osprey_archer: (writing)
[livejournal.com profile] evelyn_b took me up on my offer to write fic in exchange for ACLU donations. She started of with the suggestion of writing a Molly McIntire fic - Molly McIntire is the World War II girl from American Girl - and then I realized that I have consumed approximately nine thousand canons set in the mid-twentieth century, AND THEN I realized that one of those canons is the television show Poirot, (which incidentally I finished watching this weekend, incidentally. Did not expect that ending!), so of course I had to write a crossover.

Fic: Perfection Salad
Fandoms: American Girl - Molly/Agatha Christy's Poirot (TV)
Rating: G
Summary: Hercule Poirot comes to the McIntire's house for dinner.


The fic for ACLU donations offer still open, btw. Writing this has rekindled my long-dormant desire to write fic for all the American Girl series - or at least for all the ones that came out when I was young: Felicity, Josefina, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, Kit, Molly. (Of the girls who came out later, I'm also awfully fond of Caroline Abbott, Rebecca Rubin - OH MY GOD I COULD WRITE AN ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY CROSSOVER, SOMEBODY STOP ME - and Julie Albright.)

Think of the other gloriously bizarre crossovers we could create together! Kit Kittredge interviews Peggy Carter, y/y?

...Also I would totally write non-American Girl things, that's just what's on my mind at the moment.
osprey_archer: (books)
American Girl has a new series out, Melody Ellison in 1964 Detroit, which I read with some trepidation because I was so very disappointed last year by their 1950s series about Maryellen.

But fortunately, the Melody books a good deal better than the Maryellen books, anyway, not least because the Melody books were clearly conceived as two books, not six books that were then awkwardly glued together in two with no craft or artistry. (Yes, I'm bitter.)

And, because the Melody books take place during the Civil Rights Era (and because Melody is black), unlike the Maryellen books they actually make use of the historical conflicts of their era. In fact, when I was first reading them, I found it a little ham-fisted - everything in Melody's life ties back into the Civil Rights movement, everything, and it would have been nice if she had at least one conflict that was basically small and personal, like Addy during the Civil War trying to learn double Dutch.

But after Trump's election - well, being ham-fisted about a message like "stand up for the things you believe in and make your voice heard" is hardly the worst thing that a book could do.

It still has no illustrations, though. I think I have mentioned this in every single thing I've written about American Girl ever since their horrifying decision to cut the illustrations, but IT IS SO HORRIFYING, OKAY, I just can't get over it.

Ugh, though, and these books could have had such good illustrations. Melody plants a goddamn garden! WITH HOLLYHOCKS, who doesn't want some gorgeous hollyhock illustrations??? And there's also a great scene where she gets a beautiful cream-colored coat for her birthday, which is clearly designed to move doll coats, and wouldn't it sell even MORE doll coats if the eight-year-olds of America could see the coat in the book and covet it from that moment? If American Girl won't do it for the sheer joy of having beautiful illustrations, they ought to do it for the marketing opportunity.

***

I will say, though, if you want to read a recent children's book about the civil rights struggle - or just read a really good book in general - I would recommend Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming. It's both more politically engaged/radical than the Melody books, and includes a nice smattering of subplots that don't revolve around politics, which makes the heroine and her world feel more well-rounded and alive.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

No Ordinary Sound, which is the first book (of two) in the newest American Girl series, Melody Ellison in 1964. I’m going to write about it at more length once I’ve finished the series; for now I will just note that it’s better than the Maryellen books (although that doesn’t say much), but there are still no illustrations, which is a goddamn tragedy. There’s a scene in this book where Melody’s older sister walks down the stairs, dressed all in orange, to reveal her new Afro to the family! Does that not cry out for illustration???

What I’m Reading Now

I’m working on Madeleine L’Engle’s memoir A Circle of Quiet, which Netgalley had for some reason - I guess it must be a reprint? Anyway, I’m enjoying it so far; it reminds me in its meditativeness of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.

