These Books Made Me

American Girl - Samantha

August 12, 2021 Prince George's County Memorial Library System Season 1 Episode 5
These Books Made Me
American Girl - Samantha
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We continue our journey through the American Girl book series with Samantha Parkington. Samantha was one of the AG OGs and was released as one of the original three characters in the Pleasant Company catalog. We learn a bit about doll manufacturing and discuss Samantha's first six books and their historical and literary merits. In this episode, we will explore how American Girl frames feminism, suffrage, child labor and questionable interior decorating choices. Kelsey makes a startling disclosure of Munchausen's by doll violence and we are flummoxed by mysterious pregnancies and chronological discrepancies in the American Girl books. We'll also chat with a community expert, Laurie Lemieux of Proteus Bicycles and Brews, to get her take on Samantha's bicycling mishaps and the history of women in cycling.

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped us and is a product of the Prince George's County Memorial Library System podcast network. Stay in touch with us via Twitter @PGCMLS with #TheseBooksMadeMe or by email at TheseBooksMadeMe@pgcmls.info. For recommended readalikes and deep dives into topics related to each episode, visit our blog at https://pgcmls.medium.com/.                                       
                                       
We mentioned a lot of topics in this episode. Here’s a brief list of some informative articles about some of them if you want to do your own further research:
American Girl doll manufacturing information: https://americangirl.fandom.com/wiki/Classic_Mold and https://americangirl.fandom.com/wiki/Pre-Mattel_Dolls
The Manners of the Edwardian Era: https://driehausmuseum.org/blog/view/the-manners-of-the-edwardian-era
What Is the Difference Between Edwardian & Victorian Eras?: https://classroom.synonym.com/difference-between-edwardian-victorian-eras-23230.htm
Child Labor in the United States: https://laborcenter.uiowa.edu/special-projects/child-labor-public-education-project/about-child-labor/child-labor-us-history

Hawa:

Hi, I'm Hawa.

Heather:

I'm Heather.

Kelsey:

I'm Kelsey.

Hannah:

I'm Hannah.

Hawa:

And this is our podcast. These Books Made me. Today we are going to be continuing our American Girl series of episodes with Samantha in her original six books, friendly warning as always, this podcast contains spoilers. If you don't know, whose pocket knife may be full of taffy, proceed with caution,

Heather:

Let's kick it off with what did this book or series of books mean to you? Did anyone read these as a child?

Kelsey:

I don't know if I did or not. I thought I did. And then I was reading them and I didn't remember much of anything except for that, Her grandmother's called Grand Mary. And like, I remember all the clothes, otherwise. I do not remember anything that happened in these books. So like, I'm not sure if I just remember looking at the catalog If I actually read some books or not. I mean,

Hannah:

She had really good clothes, like in all fairness, like if you're going to remember one thing that would be the thing to remember. I read them as a kid and I, when I went back to reread them, I'm like, I remember nothing. And then I started reading them. I'm like, oh yeah. And I'm like, okay, that bit struck me at the time. And oh, you know, there's her, her angels and her stocking that she ripped and, you know, the misadventures with the boats. So yeah, they kind of came back to me, but I did not know. I would remember as much as , uh , as I ended up remembering as I went through them.

Hawa:

I don't even remember the concept of me knowing about American Girl dolls as a kid or like the books or anything. So like, I mean, I possibly could've looked at them or seen them, but like, I don't know, maybe like that part of my memory was just completely erased because I think over the past couple of years I saw people saying, oh my gosh, like American Girl dolls, I'm reminiscing on the books. I wonder if I can find them anywhere. And I'm just like, huh. So this was like my first go around. So it was exciting.

Heather:

I definitely read all of these as a kid because Samantha was the doll that I really pined for. And she was my first nice doll, but yeah, it was vague recollections. I remember Grandmary existing. I remember Nellie existing. And then beyond that, it was very blurry. So rereading it was interesting because it was almost like a deja vu sense. It wasn't so much a familiarity. It was a vague sense of I've done this before with Samantha. Um, these would be really interesting to read for the first time as an adult. Hawa, I'm going to be really interested to hear your take on that, because I think these more than any other books that we've done so far are definitely aimed at a younger age range. Like definitely child. They're not meant to be young adults. They're not even meant to be tween, it's child. So

Hawa:

They're not like the other books we've, we've discussed where it's like, yeah, they're like, you know, there is something that adults can kind of find value in. Um , didn't feel like that with these books at all, but , um, I'll, I'll hold on to that for now.

Heather:

Great works of literature. They are not, but I will say that rereading these, I did find them at least initially more enjoyable than the Kirsten books, which I think is probably related to the changing authors within the American Girl oeuvre, which we can also talk about a little bit later in the episode. Hannah, do you want to take us into some of the context for American Girl that you were researching?

Hannah:

Yes. So what I did well, we've become interested in looking at how the dolls changed over time. After we, u h, got into the history of Pleasant Company and what would become the American girl company after they were sold to Mattel. So I did some research into, uh, doll manufacturing, like specifically the American Girl dolls, not like all dolls throughout history. Okay. So, uh, let me get into a little bit of what I've found about how the American girl dolls were made. So there are roughly three phases to how these dolls were and are made. There's the original Pleasant Company, doll models, which my research tells me are known in American Girl doll fandom, which is a thing as pre-Mattel dolls. They generally have larger bodies than those of later models with broader shoulders and larger feet. The vinyl they are constructed of is softer than how the vinyl is now. Their torsos are they're often made out of white cloth, uh Samantha, Molly or Kirsten, kind of the original three. Those were, those were originally made with white cloth torsos. Um, the release of Felicity later changed this. And we'll get more into that. When we have our Felicity episode, the faces of the pre Mattel dolls usually have less paint on them. So like their cheeks are not quite as pink and maybe their lips are a little more faded and the eyes might be a different color than how they are now - uh little brighter or softer. The eyelashes are usually softer and maybe sometimes more of a natural color than the Mattel ones, which are, I think quite hard and often quite dark on the original pre-Mattel dolls there should be. In most cases, I think a copyright of Pleasant Company, mark, u m, a nd that's going to be on the back of the neck. Uh, pre-Mattel dolls were made from 1986 to 1999. As I believe we mentioned in the previous episode, Cleasant company was acquired by Mattel in 1998 and they began to change up how the American Girl dolls were made leading us to the manufacturer of what are known as the transitional dolls. There will be a quiz later, are you paying attention? Just kidding - uh transitional dolls are characterized by harder eyelashes, like the harder darker ones that I mentioned , um , than those of the pre-Mattel dolls bodies that are still larger than the later Mattel doll bodies. And there's a possibility of defects during this time period that you might encounter on a doll like with the vinyl skin, it could have a gray cast to it. And , um, the modacrylic hair fibers, there's a possible defect with those two. They might frizz really easily. By , uh , by the time we get to 2002, we're into the era of standardized Mattel traits in all of the dolls being made. They are generally smaller in both the soft cloth torso and the molded vinyl limbs at this point. Clothing made for a pre-Mattel and transitional dolls may be too big for a later models and Mattel clothing, including shoes, maybe too tight or too small on earlier dolls. The cloth of the torsos is now made to match the skin tone of the dolls, limbs and face. Dolls have gradually had brows changed from line brows so they're just kind of a simple drawn line on the vinyl face to a more feathered natural style. All dolls made now come with neck strings, which according to the American girl doll website is quote a handmaid detail that hearkens back to classic doll, making traditions. They caution us not to cut them because that's what holds the head on. Getting back to Samantha. She was one of the three original dolls and among the first in what would become the Historical Character line, she has a face made in the first face mode that the company created, what is known as the classic mold like Kiersten, Molly, and Samantha. She has a wig with bang. Her skin tone is light and she has brown eyes and dark brown hair.

