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Meet Melody Ellison – Her Voice Echoes the Hope of a Nation in the 1960s

Today I want to tell you about the American Girl Doll Melody Ellison, and I want to tell you why I consider her to be the best African American Historical Doll.

In my opinion, one of the main things that separates the American Girl Dolls from other dolls is that they can facilitate several types of learning. The better of the historical dolls can be harnessed to teach history in a powerful and integrated way, and I believe that the teaching of history must be one of the American Girl Doll Company’s goals. In this Melody Ellison banner, American Girl says: “Connecting Girls to the Past,” and I believe that Melody Ellison does connect us to the past. But Melody is not the first African American historical doll, and yet, in my opinion, she is the only one of the African American historical dolls that is relatively true to the period that she represents. She is the only one of the African American Girl dolls that truthfully connects girls to her past.

I have read several reviews written about the other historical African American American Girl Dolls, and it seems to me that prior to Melody, the American Girl Doll Company had tried to tip-toe around the race issue and to distort or whitewash African American history to make everyone seem have been the same and to make history seem to have been more attractive than it sometimes was.

Don’t get me wrong. I detest the slavery chapter of this nation’s history. That is when the American Girl Dolls Addy Walker and Cecile Rey lived. I hate bigotry, but I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interest to distort or to grossly whitewash the facts. A wise man said that those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it, and I believe that there are elements about the first two African American Dolls that are efforts to stretch the truth. I am convinced that both the Addy Doll and the Cecile Doll could have been more realistic without entering a fantasy world and without being tasteless either. I’ll say more about that in other reviews, but in this review, I want to focus on ways that the American Girl Doll Melody Ellison is more true to what was happening for the African Americans in her time period–the period of the 1960s.

Melody Ellison was a child who lived in Detroit during a very exciting time for African Americans.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to Detroit in 1963, and the Rights of African Americans all over the United States began to change.

Detroit was also the Motown Music center of the world, and Motown music was the rage during the 1960s.

Several of the female Motown singers had hair styles that were like Melody’s hair style, and I love this about the Melody doll.

Melody Ellison’s accessories are on target, too. Notice that the accessories include a political button that alludes to Dr. King’s visit to Detroit in 1963. It says. “Equal Rights in ’63.”

Melody Ellison’s little turquoise hat is a pillbox hat, and Jackie Kennedy is the person who was primarily responsible for making the pillbox hat a fashion staple during the 1960s.

Last, Melody Ellison’s cateye sunglasses were another fashion craze during the 1960s. The rim of cateye glasses turn upward on the top, outer corner, and the shapes of the two eye areas in the rims of cateye glasses look like a pair of cat’s eyes.

In several ways, I believe that Melody Ellison accurately depicts the lifestyle that was possible for African Americans during the 1960s. Part of the success of this doll hinges on the fact that the 1960s were the first time in American History when African Americans could see significant improvements in their lives. In many ways, it was the first time that the African Americans could begin to visualize that there truly was hope for them. Because hope for the African Americans had begun to emerge during the 1960s, their stories of this period can be told without feeling the pressure to whitewash them. In conclusion, I do believe that the American Girl Doll Melody Ellison does connect girls to her past, and I do believe that Melody Ellison’s voice does echo the hope of this nation in the 1960s. Melody Ellison’s mission is accomplished.

©Jacki Kellum March 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet American Girl Doll Addy Walker – Learn America’s Story

Addy Walker was born a slave but when she was young, she and her mother escaped to Philadelphia, where slavery was against the law. Chronologically speaking, Kaya was the first historical American Girl Doll and Addy is the seventh. Kaya was a child in the northwest in 1764, and Addy is a child in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, across the USA, in 1864. That was 100 years later, and the USA has changed a great deal during that time.

Addy Walker is the third American Girl Doll who lived during the time of a war. Felicity had been a child during the Revolutionary War and Caroline had been a child during the War of 1812.  Addy Walker was a child during the Civil War–the war that ended slavery in America. Here is a quote: “Like many children born into slavery Addy doesn’t know her own birthday, so she chooses a day. She picks April 9, the day the Civil War ended in 1865 and all slaves were freed.” American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide, p. 60

Addy Walker was first released for sale in 1993, and at that time, her Meet Outfit was pink with stripes. Her first Meet Accessories included a straw bonnet with a blue bow.

