For more than 25 years, the American Girl series of books has accomplished what many other books have tried – and failed – to do, combining rich historical lessons with tales of courage, kindness, and selflessness in a format that is incredibly fun to read. I read and loved many of these stories as a child in the early to mid-90s, and learned more about American history than I have from any textbook.
Meet the American Girls (listed in publication order):
Plucky Kirsten and her family are Swedish immigrants living on the Minnesota frontier.
Samantha is an orphan who lives with her wealthy grandmother. Samantha realizes what a privileged life she leads when she befriends Nellie, a servant girl living in the house next door.
Molly is a patriotic girl growing up on the home front during World War II. When she’s not tap dancing or scheming with her friends, Molly worries about her father, a doctor, who tends to wounded soldiers oversees.
Felicity is an adventurous colonial girl, who would rather play with the boys or ride horses than attend lessons on being a “proper” lady.
Addy is an African-American girl living with her family during the Civil War. In the first book of her series, Addy and her family are slaves on a plantation, but they soon escape and start up a new life as free Americans.
Josefina and her three sisters live with their father on his Santa Fe ranch. About a year after the tragic death of their mother, the girls’ grandfather returns to Santa Fe from Mexico City with the girls’ aunt, who becomes someone for Josefina to look up to.
Kit is a clever, book-loving tomboy who lives with her mother, father, and teenage brother. The family is living in the middle of the Great Depression, and they struggle to make ends meet when Kit’s father loses his job.
Kaya is an adventurous Nez Perce Indian living in what is now the Pacific Northwest.
Julie is an athletic girl living with her older sister and her recently divorced mother. After moving to a new apartment, Julie has to start at a new school where she doesn’t know anyone.
Rebecca is a vivacious Jewish girl growing up in New York City. Rebecca’s father thinks she should become a teacher, but she dreams of being an actress.
Marie-Grace and Cecile 1853
Marie-Grace and Cecile are best friends growing up in New Orleans. Their stories break American Girl tradition by featuring two main characters in one series.
The American Girl series was first released in 1986 by Pleasant Company, which was founded by educator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Pleasant Rowland. When the series made its debut, the only girls were Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. Felicity joined the series in 1991, and Addy in 1993. Four years later in 1997 the company introduced Josefina, who would be the last American Girl of the twentieth century. Depression-era girl Kit was introduced in 2000.
Each American Girl has a six-book series. The titles of each of the first seven series of books follows the specific pattern, as seen below, meaning that each character had a “surprise” book, a “happy birthday” book, and so on.
When Kaya was created in 2002, her stories deviated from this pattern. When Julie and Rebecca came along, in 2007 and 2009, respectively, their books broke the pattern as well.
Though all of the American Girl stories are good reads, my favorites are still the originals, Samantha, Kirsten, Molly, and Felicity. Maybe I’m a little biased; they were, after all, the ones I grew up reading. But these stories also have the most historical resonance, teaching readers about the American Revolution, the turn of the twentieth century, the pioneer days, and life on the home front during World War II – all through the eyes of a child.
These stories are intended for girls (or boys!) ages 8+. They are best suited to kids in grades 3-5.