What I Plan to Read Next

[livejournal.com profile] littlerhymes and I have agreed to give the Billabong books a go, so we’ll be reading A Little Bush Maid. I could only get a smattering of them free on Kindle, so I’ll be reading the ones I have - A Little Bush Maid, Mates at Billabong, Captain Jim and Back to Billabong - so we’ll see how that goes.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which might also be called “the book where Philip Marlowe never gets paid.” People keep offering him money, practically shoving it in his hands to make him take it, and he refuses and refuses and refuses, because… Well, it’s not quite clear why he does, which is part of what makes him so interesting to me. The books are in the first person, but nonetheless Marlowe is an incredibly opaque character. It’s not clear why he refuses the money or why he goes to such lengths to help out Terry Lennox.

It’s not even clear why he’s a detective. He doesn’t seem to get much joy out of it. Is it just inertia? This is the job he knows so he keeps doing it? There’s a nub of nobility left in his character, but given his absolute cynicism about the rest of the world, it’s hard to see how he hangs onto there. Maybe he knows he would collapse into existential despair if he couldn’t even believe in himself.

Or maybe it’s just sheer ornery cussedness. There’s a definite pattern where Marlowe makes his life harder because he’s decided he doesn’t like somebody’s face and refuses to cooperate.

I also finished Enid Bagnold’s A Diary without Dates, about her work in a hospital during World War I - well, sort of; there is at least as much nature description as there is description of hospital work. It all feels very dreamlike, and in the end that made it feel rather insubstantial to me, although very poetic.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve started A. S. Byatt’s Possession! I’ve actually been getting through it at a fairly decent clip so far, probably because I read the first few chapters before, months ago. I think Roland and his girlfriend Val are both quite tired of each other, without either one wanting to be the one who initiates the break-up. They go on living together out of a painful combination of poverty and inertia and exhaustion. What’s the point of breaking up if there’s nothing better out there?

...I am placing my bets on Roland falling for Maud, his new clandestine research partner. But Roland won’t be the one to initiate the break-up; Val will leave him for one of the men she does typing for, a small apologetic angry smile on her lips as she tells him that she’s going and implies it’s all his fault.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am still waiting for the library to get the new American Girl book, No Ordinary Sound. It’s been out for like four months now! Why doesn’t the library have it?

Maybe the library is waiting for the second book to be released in order to buy them together. Never Stop Singing is coming out in late June, so hopefully that means the library will have both books soon?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Eva Ibbotson’s Madensky Square, and I enjoyed it so much that I nearly flung myself headlong into The Star of Kazan, which is the other Ibbotson book that I own, but then I decided to restrain myself and save The Star of Kazan for the next time I need a feel-good book. Most of Ibbotson’s books are quite reliable for that (except maybe The Morning Gift).

I highly recommend Madensky Square for the parts about creation, the description of Vienna, the musings on sadness and mortality and getting on with life (there’s a lot of sadness in it for such a happy book; but on balance it is a very happy book), and also because Ibbotson has the rare gift for writing child characters just as well in adult fiction as in her children’s books. They always feel like real people, not child-macguffins.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve begun Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, a short book about her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. The first quarter of it (and it’s not a very long book) is entirely taken up with her voyage to the hospital; I am thinking that perhaps it won’t have as many nursing details as I hoped.

Oh, and my hold on Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On FINALLY came in! I’m enjoying it so far, although it’s really surprisingly bleak - or maybe I shouldn’t say surprisingly. It’s riffing off Harry Potter, and it just brings the bleakness that’s mostly hidden by whimsy and sense of wonder in Harry Potter right up to the surface.

(I used to think that J. K. Rowling created the Wizarding World without realizing how astonishingly dark it was beneath the jokey exterior, but now that I’ve read her adult detective novels I’ve decided that she probably knew exactly what she was doing.)

I think I’m going to write a longer review once I’ve finished reading; Carry On is doing some interesting things in its riff off of Harry Potter’s world-building (in particular, I think it’s responding to a lot of criticisms of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), and I’ll be able to articulate it better once I’m through.

What I Plan to Read Next

I also have Louisa May Alcott’s Moods on my Kindle, so I may read that once I’ve finished Hospital Sketches. Or maybe Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ Gypsy’s Cousin Joy, which is a children’s book published about the same time as Little Women?

OH OH OH, also American Girl has a new historical character out! I feel leery, given how disappointing I found their last new series (Maryellen the 50s girl, who totally deserved better!), but this one is about the Civil Rights struggle in the sixties so I am cautiously optimistic that it might be good. At very least, it won’t be able to totally ignore the hard parts of history the way the Maryellen books did.