Kelsey:

Okay. So now we're going to dive into the plot summary and just like with our Kirsten episode, I will read each book's plot and then we'll discuss it before moving onto the next book because , um, as we've kind of already talked about, it is very easy to mix up the plot. So we want to break them out to make it a little easier also side note. I was just thinking about this while you were talking about the doll history. The number one thing I wanted to do with my doll was like break off her arm. So I get to sent her off the hospital and have her come back in the like, ER gown. And they would come back with like a little like hospital bracelet and everything. And I thought it was so cool. And that's all I ever wanted by knowing if I broke my doll, my parents would be like, tough luck now. Like we're going to pay hundreds of dollars.

Hawa:

Oh wait. Is that a thing that was a thing?

Heather:

I liked it. This sort of mimics Samantha storyline in which she's given Lydia, her doll away to Nellie. And then she's too scared to ask Grandmary for the replacement.

Hannah:

Yes. Okay.

Kelsey:

So let's dive in , uh, meet. Samantha's our first book. So in this book, Samantha befriends, Nellie, a servant girl, next door, they go on a midnight adventure and a secret pregnancy is revealed. Nellie's persistent cough Gets her fired. What do we think?

Hawa:

Okay. So I just wanted to say that did nobody noticed that she was pregnant the whole time. Like it was like, okay, Jessie might've gone away because she had a baby, but like she had

Heather:

She has the baby, like two days after she leaves she would have been showing for sure.

Kelsey:

I was very confused by this timeline so was I, and the baby in the picture too, was like a grown baby.

Hannah:

So here's what I thought. And maybe I'm totally wrong or is this the official plot summary? This is the plot summary via me. So I thought that she had the baby and the baby was already born before she started working , um, for Grandmary. And then like she had her childcare fall through it, fell through and she had to go and take care of Nathaniel, but maybe I was totally off there. I was confused.

Hawa:

So I know at one point they mentioned like, you know, her husband had to go to work. So she had to kind of watch the baby, but it also kind of gave the impression that she might've been working for Grandmary for at least long enough to where she probably would have been pregnant while there.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I thought she'd been there for a couple of years

Heather:

Or something. She had been there for a while and it definitely was implying that she gave birth. And that was why that she left to give birth because they had the whole back and forth where Nellie said the midwife came when her sister was born and in the store, There was no stork. So it was a very, like strange reveal pregnancy-related workplace discrimination, but then also hint at birds and bees conversation. Yeah. It was an odd path to navigate for this book.

Kelsey:

I found myself wondering like how many birds and bees conversations were sparked.

Heather:

By the Samantha book

Kelsey:

Parents were like, so mad that that was the doll. Their kid could've have this conversation before they were ready. But aside from this timeline being very confusing, kind of in just weird, there was a part where they're all kind of hinting around. Why did Jessie leave? Why like, why is this happening? And everyone's saying like, oh, let you know, you just have to trust the grown ups to know best. But Samantha says something that I really liked. And I thought it was really probably really relatable for readers. I don't know what anybody knows this frustration that you have when you're a kid where like everyone seems to know this thing and, and they have all this wisdom and you're not being let in to even know what decisions are being made to be able to trust the final decision. And you're just being told, you just have to let adults figure it out and you can't be part of it. I felt like that was really a relatable feeling for kids to see.

Heather:

I agree. I felt like this book did a much better job than the first Kirsten book of sort of establishing characterization for the main characters. I thought that it was a much more nuanced depiction of an actual child rather than here are things happening around this one person. There are a lot of timeline questions so that I have, like, not just the pregnancy, this book, I'm very confused by the chronology of things. The age of Grandmary confuses me. So like Samantha is nine, right? Her parents probably at that time would not have been like super old when they had her, it would have been weird that they had one and only one child when they were like in their forties or something. So they were probably in their twenties when they had her. So if they had not died via tragic boating accident, they would be maybe in their thirties now. Grandmary's probably like in her fifties, but she's depicted as like basically an 80 year old woman with snow white hair. Yeah. What is going on here?

Kelsey:

Is old, older back then, but even

Hawa:

Like appearance - wise

Heather:

Yeah, like Grandmary was just a really hard 55.

Hannah:

You do encounter people Who have really like snowy silvery hair at very young ages. So, I mean, it's conceivable she could be in her fifties with, you know, snowy white hair piled up, but you're right. They do present her as like an 80 year old woman

Hawa:

Sorry to sidetrack a little bit, but like this midnight adventure that they took, like, it starts kind of very early on, like where are the adults? Like then they venture over to what they say is the colored part of town. And they were like, oh, well, why does she have to live here? And they're just like, I don't know. It's just kind of the way things are like,

Kelsey:

Yeah, they just pick that up and then put it right back down. Never talk about it again.

Hawa:

Literally never talk about it again. Not even at the end,

Kelsey:

in the back matter.

Hawa:

Yeah exactly.

Hannah:

They gloss. right over it.

Heather:

That seems to be a theme for the American Girl books is they don't shy away from mentioning really tough topics, but then they lead over any details about them. And it's just like this exists, but then it's not explained, it's not fleshed out. There's not really any judgment put on it. You get nothing about the, you know, segregation, you get nothing about classism.

Hawa:

Yeah. And then like, you know, in the beginning of the book, they have, like the pictures of what everybody in the family and the friends look like. So I saw that immediately and I was like, okay, yeah, Jessie is Black. I wonder how they're going to talk about race. If at all, Samantha is a very seemingly inquisitive child, but it was interesting that that was one thing that she didn't go to the adults about, but it's also like maybe they didn't know how to like, navigate truly what an adult's perspective or thought on that would have been at that time. So maybe they just felt like, well, it's just kind of the way things were.

Heather:

It seemed like kind of a cop-out. Right. It was like, we're going to mention this because we have to mention it. But then the only real explanation for it was Nellie said something like, that's just how adults are, who knows why they do things kind of acknowledging that it was problematic, but in the vaguest way possible, it seemed very much like we're going to mention that, oops, I wish we didn't open that can of worms. Yeah. Divert, divert, and go to something else. It's an odd choice. And maybe in the context of when it was written, that's somewhat more understandable because this book would have been in the eighties.

Hawa:

That's how, that was another thing I thought about, to be honest, when it was written.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Yeah. But like, even thinking about , um, Jesse's husband drives the two girls home and I was like, worried for him. Like that would be very dangerous for an African-American man in that time period. Like tha.

Heather:

it would be dangerous today. [ inaudible]

Hawa:

Why are you driving around with these little two white girls that have gone missing In the middle of the night. Yeah,

Kelsey:

yeah.

Heather:

Yeah.

Hannah:

I was worried for him too.

Kelsey:

Um , but I wanted to mention that was way too quick for that many ants to accumulate on that jelly cookie.

Hannah:

It was! That bothered me, but I was also kind of gleeful about it.

Kelsey:

I was like, what are the odds that she left this cookie overnight and she arrives immediately as the first ant gets there and then a hundred arrive over the course of one conversation.

Hannah:

Can I say how much I appreciated that they felt the need to like draw pictures of the jam cookie, each subsequent page. There'd be more ants and more ants that I'm like, I'm supposed to be reading the text that I'm like, how many ants are on the cookie right now?

Hawa:

Also in terms of like, time, I noticed that like, all these books say 1904 on them, but I'm like, there's no way these all took place in 1904. If the second or third book is Christmas. And then it goes into the next year.

Heather:

Yeah. I think all of these books take place in 0 (zero) four through 0 (zero) five.

Kelsey:

So that must be true for all the girls. Cause pretty much all of them have a Christmas book.

Hawa:

Like I think the last one maybe says like 1906, where's the consistency?

Kelsey:

Oh. And then just the last thing I wanted to mention is that I really respect her creativity with pranks, like the taffy and the knife, and then putting his beetle collection in the offering. That's creative. I had a lot of respect for Samantha.

Hawa:

She really knew what was important to him and what he was really like cherish even though they weren't friends . She did.

Heather:

She saw her leverage and she seized it.

