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...