BUT THE LIBRARY DOESN’T HAVE IT YET, WOE. So I guess I won’t be reading it for a while.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished the second Maryellen book, which, probably because my expectations had dropped about about negative two, seemed more enjoyable than the first one. But I still deplore their decision to cram six books into two (and it feels really, really obvious that these were originally intended to be six books; each book has three separate, consecutive, poorly integrated arcs) and not to have any illustrations, because come on, illustrations are what American Girl is all about!

Do you think they cut out the illustrations in the re-releases, too? They’ve released the other American Girl books in this horrible three-books-in-one format. I’m almost afraid to look. I hope parents complain to the skies and the company hastily backtracks.

What I’m Reading Now

Still Miss Marjoribanks. I’ve been reading it on my Kindle at work (I find that it makes work much nicer when I have a fun book to look forward to at lunch), and I've had a cold and therefore spent my work breaks staring bleakly out the window and coughing pathetically, so I haven't made much progress in this.

But today I felt a bit more energetic and read some more. Lucilla's hapless cousin attempted to propose to her! And now we are on the cusp of Lucilla's first Evening. The expectation hangs thick in the air.

What I Plan to Read Next

Elizabeth Wein's Black Dove, White Raven.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

Maryellen: The One and Only, the first book of the new American Girl series, which never did transcend its lack of illustrations, alas. The illustrations aren't the only change they made with the format this time around: there are also only two books instead of six, which might have worked better if the first book didn't feel like three books smooshed together with no attempt to make an overarching plot.

Even that might have worked all right if they had at least labeled the separate pieces Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. But they didn't, so instead I was just puzzled by the jumps between chapters when one story ended and another began.

I feel like the shoddy construction is of a piece with a general shoddiness in the book's writing, too. The characters don't have much pop to them; I never did manage to tell all of Maryellen's brothers and sisters apart, for instance. It's all rather disappointing.

I also finished Eugenia Ginzburg's Journey into the Whirlwind, which turns out (I can't believe I didn't notice this before) to be only the first half of her memoirs, so I will have to tromp off to the university library to acquire the second half. I have rather a list, actually, of books that I mean to check out there; I'm finally going to get around to reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, and Oliver Sacks' continual mentions of A. R. Luria in his books have convinced me that I ought to read some of Luria's work, too.

What I'm Reading Now

Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks, which I'm enjoying so far, though it could do with slightly less repetition. I can see why Miss Marjoribanks herself informs everyone she meets that her only object in life is to be a comfort to her dear papa (otherwise they might suspect her of overweening social ambitions), but must the narrator repeat it too? I got the joke the first dozen times it was told.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'll probably read the second Maryellen book, if only in the interests of completeness. I was so looking forward to these: it's such a disappointment.
osprey_archer: (Agents of SHIELD)
I have acquired the first of the new American Girl series from the library! The first of...two books, because they'd decided to move away from the six book pattern for some reason.

"Okay, self," I said consolingly. "This is not the end of the world. There are legitimate reasons why they could cut down from six books to two, and at least it looks like the two books are longer books so we won't necessarily be getting less story, and anyway the illustrations..."

And then I flipped through the book.

The illustrations appear to be nonexistent.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO what even is American Girl without illustrations??? WHAT HAVE THEY DONE? WHAT IS THIS MONSTROSITY! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS! EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE.

...I'll let you know how the actual story is once I've read the book, but for now I am registering FIRM DISAPPROVAL.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

Lauren Esker's Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, which is a shifter romance (werewolves and weresheep, in this case), and very cute, although probably moreso if the tropes of shifter romance are your thing. Unfortunately the tropes that the genre focuses on seem to be the ones that don't do much for me, but that is a problem with the reader rather than the book.

What I'm Reading Now

Eugenia Ginzburg's Journey into the Whirlwind, yet another book about Stalin's purges and the gulag. I am getting a little gulag'ed out at this point, but I've been meaning to read this book for forever, so I will persevere. I'm going to take a break from the Terror after this, though.

What I Plan to Read Next

Still waiting for the library to get me a copy of the first Maryellen book. I am pining to read the latest American Girl series, library! Work with me here!