Kelsey:

Love that. Um , alright. So book two, Samantha Learns a Lesson, Samantha tutors Nellie, after the public school children bully her for being uneducated. Samantha learns about child labor and the Industrial Revolution. Sam gives a triumph in public speech while asking Mount Bedford, why they can't just think of the children.

Heather:

Okay. So I, I liked that they were trying to show growth for Samantha , uh, in terms of her understanding of an issue that would have been a real progressive issue at the time with child labor. But that being said, I don't see her speech winning

Kelsey:

Me. Neither.

Heather:

Everyone in that audience would have been like, boo, we love child labor Nothing in these books leads us to think that anyone in Mount Bedford is progressive other than Samantha's family members.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And if nothing else, it is definitely not lady like to call out the fault of America. Right?

Hannah:

No. And also, I mean, even if the topic was changed as something maybe more socially appropriate at the time, it's not a particularly eloquent. Like even if you changed all the words to [inaudible] a different opinion, like they're very simple sentence. I know that she's nine, but what did have one? I find that very hard to believe.

Heather:

Well, they also, apparently only had like 20 seconds allotted to their speech because the speech was like three sentences.

Hawa:

And it just felt like , um, very much like, okay, well, you know, if you speak up for what's right, then, you know, everybody will approve. And I'm just like, I don't know if that's super accurate for the time.

Heather:

Samantha was sassy in this one too. And it had the same author as the first book. And I did feel like they did a good job of painting her as a real child. Like she totally burns Edith Adelson, who is the worst. She says probably no one on earth was as smart as Edith Edelson thought she was. Which I feel is a very like on point criticism and also something you would think as a kid. So I liked this. She was kind of sassy. Um, I liked a lot of the like weird details in this, like having to wear the flannels under her stockings because Grandmary thought that that would keep her from getting tuberculosis, which, you know, it wouldn't, but it also just sounded awful to me. And I think we all can relate to being a child and your parent making you do something that you hate, even if it's something that's good for you, like brush your teeth or take your vitamin or whatever it is. And you just really resent it. And she keeps on resenting it into future books, which I liked that continuity of Samantha's arc hating on the flannels.

Kelsey:

Oh yeah.

Hannah:

Cause man, I would have hated those two that had to be miserable.

Kelsey:

But I do want to say, I at least appreciated like Samantha is a much better friend than Kirsten. Like that's great. Like I thought about this at the end of the last book too, like she actually thinks about her friend after her friend goes away. She's sad when her friend comes back, she like listens to her problems and tries to help her and is like an active listener when she talks about her struggle and like reflects and changes. Like she's a really good friend, at least she's got that way above Kirsten so far.

Heather:

Yeah. She's a much better friend than Kirsten. And again, I just feel like you get a much more well-rounded character in these first few Samantha books than we ever got with Kirsten. So they were more enjoyable reads to me.

Hawa:

I definitely think that Samantha is a pretty well rounded character. I mean, I honestly thought like, you know, in the introduction when they talked about like, you know, they're, she's from a wealthy family, like I thought she was going to be a brat, but honestly she really wasn't at all. So that was my fault for assuming that, but you know, she's she was likeable.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I mean, I agree everyone whenever I talk about Samantha with people. Cause you know, I talked to American Girl quite a bit in my life on good reads like that. I was reading these books, someone, one of my friends commented and said they all, Samantha was bougie. Like that's the thing everyone remembers. Like I always remember her with the muff, like ha having the white muff. That's like the thing I think about. So like, yeah. I think the first thing you think about she's, she's just rich and you assume that she's bratty, but she's yeah, she's really not at all.

Heather:

You remember the privilege because she had all of these nice things. Like all of her accessories were super posh. She had crystal, she had, you know, the muff, she had these very nice clothes, but I had forgotten that the books really sort of tried to establish Samantha and maybe even more so Cornelia as really pushing against the status quo on every level. So whether it succeeds or not at that, I think that it was trying to show some sort of nascent progressivism in her, even with the things like in this book, you know, there's a really concerning the piction of noblesse oblige, right? Grandmary is trying to impart to Samantha this sort of idea that part of your station in life as a lady is to be charitable to your lessors. And that's clearly how she's viewing the relationship between Samantha and Nellie. And that's why she's supporting it because when Samantha says, why can't the other kids in town? Why can't Edith play with Nellie? Well, you're not playing with her, you're helping her. You're not playing with her either. So it shows that, and it's clear that the book wants us to see that that's kind of gross. Like that's not what we're aiming for here and Samantha's doing something deeper and more nuanced. So I like that. I do wonder how clear that is though to child readers.

Kelsey:

Well, it makes me wonder if kids reading this book actually read the back matter because the, I found this to be one of the more interesting ones of all the books that we've read so far, because most of them are just like, yeah, this is like the day-to-day life. And this is what school was like and it's stuff that's certainly interesting and good to know, but it's not like impactful in any real like grander scale. And this was really about how hard life was for these, the kids that worked in these factories. And they tried to go to work during the day in school at night and there's pictures of them sleeping in school and they can't keep up. And I think if kids read that they might've had more context to place some of the stuff with Nelly, but if they didn't, which I bet a lot of them didn't , uh, you know, I don't, I don't know. I'm not sure.

Hawa:

So there's the one part in the book that , um , I may not be remembering correctly where Grandmary is talking to some other adults from town and they're just asking like, you know why she's basically letting , um, Samantha run around with that servant girl. And I know that like Samantha kind of says, like she can see that Grand Mary's kind of like annoyed with the question. Was it, did she convey it kind of like, yeah, she's doing her a favor or something like that. Like she's doing good. That's what she said. Right. Or something like that.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Yeah. It did. It did make the like Grandmary's point of view kind of confusing because on one hand she's like defending, like Samantha should hang out with whoever she wants to. And like that those children, like I brought them here. I I'm like supportive of them and she seemed like she wanted Samantha and Nelly to be friends. And then later it's like, oh, you're not friends, but Grandmary's kind of whole perspective was like, I'm doing this as charity. Like I'm bringing them back as charity. But I do think there was some like confusing perspective there on grammar is part of like what she actually wanted out of Samantha and Nellie's relationship. And

Heather:

That seems to be a through line for Grandmary in the stories, because it was like that was suffrage too, you know, she does this sort of double down on the old ways, but then she's easily brought around to the more progressive stance. And so maybe the take home is supposed to be that, you know, at core Grandmary is a good person and she can sort of be moved to what we would consider a more modern viewpoint because that's like already in her heart to do so. Even if she kind of toes the party line and says the right thing

Hawa:

With Grandmary, it's maybe more so well, you know, once presented with new information, she's willing to kind of see a different side, even if it takes a little bit, which it can, it does come across as kind of realistic in a way though. I will say that sometimes it did seem a little fast paced, but I'll let I'll wait until we kind of get to that part.

Heather:

They put some really extreme things in these books. We saw this with Marta dying right off the bat and Kirsten of cholera. This one includes a description of a child being scalped by a machine in a factory.

Hannah:

Oh yeah. I remember that. That stuck with me. I mean, I think on some level I'm like, that's great because it really drives home. This was very bad. Like the children in the factories had it very bad and then definitely the back matter in the books, that's the non - fiction part sort of emphasizes that, but it's a bit surprising when you get to it because the books very much read as though they're written for a second grader and then it's like, oh, child got scalped by machine. Just matter of fact, like telling Samantha about this.

Hawa:

Well then On the next page, you see Nelly next to the machine and it's just like, well, now I'm looking at this machine and I'm imagining a girl's head being like,

Kelsey:

Well, and it's like, you can't you like, oh my God, never get any anywhere close to talking about race, but we can talk about a child being scalped. That's fine. You know, like no big deal.

Heather:

Yeah. I think that's a very valid point because each book you sort of see, like, what was their issue here? Like what historical issue did they want to drive home? This one was child labor. So again, they just elide over all of the other problematic things. There's like nods to it like, oh, segregation exists. Oh, you know, misogyny is a thing. Oh like class is a problem. Oh, alcoholism in the last book. But it's nothing beyond just, tip your hat to it and move right on. Which is a little off - putting at times

Hannah:

It's like, there can only be one major issue, they will treat at a time.