When Addy Walker was updated as a Beforever Doll in 2014, her Meet Outfit Dress was blue and her meet accessories were slightly different, too. The books tell us that Addy Walker’s mother sewed her clothes, but I doubt that Addy’s dresses would have been as fancy as the ones that are currently sold for her. Addy’s pink meet dress was probably more authentic for a runaway slave during the 1800s.

During their escape from slavery, Addy and her mother were separated from the rest of the family. When Addy’s father finds them, the family is able to move into a boarding house, and Addy gets her first bed that she can call her own. Here is another quote:

“Addy’s colorful quilt shows the faces and places that represent her family. Addy lays the quilt on her very own bed with pride.” American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide, p. 62.

In the largest picture, you see Addy’s doll Ida Bean. Addy Walker is one of the American Girl Dolls who have dolls of their own. You might like to check out my video and blog post about all of the American Girl Dolls who have doll of their own.

Addy Walker’s mother’s employer gives Addy a Christmas dress. Addy wore her Christmas dress to church, and she carried her doll Ida Bean with her. Ida Bean’s dress looks slightly like Addy’s stilting outfit dress.  From what I understand about the period when Addy was a child, Addy’s stilting outfit is more true to the way that Addy would have dressed than the dresses sold for Addy today.

I like the fact that an African American doll has been made to represent this country’s unfortunate involvement with slavery, but I would prefer that Addy’s clothes be more representative of the way that she would have actually dressed. I detest slavery, but if the historical American Girl Dolls are intended as a means of teaching history, I believe that they should be true to America’s actual history. A wise man said that those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it, and I believe that the clothes sold for Addy now are efforts to make us forget the way that life actually was for slaves and runaway slaves during the 1800s. Dolls that are efforts to stretch the truth. I am convinced that both the Addy Doll can be represented more realistically without entering a fantasy world and without being tasteless either.

If the goal of the historical American Girl dolls is to connect today’s girls to the past, I believe that the Melody Ellison doll is the first African American doll that sucessfully accomplishes that goal.

©Jacki Kellum March 15, 2017

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The American Girl Dolls Who Have Dolls of Their Own – We All Need Something to Cuddle – We Have Always Needed Dolls

I recently launched a Doll Club for American Girls at my local library, and although my little town only has 7,000 residents in it, we had almost 60 girls at our first club meeting. I had told the girls to bring their dolls. At the first club meeting, the girls did not know each other, and many did not know me. All of us felt a little unsure. At one point, I looked out across the crowd of girls and each one of them was cuddling their American Girl Dolls. It made me want to cry, and it convinced me that deep within ourselves, we all need something to cuddle. We all need a doll.

I love the way that the American Girl Doll Companies have developed dolls for several of the American Girl dolls, and I love how those various dolls’ dolls depict important details about the periods of history in which the dolls lived. In this post, I’ll examine some of the American Girl Dolls that have dolls of their own, and I’ll discuss ways that these dolls’ dolls help us better understand their respective periods in history.

When Kaya was a girl, the Nez Perce mothers carried their babies in cradleboards. When girls play with dolls, they are often pretending that they too are mothers, and at the time when Kaya was a child, the Nez Perce girls often created cradleboards for their dolls. They were pretending to be mothers in the ways that their mothers had exemplified for them. In 1764, Nez Perce girls wore dresses that had been laced together from pieces of deer skin or other leather, and both Kaya and her doll wear fringed, deerskin dresses. Kaya’s cradleboard has a strap that fits over the horn of her horse’s saddle, and like an actual Nez Perce baby, Kaya’s  doll can be laced into her cradleboard. Kaya’s doll is a rag doll.

