pictures alone does not solve that problem, AG.

I do like the new “choose your own adventure” volume and support that 100%. However, I don’t see it lasting. I will be surprised if girls today have the patience to re-read a book time and time again to see various endings. I think they want everything NOW and unless there is an app for that, these books will come and go rather quickly. Maybe not. I hope not…but the Girls from other land books didn’t last and neither did that little fairy line they had for ten minutes.

In my opinion…buy the ORIGINAL American Girl books at a used bookstore and give your young reader a thrill, but Bag BeForever…our girls deserve better.



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