Heather:

They are like 50 pages long, the actual fictional part of the book. So like I get that, they're trying to cram a lot into a small space, but it does make it a little hard as an adult to read it without being like, wait, wait, you're just going to leave that there.

Kelsey:

Well, somehow They're 50, 50 to 60 pages long. And yet like some of them impossible to summarize with like four sentences, like how is this true? Um, okay. So let's go on to Samantha's Surprise. So in this one, Samantha pines for a doll to replace Lydia and works hard on special presents for everyone. Christmas is all about Cornelius visit and Samantha is over it by Christmas morning, Sam and Cornelia are best friends.

Hawa:

I just want to say that. I feel like from the very beginning, it was very clear that he was planning on proposing to her. Right. And also, I just felt so bad for Samantha. She made all her little cute little decorations that she was so excited to put up. And then they come in with the florist. Then she's like, yeah, no. Who, who, who put up this garbage?

Kelsey:

Oh my God I was so mad on her behalf, but yeah, the proposal was weird. I wasn't surprised that they were getting married. Like I assumed that was going to happen. But then he says like, here's a ring. And then she says, June like, like, did they talk about it before? It doesn't seem normal to me at that time to have discussed in advance, like your wedding, your marriage, before you do it, would it have been normal for them to like have made a plan to get married before they get engaged?

Heather:

I feel like it's more the opposite that back then things were more planned out because it seemed very clear that Grandmary knew that they were going to be married. And that was why she was making a big fuss for Cornelia coming for Christmas. It was sort of a, we're glad you're joining the family thing. And that it was only Samantha that wasn't like tracking.

Hawa:

But like, did she get hit before the end? Because it's like, she switched out the gift that she was going to give to that made no sense.

Heather:

Because she gave him chocolates after he said he liked jelly beans better. I was like, no, what are you doing? Samantha?

Hawa:

We had the whole conversation where she hinted to him what she was going to give him. And she hinted toward the box that she made just to give him chocolate. Like?

Hannah:

That was the surprise. The surprise was to us.

Hawa:

But no, you made a good point about how like obviously, you know, Grandmary must've known because she was getting the house ready for Cornelia and stuff like that. Did she ever do or say anything that hinted that she knew?

Kelsey:

I guess they did a good job putting it in a child's eyes. Cause I did not take that. Emmy mentioned this in the last book and now I can't stop thinking about it as the doll marketing hidden within, I thought about it a little bit with the Lydia thing, but then Nellie gave it away and I was like, okay, but then this one, this was like pure, like isn't it nice to have a nice doll with smooth skin and like pretty eyes. It was like very much. You need an American Girl. In fact, you need two American Girl doll. And then later the next book, she has like a doll birthday party. And I was like, wow, they're really just driving this home. Like this is happening.

Heather:

Yeah. The Samantha ones went really hard on the marketing. I felt like with like all of the accessories, because as I'm reading, I was like, oh, I remember this accessory. Oh, I remember this dress. I remember much more. So even than with the Kirsten doll, like I felt like they gave a lot of attention to, we're going to describe the petit fours and the crystal that's used for her birthday party. Cause you need these.

Hawa:

So it was interesting because you know, they, they happened to stop by the toy store on their way, on their way back home. And of course, you know, they make it. So yes, the store is, is super busy and you never know if the doll is still going to be there and who knows if it will be there and everybody has a don't you want a doll? You should get a doll because everybody else is going to have a doll. If you don't have a doll, you'll be the only one without a doll. Get your parents to buy you an American Girl doll.

Heather:

Totally. That whole thing about the Schofield's Toy Store was a very like FOMO about dolls.

Hawa:

Yeah,

Hannah:

I was reminded , um, you said that about the, you know, the, the marketing just now, Hawa, I just finished , uh, when I finished reading Happy Birthday, Samantha, which is clearly one of the older books I went to the back and there's a tear out postcard with no postage necessary that says I'm an American girl who loves to get mail. Please send me a catalog at the American Girls collection for both yourself and a friend. So I'm like, huh, okay.

Heather:

It's like an American Girl pyramid scheme. I did want to mention. So the first three books, I started keeping like a running list of the foods that appear because they talk about food a lot in the first three books. And then that just sort of vanishes for the final three, which were written by a different author who apparently doesn't care about food. But can we talk about Samantha's diet for a moment? So here is my list of foods that appear in the first few books, gingerbread, jelly cookies, random cookies, cakes with pink frosting, lemonade, sugar cookies, hot cocoa, taffy sticks, caramel squares, cinnamon drops, licorice ropes, mince pies, pound-cake, peppermint drops, cranberry sauce, jam, tea sandwiches, truffles, jelly, beans, sugar, wafers, lemon drops, honey sticks, plum pudding. It just goes on and on. And it's all sugar.

Kelsey:

Yep. Well, they said at the end of the book in the back matter that it was a sign of success in that time to be plump. So I'm not even

Heather:

Like, it's not even a weight thing. I'm just like, does she get any none , uh , sugar calories? Like her diet is apalling.

Hannah:

Samantha goes to the dentist.

Heather:

She has no teeth.

Kelsey:

The other thing that bothered me in this one is , um , Uncle Gard makes that joke about like the three clues to what her gift was. And it has notes, bound. Okay.

Heather:

Bound is the one she didn't get.

Kelsey:

like, so he says notes, play and bound. And then she opens it up and it's this music box that has music , uh sheet music in it. And she's like, ah, yes, it's play because I can play it. And it's notes. Cause it has notes in it and it's bound because I'm bound to love it. And I'm like, no it's bound because it's a book! [laughter, inaudible].

Heather:

Yeah, Samantha was a little slow on that one

Kelsey:

Let's summarize Happy Birthday Samantha. So in this book, Eddie Ryland is the worst.

Hannah:

He is the worst.

Kelsey:

And tries to ruin Samantha's party. The twins make their first chaotic appearance. Sam is feeling salty, but not even Eddie can spoil her party,

Hawa:

But he kind of did,

Kelsey:

But he kind of did.

Heather:

He just wrecked the ice cream. And really, he may have been ahead of its time. Like we were saying, because salt is a nice note in ice cream.

Kelsey:

Oh yeah. It super is.

Hawa:

Also the party seemed like it was kind of boring before all that happened, to be honest, it's like, it's like they needed that gang up on him to kind of bring some life to the party. Also for this to be a book about her birthday. It really wasn't about her birthday.

Heather:

No, it really wasn't. It was the twins being extra. It was Eddie being a jerk. I did feel bad for Mrs Hawkins in this one because the twins just came in and they were like Gordon Ramsey. And they were like, no, make it lots of cakes, no make the ice cream and molds like they do in New York. I felt so much stress for her.

Kelsey:

I never wanted to hear how they do it in New York ever again , like by page eight, if you say how they do it in New York, one more time. I swear to God

Hawa:

Drove home. The point that these, these were the cool hip twins from New York city who are going to introduce us to all these things that the cool kids do in New York city.

Heather:

This was the book where the series kind of jumped the shark for me because we went from having like interesting details and descriptions and more nuance to sort of losing everything to plottiness. And it's like, we're going to cram 52 things into this one book. And yeah, it lost some of the charm of the initial three for me at this point.

Hawa:

But it's also like, is there no like medium for the series? Because like the, the first book or two kind of felt like, okay, like by the time anything starts to happen, the book is over. And then it's like in these, it's like so much plot, plot, plot plot plot. And I'm just like, where's the middle ground here. Like.

Heather:

These felt a lot more Kirsten-y where there's so many major plot things that happen and yet still nothing happens. Right. So I I'm assuming that's going to be a tone from here out because I noticed that Valerie Tripp writes a lot of books going forward. So

Kelsey:

She wrote the Felicity books, didn't she?