I'm also going to read Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks. In fact I had it all queued up on my Kindle to start reading on my lunch break at work today, but then I forgot my Kindle at home. :(

On the bright side, I had lunch at Panera, and they have my favorite turkey cranberry flatbread again (it seems to be an autumn special!), so that was nice. And they have a new turkey, apple, and cheddar sandwich, which also looks intriguing, although I feel a bit dubious about the cranberry walnut bread that it comes on, although I'm not sure why, because it sounds like something I ought to like. I mean, it has cranberries in it, right? But the bread may not be sweet enough to mesh nicely with the sweet dried fruit.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

I finished John Marsden's Letters from the Inside, which I actually ended up quite enjoying, despite my reservations about it last week. The girls' voices ended up much better differentiated than they were at the beginning, which I think makes sense even though it also makes the beginning slow: they become more themselves as they get more comfortable writing to each other. And also the ending destroyed me (in a good way, I mean.)

I also finished Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, which I still highly recommend.

What I'm Reading Now

I'm still moseying through Oliver Sachs' Musicophilia - I started it a few months ago and set it aside, but I decided to finish it after I heard he'd died. It's interesting while I'm reading it, but it doesn't quite have the propulsive force to draw me back in when I'm not.

I'm also reading Vivian Apple at the End of the World, which is about a girl who loses her parents to a small Rapture that takes up a few hundred odd believers and sets the rest of the world in a tizzy. That's about as far as I've gotten in the book, and I'm curious to see just what the author is going to do with her world-building.

What I Plan to Read Next

DID YOU KNOW THERE'S A NEW AMERICAN GIRL OUT?????? Yes! There is! Maryellen, a fifties girl. I only found this out because someone requested the canon for [livejournal.com profile] trickortreatex, which is perhaps a sign that I should, after all, sign up for [livejournal.com profile] trickortreatex this year.

Eventually American Girl's going to cover every decade in the twentieth century; they've already done more than half of them. And they're probably holding off on the eighties and nineties so they can hit my generation right in the pocketbook, buying the girl from our time period for our daughters/nieces/whoever.
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
I got my holiday American Girl catalog this week (I requested two years ago for my research project, and they have assiduously sent them to me ever since despite the fact that I never buy anything. Thank you, American Girl!), and got the surprise of my life when I opened it, because -

Well, two reasons.

First! They've brought back Samantha Parkington. Yes! The previously retired Samantha has returned. This was nice.

And second. They've redesigned all the historical dolls' clothes. This was appalling. I don't deal well with change. And I don't think this has happened ever. And it looks like they must have redone the illustrations to match, too, because they've put out new editions of the books (omnibus editions, three books in each volume. I have always disapproved of omnibuses. Omnibi?)

And! And! As if this were not enough, they've released a new book for each series: a modern day girl travels through time to visit the historical character!

Yes. American Girl has written its own visitor-from-the-modern-world fanfic. Is that even allowed?

Of course I needed to investigate. So I got the Samantha book out of the library. It's called The Lilac Tunnel, and I figured that the lilac tunnel would be the medium of time transportation, because that has a pleasantly mystical sound to it, and time travel out to be pleasantly mystical when it's not pretending to be scientific, shouldn't it?

Reader, I was wrong. The lilac tunnel is of barely more than incidental importance to the story; the actual medium of time travel is a locket, which probably could be mystical (although not, she says darkly, as mystical as a lilac tunnel. THE PERFECT MEDIUM FOR TIME TRAVEL WAS RIGHT THERE IN THE TITLE, HOW COULD YOU MISS IT?) but wasn't particularly. And! And! The whole thing was choose-your-own-adventure style, which means that none of the story lines were all that well developed, and they ended rather anticlimactically too. The heroine reopens the locket and goes back home. Without any apparent intention of ever returning! I mean really.

And also the whole thing rather requires flattening out Samantha's character, so she's very friendly and...that's about it, really. She's very friendly and a pleasure to meet and completely anodyne, and it's really rather dull.

Not only have they written their own visitor-from-the-modern-world fanfic, but they weren't even competent at it.

Snooooow!

Oct. 24th, 2013 03:29 pm
osprey_archer: (nature)
It's SNOWING! This is a seasonal milestone and must be celebrated with hot chocolate!

Okay, more accurately, there are a few flakes gently drifting down and not sticking, so "snowing" might be little more than an excuse for hot chocolate.