Felicity Merriman was a child in 1774, which was only ten years after the time that Kaya was a child. but because Felicity was not Native American and because she was a child of some of the British immigrants who came to America, Felicity’s doll is not at all like Kaya’s doll. When Felicity was shopping for a new dress to wear to the holiday tea, she spotted her doll in a shop window. Felicity’s doll is wearing a fancy blue dress like Felicity’s holiday gown, and she is not a rag doll. She is made of wood. “Did you know? Many children in the 1770s played with wooden toys, including yo-yos, puzzles, and spinning tops.” American Girl: The Story of America, p. 12.

Josefina Montoya is from New Mexico in 1824, after New Mexico had gained independence from Spanish rule. Josefina’s doll Niña is wearing a dress that matches Josefina’s Christmas dress. Josefina sewed her own dress. Here is what the book American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide had to say about Josefina, her Christmas dress, and her doll:

“Josefina enjoys sewing and making clothes for herself. When her aunt gives Josefina some striped fabric, Josefina makes a dress to wear on Noche Buena, Christmas Eve–the most special night of the year on the rancho. … Her doll Niña was made by her mamá. p. 49

Kirsten Larson’s family immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden, and she is from the year 1854. Kirsten Larson reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books. One Christmas, Laura Ingalls Wilder received a rag doll for Christmas, and Kirsten’s rag doll is like how I imagine the doll that Laura Ingalls Wilder received. Kirsten’s doll is dressed very much like Kirsten in her baking outfit. Notice how both Kirsten and her doll have braids that are turned upward.

Addy Walker is from 1854, and she was an escaped slave. Addy’s doll is also a rag doll, and like Kaya’s doll, it is not fancy. Having been a slave, she would not have had a fancy doll. Here is what the book American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide had to say about Addy and her doll:

“Like many children born into slavery. Addy doesn’t know her own birthday, so she chooses a day. She picks April 9, the day the Civil War ended in 1865 and all slaves were freed. Some night, Addy reads Mother Goose in Hieroglyphics, when she is tucked in bed with Ida Bean–the rag doll Momma made for her.” p. 60.

Samantha Parkington is from 1904, which is only 50 years after Addy Walker. But Samantha’s life was very different from Addy’s life, and in comparing Samantha’s Clara doll to Addy’s doll, we begin to understand how the American Girl Dolls’s dolls tell a great deal about the lives that different types of people have lived in America throughout history. Samantha had beautiful clothes, a lovely home, and a frilly lifestyle, and her Clara doll is ceramic and frilly–just like Samantha herself.

Kit Kittredge is from 1934, and her family did suffer financially from the Great Depression. Her doll is a rag doll, but I believe that the most significant thing about Kit’s doll is that she is a tribute to the famous female aviator Amelia Earhart, who vanished in 1937, while attempting to make a round the world flight. Amelia Earhart was the first female aviator.

Molly McIntire is from 1944. I was born in 1950, and I identify with many things about Molly. When I was a girl, many girls wanted to be nurses. At that time, girls were still not encouraged to be doctors, and many of us went through a nurse phase. When I was about 7-years-old, there was a career day at my little church’s Vacation Bible School, and everyone was asked to dress up like the career that they wanted for themselves. Most of us wore ridiculously simple and homemade costumes, but one of my friends had an authentic nurse costume. It had a blue wool cape and a real nurse cap. That was 60 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I am very much an artsy type, but for a week or two, I even wanted to be a nurse when I grew up.

Here is what the book American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide had to say about Molly and her doll:

“Although her father can’t be with them on Christmas Day, Molly and her family receive a surprise package from him. It is filled with beautiful gifts for the family. Molly gets the nurse doll of her dreams.” p. 81.

Research into the distant past tells us that girls have always found ways to pretend to be mothers and to pretend to have babies of their own. If you remember, I said that Laura Ingalls Wilder received a rag doll one Christmas. Before she received her rag doll, Laura had simply wrapped a corn cob in cloth, and she had cuddled her corn cob, as though it was her very own baby. Even during ancient times, children have cuddled sticks and rocks, pretending that they were their babies. The Gruffalo’s doll is based on this very real part of the world’s history.

As I said before, we all need something to cuddle. We all need a doll.

©Jacki Kellum March 11, 2017