Heather:

And the Molly ones. I believe maybe the Valerie Tripp style works better for a kid who wants, they want action, It's exciting. Yeah. Maybe. So.

Kelsey:

I was annoyed that there was no history of suffrage at the end of the book.

Hawa:

That's so interesting. I think also that maybe in a way for them to avoid having to talk about more difficult subjects, because you could talk about how a woman could vote, but maybe like a little later, but black people couldn't vote. So maybe they didn't wanna have to touch on that. Yeah.

Heather:

Yeah. Voting history is a much more interesting.

Hawa:

Yeah. But like for it to be such a major plot point, you think that they would have at least mentioned something about it, like in the back like, oh yeah. This is how voting came about.

Heather:

Nope

Hawa:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

Even a sentence. Okay. So Samantha Saves the Day. In this book, Samantha and her family vacation with a British Admiral at their summer homes. Samantha decides to visit the location of her parents, tragic boating accident and unsurprisingly things go sideways, a serious head injury sparks True love.

Hawa:

That last line is so funny because I was just like that head injury thing had to be one, they got married like, oh my God, your life just flashed before your eyes. And now we have to get married. That's in reference to the Admiral in Grandmary

Hannah:

He kept asking her to marry him

Heather:

Every year for 30 years.

Hannah:

Shouldn't she have had the head injury and then she would have said, yes,

Heather:

Is that no, he thought she might lose him.

Hannah:

Ohhh

Heather:

She took him for granted. And then she was like, oh, you could die at any moment from head injuries I guess I'll say, Yes, life's too short. But again, with the timeline, this was absolutely bananas to me. So he's been asking her to marry him for 30 years. Okay, fine. So we're saying maybe, you know, Samantha's grandfather died prior to that, but he knows Grandmary, because he was best friends with Samantha's grandfather. So you get this sense that this man has been pining for his best friend's wife, his entire life, basically, which to me reads more creepy than romantic

Hawa:

Which is probably why she kept saying no,

Heather:

But then she kept inviting him to summer vacation. Also he's British. Like how did he meet Samantha's grandfather

Hawa:

I was about to say the same thing, but I didn't want to ask and sound stupid,

Heather:

How do you become like international best friends at this time?

Hawa:

The answer is money.

Kelsey:

Maybe they met in like a telegram chat room. Oh my gosh.

Heather:

Yeah. That was odd. This one was pretty bananas. You would think all of these people would be more careful around water. They are not.

Hawa:

Or to not let them venture off, like the way they did. Like they, they literally just ventured off in the previous book and got into some mess. Like why aren't we watching these children? And we're cool. And so we're at the point where they have their own little cabin house.

Heather:

Also, if you lost two members of your family, to a tragic boating accident, Would you still want to keep v accidentacationing there at the scene of the tragic boating? Like that seemed real weird to me.

Hannah:

Yeah. And it probably would find a new vacation spot. And they also, even if they decided to keep, keep coming, there would not have been so blase as, okay. The 3 9/10 year old's are going to go out on a canoe by themselves when the weather is coming, like, everybody's like, bye, have a good time.

Kelsey:

Or at least be sensitive to the trauma of the child who lost her parents in some way, like, you know, go with her to the scene or something to like help her recover.

Hannah:

I feel like they miss an opportunity here. U m, they should have had her been called there by her parents and ghosts. And then she could have had like a touching moment where she speaks with her parents go see, and then they save her from drowning. And that would have been a whole different story. But you know.

Hawa:

I will say that, I think that this might've been one of my favorite of the series.

Heather:

Really?

Hawa:

Maybe I liked the idea of, oh, they find the sketchbook with the drawings and we want to go see what these places look like. Like, but I thought it was kind of like nice and sentimental, like, you know, this is all I have with my parents that I kind of want to feel connected to them.

Hannah:

I thought that the sketchbook and the illustrations, when they actually got to, uh Teardrop island, the illustrations were just beautiful. They're some of the most beautiful in this series, I think.

Kelsey:

Yeah. So the last book in this series, Changes for Samantha. Sam moves to New York. Nellie and her sisters are orphaned, robbed by their alcoholic uncle and sent to live in an orphanage. Sam rescues them and hides them in the attic until a mean housekeeper snitches on them. Everyone gets adopted by Gard and Cornelia.

Hawa:

We didn't hear anything about Nellie in the past couple of books. And then now she's kind of just like randomly brought back up, but this one was really sad.

Heather:

Yeah. Nellie loses both of her parents to the flu. She's now caring for her younger siblings. And then we immediately move on to an alcoholic uncle robbing them, leaving them in a tenement to starve, and then child labor in a flower making cottage industry factory. Basically, I felt like we've come totally full circle to Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Again, it's like, wait, they're making flowers in this tenement. Like, oh no, there's an alcoholic. Irish man.

Kelsey:

All roads lead back to Betty Smith.

Heather:

Yeah. This was done less well than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Hawa:

And then she we looking for him and she's like, yeah. Do you know Mr. O'Malley? And he's like, yeah, there's plenty of O'Malley's around here. She's like Mike O'Malley and he's like, what do you want with that hooligan?

Kelsey:

There's definitely only one Michael O'Malley.

Hannah:

It was the fact that like, O'Malley was too vague, but Mike got you there.

Kelsey:

I also just wanted to mention that in the friends and family section , um, Nellie has put back in the six book with her sisters, but also it says that Grandmary, her description is Samantha's wealthy grandmother who lives on a yacht Why do we need to, like, that's not really important facts to know,

Hawa:

especially, cause she's not even she wrote sure yes. She wrote a letter, but she's not in the book.

Heather:

Yeah. This one was just, there was a lot going on here. It was super, super dark. And then like in the last page, everyone lives happily ever after

Hawa:

Like, yeah, they're going to try to run away from the orphanage. And then there's this mean, lady, miss, miss, miss Frouchy?

:

Oh my gosh. [ inaudible] her name was Tusnelda Frouchy , which is the most preposterous sounding name I've ever heard of.

Hannah:

So she's Grouchy Miss Frouchy? I don't know.

Heather:

It's like frown plus grouchy, portmanteau Frouchy.

Hawa:

She wouldn't let her have any of the sweets that they brought. You know, they did have a couple of references to some, some, some cookies and stuff like that in this book.

Heather:

It was very generic.

Hawa:

It's very generic.

Kelsey:

I guess I'm just wondering, like, why are there so many characters in this book that are just like generic, grumpy servants, Elsa, too all she is, is grouchy.

Heather:

And Gertrude the housekeeper.

Kelsey:

Yeah. why? We can have one, one can do multiple jobs at this point. None of them were developed. Also. I had assumed that Grandmary had adopted Samantha. So I guess she was just like unparented and just living with Grandmary.

Heather:

She was probably her ward

Kelsey:

yeah.

Hawa:

You didn't realize you needed, so adopt your niece until you also needed to adopt her friends that were orphaned. Also

Hannah:

My extremely and deep thought about everyone getting adopted. I'm like, well, Uncle Gard keeps making dad jokes, the entire series, I guess he's ready to be a dad.

Hawa:

I enjoyed his jokes.

Heather:

He's finally realized his potential

Hawa:

I am going to back track A little bit. So in the beginning of the book, when Samantha goes looking for Nellie and the woman who was at this house with these children too, was like, yeah, Mike doesn't live here anymore. Whatever, he's an alcoholic. She just randomly drops it in there. Right. She also was kind of like, you know, yeah. They know they were here for a week when Nellie was just like, what I see, you're going through a lot. I don't want to eat all your food. And then the woman just decides to send her to an orphanage. Is that what that train of a train of events was supposed to be?

Heather:

Yes. I think that was it. Is it showing that Nellie is way too old for her age and is realizing us being here is making this family go without, so I'll make the sacrifice and say, we can't be here anymore. And then the woman took him to the orphanage, which was, I guess the only place they could go. I don't know. But it wasn't like fleshed out at all.