In other good news, I've gotten my American Girl Christmas catalog! It came yesterday and I have spent much time admiring the photo spreads and their vision of a tiny world full of beautiful things.

My advisor has agreed that I can expand my eight-page paper on American Girl from last year to full article length for my term paper, so hooray! The eight page paper was really too short. Now I will have far more time to reflect on how "American Girl's messages about girlhood" tie into "American Girl's messages about American history."
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
In the interest of completeness, I’ve decided to watch the last couple American Girl movies that I haven’t seen, starting with Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front. It was made for TV, and was about as much of a slog as that implies.

I suspect the reason that so many of the best children’s movies are animated is because so few children can actually act. Molly’s British friend Emily is stunningly competent, and Molly herself sometimes has whole scenes where she evinces actual emotion, but the other child actors in Molly - even her teenage sister, who you’d think would be old enough to have picked up a few acting tricks - are painfully wooden.

I know people like to gripe about twenty-somethings being cast as teens in high school shows. But if the actress playing Molly’s big sister is any guide to teenage acting talent, this practice probably makes the shows infinitely more watchable.

(Having said this, there are good child actors. I recently saw a French movie, The Hedgehog, about an eleven-year-old girl named Paloma who has decided to commit suicide on her twelfth birthday because Society - oh the French, only they could come up with a movie like that - and Paloma is effortlessly pitch perfect. Unlike Molly, you can never see her straining to show emotion.

There just don’t seem to be enough good child actors to populate a movie with lots of children in it. Once the child cast gets big enough, some of them are inevitably flat.)

However, having bagged on child actors for three paragraphs, I must note that the adults in Molly are not very good either. Molly’s mother is played by Molly Ringwald, and either her acting has gone downhill, or everyone in the eighties was so distracted by her luxurious scarlet curls that they failed to notice that her acting isn’t that good.

***

Recently, American Girl has turned away from movies about their historical characters to movies about their modern day Girls of the Year. (These are characters whose doll is only sold for a year.) Theoretically I am bitter about this - Josefina or Addy would make great movies! - but it does mean that I have only one more American Girl movie to watch, so really that’s a win.

Link salad

Sep. 20th, 2013 06:55 am
osprey_archer: (cheers)
A cornucopia of links.

First, We Aren’t the World, which is about the fact that recent anthropological research shows that people in different cultures often respond to psychological tests like ultimatum games very differently than the Americans from whom many psychology researchers have drawn their samples and their conclusions about human nature.

Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.

Or, as my government professor used to say, “Studying the US system to learn about government is like studying platypi to learn about mammals.”

Super interesting!

On a less high-minded note, [livejournal.com profile] sineala sent me this article: Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman Probably Had Sex Once, which, well, what it says on the tin. I share this because the article is hilarious - ”This is a gift. You do realize that, don’t you? History has reached out to you specifically and given you a gift.” - and also because I feel that someone (someone else, someone who cares about Wilde or Whitman) should totally make this story happen.

In fact, someone already nominated Wilde and Whitman for Yuletide! So there is a golden opportunity right there.

And finally, a how-to for Kirsten braids. Yes! At last I can emulate Kirsten Larsen, the American girl with the most iconic hairstyle.

I am thinking of saving this for a St. Lucia Day party in December. I can make saffron buns! I can figure out a way to put a wreath of candles on my head! Or at least a wreath of holly! I have yearned for this day since I was seven.
osprey_archer: (castle)
I have been reading Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles, which is about the fate of Loyalists after the American Revolution. A lot of them fled the US, as many as one in forty members of the population at that time. It’s an awesome book: Jasanoff does a great job tying the broader historical trends into individuals’ stories, so you get a sense how it felt to be part of this grand dislocation on the ground.

Inevitably I filter all the Revolutionary history that I read through a “would this make a good Felicity fic?” sieve. And oh, man, would this ever. The Committee of Safety (the American Revolution had Committees of Safety too; apparently this was common practice during emergencies until the French Revolution tainted the phrase) -

- the Committee of Safety, as I was saying, comes to Elizabeth Cole’s house to look for her father, who of course has not been there for quite some time, but they tear up the house anyway because that’s just what Committees of Safety do. The Cole girls flee to the Merrimans’ house for succor, and it is totally awkward for Elizabeth and Felicity, because what can you possibly say when your side has just wrecked your friend’s house? “Sorry” just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Also, it turns out that I remembered correctly that the British army offered freedom to any slaves who came to fight for them. In fact, after he was chased out of Williamsburg for trying to empty the magazine, the Royal Governor Dunmore set up a floating city of ships in the Chesapeake Bay, to which quite a few slaves - including, IIRC, one of George Washington’s slaves - escaped.