Hawa:

It wasn't. And I think that that's an, a missed opportunity for sure.

Kelsey:

Plus Nellie gets her own spinoff so she can reclaim her story

Hawa:

I did see that in the end of this book. And I was okay. I didn't think I was going to be so invested in this, but I actually want to know more about Nellie. So yeah.

Kelsey:

And the description is kind of threatening at the end of the book. Nellie's finally found a home, but her mean, uncle Mike hasn't forgotten about it. No, dear scary.

Heather:

But this is more of the like Nellie as character from like Les Misérables. I feel like she's about to like go full Thenardier or something. It's just like gonna show back up and mess everything up for her. I don't know. I'm also more invested in Nellie than I should be at this point Probably.

Hawa:

Honestly, she was like probably the most interesting character. Each episode. Our intrepid researcher will enchant us with scintillating factoids related to our book. It's time to dive in and explore Ella's Ephemera.

Ella:

Hi there everyone. I'm Ella and this is my Ephemera. The part of the podcast where I tell you about some of the neat things I've learned while doing research. One thing I love about the American Girl books series is that each girl introduced prior to 2010 has her own clearly defined historical time period. That is of course, except for Samantha. Samantha was originally marketed by both the Pleasant Company and later the American Girl company as being from the Victorian era, how ever Queen Victoria died in 1901? And the series didn't begin until 1904. Speaking in British terms. It's Grandmary whose mindset sets the tone of the series. But as the series progresses, her attitude, social errors and fashion shifts towards the Edwardian era. We can see this during the exploration of class issues between Samantha and her best friend, Nellie. As a child of immigrants and a serving girl, Nellie would have never been adopted by Samantha's relatives, as it was considered in very poor taste for the rich to deal with the impoverished in any way. It was unimaginable that anyone in Samantha's family would have thought of Nelly as possible equals or express concern for her station in life beyond pity. But not only did Nellie become part of Samantha's family, she earned her place as the first American girl, best friend. Thanks for joining me on this deep dive. I'm Ella. And this was my ephemera.

Heather:

Okay. So we wanted to circle back to a little bit of broad discussion about Samantha as a series. One of the key elements of this is her being an orphan, and that's a pretty common literary trope that we see in books. U m, so I wanted to talk about why this is so common and whether we think it works here, we have Samantha's an orphan. And then we later have Nellie and her two sisters. So four orphans in the course of six books, I have a quote from Anthony Horowitz who writes the Alex Rider series. And he said, what it does is it puts children into a world in which adventure can happen, but that's not just a plot device. It absolutely goes to the heart of what children's literature is about.

Hannah:

Parents are always getting in the way of adventures that children could have.

Kelsey:

That's exactly what I was going to say. It eliminates the parent problem.

Heather:

Yeah. You do have sort of the dichotomy of Samantha as the idealized orphan where that's best case scenario, right. She has a loving family of origin, she's provided for, she has everything she could, and it really does just serve to remove impediments to action in the plot, as far as Samantha goes. And then you have worst case scenario with Nellie and her sisters, to the extent of going to the abusive, horrible Dickensian orphanage to make it stark how bad life was for a lot of kids during that time, or just how hard it was in general.

Hannah:

Yeah. I mean, you see that with Nellie and her sisters, there's the malnutrition, there's the child labor. I mean, and the parents, like they both die of flu. And I was thinking about this earlier, when they were talking about how her parents died, they died of flu and this is 1904. Like this isn't even Spanish flu. This is just like they had a run of the mill flu and both of them didn't make it. And you know, it probably wasn't an emergency room that they could go to, to get treated for that.

Hawa:

Not having the parents there adds to the adventure aspect. It almost kind of makes me kind of makes me think of like, you know, how early we were talking about every time something would happen, we would be like, well, where are the adults? It's like, almost like the parents being there just gets in the way of them doing things. So we just don't talk about them. Don't mention them

Heather:

On the one hand with Samantha's it is more the literary trope, it's a plot device. It puts her into perilous situations that puts her into more mad cap adventures with our friends, because there's no parental barriers. Whereas with Nellie's it's maybe because these are works of historical fiction that are supposed to be instructive about a time period, that they make the choice to orphan Nellie and her sisters to illustrate a particular issue during the early nineteen hundreds. And lastly, wanted to talk about why we think these books appeal to kids and whether we've learned anything new about American Girl as a series in terms of its appeal to girls from adding Samantha to the list of books that we've read in this canon.

Hannah:

I think the madcap adventures that were mentioned, are maybe a big part of the appeal, cause like the Kirsten books, they are light on substance. Uh, they are kind of the rice cakes of books, but you know, we still get to be like, hey, you know, Samantha's going in canoe with her friends or Samantha's hiding orphans in her attic. Like there's something, I think that appeals to, you know, kids of a certain age , um, about that.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And I think we already talked about this a little bit, but like we all kind of remember the materialism. I think this is the book Where like, they really figured out the formula of like, here's how we bring in all this stuff that you can buy and, and make part of your life and make kids really want to envision a life where they have their own doll that they can match with and have adventures with and like that you need a doll in your life to be happy. Um, so I think that's a big part of it too. Um, but I also, you know, like I said, I think the first, at least the first couple books in this series, I really, I really felt like Samantha was a much more developed character then Kirsten was. And I think , um, she was, I could really see her being relatable to kids in a way that maybe Kirsten felt a little detached. Um, and obviously I still liked Kirsten for a lot of reasons, but like in terms of like someone who understood what it's like to be a kid , um, even if the time is a hundred years removed, there's still some like relatable elements that I could, I would, might be able to trace.

Heather:

Yeah, I agree. I felt like Samantha was more aspirational than Kirsten probably because she seems to have more agency and also more personality. Like in the Kirsten books, it just felt like things are happening to Kirsten. It didn't feel like she was a particularly active participant in her own life in those books. And it certainly wasn't anything that I wanted to aspire to. Like I did not want to badly botch getting honey or burn my house down. Whereas Samantha, who doesn't want to rescue their friends from an orphanage and you know, who doesn't want to have a crazy canoe adventure in a storm and save the adult who hit his head. I think there's something there for me that reminded me in this series more why I was drawn to this as a child that I wasn't as clearly able to see in the Kirsten books, reading them as an adult again.

Kelsey:

I think Samantha, like speaking to the agency, like she also wants to see change in the world a lot more clearly than Kirsten does it. I could see that being really relatable, especially to kids today who are a lot more socially conscious like Samantha, I know we've talked about, there are a lot of flaws in the social issues that they bring up, but the ones that they do tackle Samantha really supports those causes and believes that there can be a change in actively tries to make change, like with her speech about child labor or wanting to teach Nelly so that she can catch up or, u m, you know, supporting Cornelia in the suffrage movement. You know, she she's like a part of it. And like part of this global world in a way that Kirsten is very detached.

Hannah:

I wanted to build on what Heather said a little bit about like, you know, like rescuing your friends. Like there's maybe, maybe part of the appeal is there's the fantasy, like as the child achieving something kind of real and significant, like rescuing your friends or help helping your friend learn how to read or, you know, saving the admiral. Like that's, I mean, these are not things that nine and 10 year old's generally do. Like, so maybe as a kid, like there's a certain joy in thinking I could do something that the adults would applaud me for. Like, I'd make a real difference. I think maybe that's part of the wish fulfillment of these books for kids.

Hawa:

And as someone who didn't really grow up with these books that I remember , um, I can definitely see the appeal to kids in terms of like, oh, you have the books and then you also have the dolls and then there's this. Yeah, there are so many dolls out there, but this doll is like, you know, different than all the other ones, because they talk about like historical features in the, I know you all mentioned how amazing the clothes were. So I think that those are all things that also like, well, if you will really love this doll, you can check out this book. You know? So I think that that's definitely part of probably what the appeal was as well.