At the end of the war the Americans wanted their escaped slaves back, but the British stuck to their guns and sent them to Nova Scotia instead. But they tended to get their land grants later than the white colonists - and they tended to get less land, and worse - so some of them left to found a colony in Sierra Leone.

Marcus, however - Marcus of Loyalty for Felicity, who joined the British army after he ran away - Marcus stayed in Nova Scotia, hoping to earn enough money to buy his mother Dido and his sweetheart out of slavery. He did manage to get word to them where he was, and when they were freed, they came to Nova Scotia - presumably a lot of walking was involved - and they used the money he had saved to get a plow instead.
osprey_archer: (fic corner)
Dear Scribbler:

Hello! Mere words cannot contain my excitement for this exchange. Fanfic about children’s books! If there were chocolate involved, it would contain all of my favorite things in the world.

So basically I am going to be pretty easy to please. I like most things: gen, het, femmeslash, slash, OT3s, ridiculous adventure. Deliciously bittersweet fic is delightful, and so are fluff and rainbows and fun. I don’t really want anything more explicit than PG-13, though, even if the characters are aged up.

Likes
- Characters who understand each other, even if they sometimes drive each other up the wall
- Loyalty, especially characters doing stupidly amazing things out of loyalty for each other
- Characters who are passionate about something (aside from just each other) – who love their work, their art, their stamp-collecting, anything
- Hurt/comfort fics
- Friendship
- Witty banter
- “Five things…” stories

Dislikes
- Character death

Specifics for the fandoms: American Girl: Rebecca, Code Name Verity, Crown Duel, The Egypt Game, Queen’s Thief )
osprey_archer: (friends)
Thanks to the encouragement and brainstorming aid of [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume and [livejournal.com profile] coraa, I have written a Molly fic! An epistolary fic. Well, partly epistolary. There should be more epistolary fics, you guys! Penpals forever!

Fic: Dispatches
Fandom: American Girl - Molly
Rating: G
Summary: After Emily went back to England, she and Molly became penpals. But when Molly learns that food in England is still rationed years after the end of the war, she offers to help. But that offer doesn't go as she expects.

Also at AO3: Dispatches. It will be the first Molly story on AO3. I am a trendsetter! Or possibly just write for unusual things.

Dispatches )

Meet Julie

Jul. 13th, 2013 01:02 am
osprey_archer: (friends)
One of the reasons I love children’s books is that they are often illustrated, and the illustrations in the American Girl Julie Albright's series, set in the 1970s, are absolutely beautiful. I am particularly partial to the cover of the third book, Happy New Year, Julie, which features Julie and her best friend Ivy Ling overlooking the Chinese New Year Celebration, which shows the sense of arrested motion and light that make the Julie illustrations so charming.

Also this cover showcases the friendship between Julie and Ivy, which naturally is one of my favorite parts of the book. Julie and Ivy grew up across the street from each other - they flickered their lights at each other to say good night - but now Julie only lives there on weekends, because her parents are getting divorced.

At first it seems like their friendship might not survive the move. But, after all, Julie still spends a lot of weekends at her dad’s place, and he’s pretty chill about letting the girls spend the weekends together. (One question the story never answers is why Julie’s mom and dad got divorced, because they both seem like pretty wonderful people.) They spend a lot of time eating chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, or riding cable cars, or exploring the parks of San Francisco, or...

But there’s also a sense of a gradual pulling away; Ivy isn’t in the last two books, and the final book focuses entirely on Julie’s relationship with her classmates at her not-so-new-anymore school. (She befriends a deaf girl who has been mainstreamed in her class.) It’s not that they’re stopped liking each other or will stop being friends, but the distance makes it difficult for them to be everything to each other anymore.

I prefer friendships that transcend distance to this kind of progression (or degression, rather). But I tend to think that Julie and Ivy’s friendship follows a fairly common path, and the series handled it with grace.