Heather:

The doll itself is asking you to place yourself in the role of the character in a way that maybe other types of books don't as clearly do

Hannah:

It's still brilliant how they marketed these.

Heather:

Right. And then I think that kind of gets us full circle to our, how does it hold up that we ask with everything for these we've concentrated more on the historical aspects here. We've definitely got the issue with the dog's name. That's not cool. We have segregation getting this like one sentence nod and then abandoned. But the marketing piece, does it not hold up on that level too? Like if you're a child and you can't get the items that attached to these books, are these books any good? And I don't know, I'm not sure I would offer these as standalones. You need to be able to engage with them with the next step of imagining yourself in the role. And I'm not sure the book gets there by itself, which then is a little problematic. Right?

Hannah:

Right. If you can only enjoy the book because you have, if not the exact matching doll, a similar doll that has their own accessories, even if they don't totally match, like, are they still enjoyable and probably not

Hawa:

What was the price point for these dolls?

Heather:

I thought they were like around $80 maybe when I was a child for the doll. And it came with like the original outfit, the original accessories, and then the Meet Girl book.

Hannah:

Oh, okay. [inaudible].

Kelsey:

I thought you were saying meat like M E A T. [laughter].

Heather:

[inaudible] I realized I didn't like this partway through that, like this isn't going to make sense. Then, then I stalled

Hannah:

My quick Googling just found according to one source in 1986 an 18 inch American girl doll was $68 with a paperback book and $75 with a hardcover book. So.

Heather:

Yeah. And I would have been a little after that too. So

Hannah:

Today they retail, this is from September 2020, they retail for $98

Heather:

To me, I have this sense of what I give a book of piano music to a person who didn't have a piano, probably not, I don't know, almost like it's rubbing it in that you don't have the thing that you need to like fully actualize it. And I feel like the books talk so much about all of these stuff.

Hawa:

You mentioned the things a couple of times, and of course, because as someone who never had the dolls or never even really remember seeing them, I didn't even realize those are references to think that you could really buy

Heather:

It's nice that you were able to read it and not feel like this is selling me stuff the whole way throughout, which I think then

Kelsey:

It's subtle. I mean, I think it's subtle. You have know the culture to, to pick that up.

Hawa:

Like certain things. Yeah. Like I still notice like, oh, okay. But for the most part, I didn't really pick up on it as much. So it was kind of, it

Heather:

That makes me feel better about the books, I guess. Cause I really was kind of leaving this as like, oh no, this is a very over the top marketing ploy. Maybe I would not recommend these to anybody.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I know. I mean, one thing though that I have heard of some libraries doing, it's like having an American girl doll lending library and I mean, I think that's really cool for a lot of reasons. Like, hey, speaking to that like experience of just feeling so jealous and left out when you don't have the doll, like, I think that's a really cool, like democratizing tool to say like, you can access this experience. You can be part of this culture that is a very costly, you know, hobby or interest to pursue. U m, but then if we are thinking about as a tool to get into reading as well, I mean, that's a really smart thing to have the book at the doll and say, oh, she has these books that go with her. If you want to read it, it's a way to get maybe more kids interested in it who wouldn't have otherwise.

Heather:

Yeah. I think that's a really great idea. I had not heard of that, but I think that's innovative and wonderful that someone did that.

Hawa:

That sounds fun. And also just generally speaking, even getting my hands on these books for this episode was it was kind of hard

Heather:

On the books have gotten beefier too. So I would be interested to visit some of the thicker , uh novelizations of the American girls and see if they hold up a little bit better as standalones as well.

Hannah:

That could be a future episode. You know, talking about the next generation of American girl doll books.

Kelsey:

Coming up, we'll get an experts take on an important aspect of this novel that is not often discussed, but first let's pay some bills.

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Hannah:

And we're back now, let's talk to someone who actually knows something about one of the main topics featured in this

Laurie (Expert):

Book. My name is Laurie Lemieux. I am the owner or co-owner of Proteus Bicycles in College Park, Maryland, which has been a bike shop since 1972. And I've been an owner since , um , 2012. And before I owned a bike shop, I am a nurse, nurse practitioner and I was a nursing college professor. And I got into bicycling primarily because I was commuting to work in downtown DC. And uh , it got to be such a part of my life. I ended up getting into bicycling even more by buying a bike.

Heather:

Thanks so much for being with us today, Laurie So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Samantha. She's one of the American Girls that we've been looking at and she has a side story in the book called Samantha's blue bicycle about learning to ride a bike. And initially her grandmother is opposed to her riding. She thinks it's unladylike and she's very like down on bloomer girls who ride bicycles, but she still gets this bike as a gift. She tries to ride it in a dress she crashes , um, and eventually gets her bloomers that her grandmother consents to letting her have, would it have been this controversial for girls to ride at the turn of the century? This would have been 1904, 1905ish.

Laurie:

Yeah, absolutely. The clothing was restrictive. And part of that historically is that women were restricted in their movements and what they were allowed to do. And it kept them in the home, the skirts that they wore, the petticoats weighed something like 25 pounds sometimes. And so imagine, I can't imagine I just got off my bike and spandex. Right? And because it's light and it's easy to move in. That's why I dress like that on one of my bikes. And, um, can, if you can imagine trying to even walk or peddle in that kind of clothing and how you could get tangled up in the bike,

Heather:

Then the non-fiction part of the text. They talk about women referring to bicycles as freedom machines because they weren't allowed to drive. So how did bicycles factor in with women's liberation? Do you think that there's a connection between the two?

Laurie:

So because women started riding bicycles more, they were able to get out of the house without , um , chaperones. They also realized that they couldn't ride in these ridiculous clothes. So they stopped wearing the ridiculous clothes and somebody invented the pantaloons, which then became called bloomers, which actually is somebody's name, it was named after somebody named Bloomer. And so they started wearing the bloomers, shorter skirts skirts with splits in them so that they could move around. And so this got women out of the house. And so it factored a big factor in, in their freedom, their liberation and getting out and further education and, um, the suffragette movement and all of the things that got women to where they are now.

Heather:

So would a girl like Samantha at the turn of the century have had any role models for women in cycling?

Laurie:

There were racers. I can't remember the names, but there were, there were women who were racers and racing got to be very popular. And the women and the men, the racers were equally watched, people would watch women do these, these big races. And they were in the news just as much of the men as the men. So that's kind of flip - flopped but there was, there was one woman named Annie Londonderry. Her, her real name was actually Annie Kopchovsky. She was , um, a Latvian immigrant and she changed her name because she took this bet. She didn't even ride a bicycle. She took a, u m, a wager of $5,000 learn how to ride a bike. I think in like a couple of hours. And, u h, it took a $5, 0 00 wager to ride around the world and she changed her name because one of her sponsors was the Londonderry, sparkling water company or something like that. So she changed her name for the trip. She's mother of three, a hundred pounds, tiny five foot, three woman. And, um, she wrote around the world and u m, she made her wager she actually earned $10,000 to ride around the world. U m, on a bet, basically she's on this 42 pound bicycle and she started it riding with a corset and the high collar and all of the clothes, the long skirts and everything. And, um, eventually realized that was ridiculous and was going to give up. So she, u m, she, somebody sponsored her with, uh, a lighter bicycle and she started wearing bloomers and made it around the world - back to the bloomers. But it, yeah, it's full circle.

Heather:

As a woman in cycling and an owner of a bike shop, do you feel like there's been much progress made for women in the sport? Do you feel like there are still barriers to entry for women who are interested in cycling? What has your experience been like?

Laurie:

It's getting a lot, a lot better as a woman in, in the industry. I've always been one of the only few at the table when, when there are meetings and things, there's a couple of women, but that's growing too. So there's more women bicycle shop owners, but there, there weren't many, one I started, we have more women getting into becoming bicycle mechanics and bicycle racing for women is coming back again after the 1890s, when it was big. So women are getting more sponsors, they're getting, um, more exposure and, u m, it's just, it's growing I think it's growing quite a bit.