I also thought the series handled the divorce well. It’s the end of the world as Julie knows it, and she spends the first two books finding her feet again. But while she doesn’t remain in crisis mode forever, it continues having repercussions, and it’s clearly going to keep having repercussions. I like the fact that they didn’t tie the emotional impact up neatly with a bow.

***

Julie’s best friend Ivy Ling is the first Asian-American American Girl historical character. Unlike Rebecca Rubin, American Girl’s first Jewish historical character, who was greeted with hosannas (this article notes being moved to tears of joy), Ivy seems to have pleased no one, or at least no one who writes a blog. The problem does not seem to be so much Ivy herself, but that Ivy is merely a best friend, a sidekick, for all that she has her own book and doll. Julie is a bigger presence in Ivy’s book that Ivy is in many of Julie’s, for instance.

Clearly the solution is to have an Asian-American main character historical book series/doll! Which would mean more books to read, hooray hooray - because I have read through all the existing American Girl books. Therefore I am contemplating possible historical settings and storylines.

This article suggests at the end that maybe the series should be set at least partly in a Japanese internment camp...but as the author thinks making Addy an escaped slave is offensive, I’m not sure why she thinks setting the first historical Asian-American main character’s story in an internment camp would be awesome. Surely that’s problematic in pretty much exactly the same way?

I don't think it would necessarily be bad, at least if it were done well. But I could see it provoking lots of backlash, and I would be surprised if American Girl moved their 1940s story from the rah! rah! patriotism! of Molly's series to an exploration of the Japanese internment camps. (Which, by the by, I don't think get mentioned in Molly's series - either in the books or the "Peek into the Past" snippets at the end. That seems like rather an oversight.)

Having the first Asian-American Girl live in Hawaii might be fun. It could even be in the 1940s - Japanese-Americans weren’t interned on Hawaii because there were too many of them and they were therefore too important to war industry. Young...Mari, maybe?... could have relatives in for instance California who get interned, without going through it herself.

I do like the idea of having this hypothetical Asian-American girl live in the twentieth century, because so far all American Girl’s twentieth century girls are white. She could be the American Girl of the 1980s (or 1990s, although I am going to feel so old when a 1990s doll comes out). In that case it would be particularly awesome if she was Muslim, from Indonesia or the Indian subcontinent...

Meet Molly

Jul. 6th, 2013 11:43 am
osprey_archer: (books)
YOU GUYS YOU GUYS, TERRIBLE NEWS. Well, okay, mildly unfortunate news. AMERICAN GIRL IS RETIRING MOLLY.

Molly, the 1940s girl who thirsts for glory and leadership and may someday achieve them if her tactlessness does not do her in first!

Pretty sure tactless is her middle name. When Emily the English refugee girl stays at Molly’s house, Molly is all friendly and welcoming and “Hello, refugee from the blitz! How about you come down in the basement and play fake bomb shelter with us! It will be fun!”

Emilly: O.O

Molly eventually realizes her mistake, and the two girls bond over their shared love of the two English princesses, only to almost destroy their friendship having a fight over Molly’s birthday party. They decide that it should be an English tea - only Emily, who despite being quite reserved is as stubborn as the day is long, wants it to really be a proper English tea, whereas Molly, though in theory enthusiastic about all things English, wants a proper birthday cake.

Molly is rather stunned that Emily won’t give in, partly because, after all, it is Molly’s birthday, and partly because Molly’s two everyday best friends generally follow her lead. Susan and Linda are all but indistinguishable, and I have the impression that - while Molly really does like them - she also likes the fact that she can lead them.

Molly, you see, is forever coming up with Plans. When we first meet her, she is trying to think of a way to convince Susan and Linda to be the ugly stepsisters to Molly’s Halloween Cinderella. This particular plan falls through, but fear not, Molly has plenty more! She wants to be the leader, the star: the guiding light to her class’s contribution to the war effort, the leader of her team in the summer camp game of capture the flag, the principal dancer in her tap class’s variety show.

This self-assurance - self-centeredness, even - is both one of Molly’s most winning qualities and her greatest flaw. Winning, because she has the talent and persistence to bring her Plans to fruition, and I admire that; but at the same time a flaw, because this is at the root of her tactlessness: she so wrapped up in herself that she often doesn’t seem to notice other people (and she positively sulks when she doesn’t win).