Heather:

Was there anything else that like, you felt like you needed to get off your chest about women in cycling or

Laurie:

Okay. Here's the here's one of my things is that a lot of people come in and they want a girl's bike. The girls bikes were developed for women in those huge dresses. The step through, we call them step throughs now. And so there's no reason a girl has to ride a girl's bike that was literally developed so that women wouldn't get so tangled up in their dresses. They still did because the dress gets tangled up in the cranks. But those, those step through bikes, remind people that their step through or low stand over, they are not just girls' room bikes. So they're for anybody who needs a little bit more. And yes, they're really good. If you want to ride in dresses, I have to convince some of our other customers who are not women, that it is okay to ride in one of these bikes. So it's not a girl's bike. There's no stigma attached. It's just better mobility on there. Yeah.

Hawa:

For this part of the episode, I thought it would be fun. If we did a Buzzfeed quiz, I found one called which American Girl Doll are You. Here's how this is going to work. I'm going to read off the questions and the options. And we're going to answer each question as if we were Samantha. If we do this correctly, the quiz should tell us that we're Samantha. Which American Girl doll are you. And this website has a little cute thing. So just because you wear glasses, doesn't mean you're Molly. Alright. So the first question is when people meet you, what's the first thing they notice? That you were just bursting with awesome ideas, that you have an amazing attitude. All things considered that you seem super, super eager to do favors for people. You're a little spoiled, but you feel bad about it. You say, sorry, a lot. Even for things you shouldn't be apologizing for, you're willing to befriend anybody. Why not? Right.

Hannah:

You could argue for multiple answers here.

Kelsey:

I'm just thinking about the Samantha stereotype.

Heather:

Yeah, for the stereotype. I think it's the spoiled though.

Kelsey:

She's not spoiled

Hannah:

We don't see her being particularly spoiled.

Kelsey:

I really want to explore where this came from because it's like our collective conscious. We all think she's spoiled and she's not.

Hawa:

She's but she has money though.

Heather:

She, yeah, she was the rich girl character. So I think that was where it was from.

Hawa:

But also do we think that she feels bad about it? Like she feels bad that other people don't have things, but she doesn't necessarily feel bad that she has it.

Heather:

I agree. I'm inclined to go with befriending, anybody or the eager to do favors. This one's tough.

Hawa:

Yeah. And they're making it tough on purpose. So what are we going to go with? Genuinely Samantha answer. Not what you think that is going to get us Samantha,

Kelsey:

If you don't, if you don't, if we don't think it's the spoiled one, then I think it's befriending everybody.

Heather:

I agree. I think she would think that of herself.

Hawa:

Okay. So that's what we're going to go with. So when people meet you, the first thing they notice is that you're willing to befriend anybody. Why not? Right. Okay. So who is your celebrity crush? And I'll admit, I don't know who half of these people are because the pictures are no longer here. Um, Rider Strong, Harry Styles, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Ryan Gosling, and Paul Rudd. Also just wondering like, was there really anything in any of these books that would give us an idea of what her celebrity crush was

Heather:

She talk about how her uncle is so handsome and he must be a spy and like, do I think we need the person most like Uncle Guard. So I would go as Fassbender. Maybe.

Kelsey:

I don't know who that is.

Hannah:

I don't know who most of these people are.

Kelsey:

What did he do? Or what was he in?

Heather:

He was in Band of Brothers. X-Men First Class.

Kelsey:

Yeah. This is sounding good to me.

Hannah:

Sure. Works for me.

Hawa:

I looked up his picture and I'm looking at Uncle Gard's picture and I'm like, yeah, Sure. Let's go with that. What do you need to get better at? Not letting people walk all over you, to be more humble, not immediately going with all your dumb ideas, not trying to help out people so much, especially if they don't need it. How to turn down an offer without seeming like a jerk that moving forward is always better than living in the past.

Heather:

None of these - Samantha didn't let anyone walk on her.

Kelsey:

Definitely not.

:

She's fairly humble. Like

kelsey:

I bet that's the Samantha answer though.

Heather:

Probably is.

Hawa:

What to be more humble.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Heather:

I guess humble, but I don't think she's not humble.

Hawa:

And my thing is with that, helping people out so much, she's never helped anybody that didn't really seemingly need it.

Heather:

Right, l. ike Nellie and her sisters were in like genuine peril. So it was the Admiral.

Hannah:

She, they really didn't, they didn't help. But I want to say, not immediately going through with All of your dumb ideas

Heather:

yeah, they shouldn't have gone to Jesse's house, that was dumb. She shouldn't have gone to Nellie's orphanage or the tenement. She shouldn't have like, I

Hawa:

I like that one.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Let's do that.

Hawa:

Yeah. Cause they did a lot of times just, you know, whatever. Pick an animal: Terrier, Canary purse dogs, horse exclamation, mark exclamation, mark. Exclamation Mark. 1,1,1, adorable defenseless kitten. Goat.

Kelsey:

Terrier right.

:

Terrier I think.

Hawa:

That's a dog, right?

Kelsey & Heather:

Yeah.

Hawa:

Samantha! Samantha is basically the Samantha of American girls. You're fabulous. And you don't give a, a hoot about life, who you spend your time with, but that doesn't mean that you're clueless and not generous. Oh no. You know that with great power comes responsibility. You

Kelsey:

You can use it. Uh, Samantha appropriate curse, Uh, Dickens.

Hawa:

I'm not going to lie. I didn't think we were going to get Samantha.

Heather:

Neither did I

Hawa:

I was struggling.

Hannah:

You never get the one you want to get

Hawa:

I think I'm going to go back and take it and see who I actually get from myself.

Kelsey:

We'll put it on here.

Hawa:

I'll let you you guys know.

Kelsey:

We'll put it on the blog.

Hawa:

Yes, for sure.

Hannah:

Okay. So moving on, each episode, we ask whether our book passes the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test asks whether a work features two female characters who talk to each other about something that doesn't involve men or boys. So , uh , do the Samantha books pass?

Heather:

Yes.

Kelsey:

Yes.

Hawa:

I would definitely say, yeah, there's barely any male characters in this book to begin with.

Heather:

Yeah. It as just Uncle Gard and Eddie. Yeah. It definitely passes.

Hannah:

And they talk about All sorts of things. Dolls, dogs,

Heather:

Child labor.

Hawa:

Suffrage

Heather:

Scalping.

Kelsey:

Scalping. Ha ha ha.

Hawa:

We just laughed it off like

Kelsey:

Oh no. Well I'm again. I'm glad. I always like when these are easy, because it's just amazing to me. How many are not that easy? Yes.

Hawa:

Yeah. Especially when it comes to like kids books that are supposed to be for girls, you know?

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Hawa:

Well, that's it for this episode of These Books Made Me join us next time. When we'll discuss a book about a girl who was not great at math, but one heck of a tap dancer. If you think you know which book we're tackling next, drop us a tweet. We're @PGCMLS on Twitter, the #These BooksMayMe. You can also send us your questions at thesebooksmademe@pgcmls.info for historical deep dives and readalikes check out our blog, which is l inked t o the episode notes. Special thanks to our guest Laurie L emieux of Proteus Bicycles.

Intro
What did this book mean to us?
Doll Manufacturing
Doll Violence
Meet Samantha
Questionable Timelines
Bad Things Happened, but Enough About That
Samantha Learns a Lesson
Samantha as a Friend
Class and Progressivism in Samantha
Child Labor and Dark Aspects of American Girl
Samantha's Surprise
Guerilla Doll Marketing
Food in Samantha's Books
Happy Birthday, Samantha!
Samantha Saves the Day
Tragic Boating Accidents
Changes for Samantha
Alcoholic Uncles
Ella's Ephemera
Orphans in Fiction
Why Does AG Appeal to Girls?
Expert Interview: Laurie Lemieux from Proteus Bicycles and Brews
Buzzfeed Quiz: Which American Girl Doll Are You?
Bechdel Test