One of the things I love about Molly’s portrayal is that it does capture the duality of this quality: she’s great fun to read about because she’s always making things happen, but nonetheless this thirst for glory does lend a certain prickliness to her relationships with almost everyone in her life. She wants to be at the center of things; she doesn’t want to compromise!

But she does learn to compromise with Emily. In the end, they both apologize: Emily for taking over Molly’s birthday party because of her own homesickness, and Molly for losing her temper with Emily. It’s unfortunate that Emily and Molly probably never see each other again once Emily goes back to England. Maybe they could be penpals?

EPISTOLARY FIC. It could be a thing!

***

I have been thinking about American Girl against recently because there is going to be children’s and YA book fic exchange called [livejournal.com profile] fic_corner (the dreamwidth mirror community seems to be more active) (THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH EXCLAMATION POINTS IN THE WORLD TO SHOW HOW EXCITED I AM ABOUT THIS) and so I have been STRATEGIZING.

I think it is probably better to ask for fic about the American Girls who have been around longer (which, fortunately, tends to dovetail with the ones I want fic about...) because people are more likely to have the emotional investment to write for them.

Also the necessary canon knowledge. Caroline fic might be fun, but I am pretty sure I am the only person over the age of ten who has read her books.
osprey_archer: (books)
Kit Kittredge, girl reporter! I’ve been trying to write this entry for over a week, but it’s hard to know where to start when I love so many things that the Kit books choose to be. They were not the beginning of my long love affair with the history of the thirties - that would be Blue Willow (which is awesome and everyone should read it! I heart Janie forever!) - but they were a contributing factor.

Incidentally, when I was researching my American Girl paper I found lesson plans online, using the American Girl books as the cornerstones for lessons in American history. In some ways the books rather invite this treatment: each book ends with a section called “A Peek into the Past,” which talks about some aspect of history related to the story.

(The American Girl books were the first historical fiction books I read on my own. When I went on to other historical fiction books, I was surprised that they didn’t all have historical notes in the back.)

If a child finishes the American Girl books and cries “I want to read All the Things about the Depression!” clearly that’s great - especially if they want to read a Depression Era novel about, you know, robots and hopping trains and ancient Egypt artifacts.

But if not, it seems to me that making the American Girl books part of a formal curriculum will just ruin what’s there. There seems to be a sense that - why let kids just enjoy the books when you could wring every drop of educational value from it?

But I think actually just letting them enjoy the books is the most educational policy, even if they don’t rush out to read all about the Great Depression afterward. They’ll still have a sense of the history and a few tidbits of it, made memorable by the context of the story, and a sense that history can be interesting and exciting, which forcing it into the context of a lesson would kill.

But I’ve wandered rather far afield from Kit Kittredge and friends. In the Kit books, Tripp reprises the sort of tripodal relationship that worked so well for her in the Felicity books: heroine, best friend, friend who is a boy. In the Kit books, the friend-who-is-boy is Stirling. Unlike Ben Davidson in the Felicity books, Stirling does not come equipped with “future love interest!” arrows pointing at his forehead: “penniless boarder” is not nearly as eligible a category as “firebrand apprentice.”

Kit’s best friend Ruthie, however, is even more awesome than Felicity’s best friend Elizabeth. Ruthie loves fairytales! (“Loves fairy tales,” like “steals horses,” is an instant road to my heart.) She has her own companion book, Really Truly Ruthie, in which Ruthie goes on a Quest - a real life fairytale quest! With strangers who help guide her, and a real life sleigh ride! - to find Kit’s aunt, who might have the money to save Kit’s house.

Kit’s father, you see, has lost his job; hence the boarders the family has to take in. Kit is plucky, proud, and prickly, an ardent admirer of Amelia Earhart and Robin Hood, who yearns for a tree house and dreams of being a reporter.

The tightening horizons of Kit’s dreams, now that her family has lost its money, is one of the themes in the books, and the constriction makes Kit peppery, especially with her still-wealthy best friend Ruthie. Another theme: how to help unfortunate friends (in money, in this case, but I imagine the same idea applies in other things) without embarrassing them.

All the books I read as a child had all these great life lessons in them. It’s kind of a pity I didn’t internalize most of them more.

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