The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

From Trouble to American Girl

Hmmm…it seems information about the new doll (and…ahem…my books) is leaking pretty fast, now.  Maybe even officially.  Once the blank covers went up on amazon with my name attached, speculation bubbled that the doll of the year would be African American.  Okay, well, I did grow up in Ethiopia.  I’ve been tickled pink–as my grandmother would have said–to be able to connect to Ethiopia with my books.  In fact, I’m super proud that TROUBLE, originally published by Harcourt, got made into a bilingual Amharic-English book this fall, thanks to Ethiopia Reads, the nonprofit I’m semi-obsessed with.  But any artist has to root around and keep digging to come up with fresh material.  When I was seven, I knew I wanted to be an explorer and not bored or boring.  I guess that’s still what I want.  On with the adventure!

3 thoughts on “From Trouble to American Girl”

  1. Lanie’s books are so much fun, I love how everything is an experiment in her little scientific mind (or should I say big mind) and I really appreciated your original style of writing in the GOTY line. I felt like I was right next to Lanie and she was talking right to me. Thanks and congratulations, I feel your excitement for you.

  2. So is there a reason Lanie is white? So many of us were hoping for a Girl of the Year who was African-American, since American Girl has a terrible habit of sidelining their non-white dolls–Addy and Josefina’s complete lack of collection and publicity comes to mind, as does the poor publicity that Jess received and the continual retirement of dolls who could be visually identified as non-white. While I haven’t read the books, I suspect (judging on what I’ve read of the summaries/reviews from friends) that there is no reason Lanie’s story could not have been as easily applied to an African-American girl who enjoys nature and conservation and lives in Cambridge. Was this a marketing decision on American Girl’s part or was it your own choice to create yet another white character for the GOTY line?

    This is a terribly sensitive subject amongst the more ‘grown-up’ fans of this company and one that continues to disappoint us year after year as yet another white girl is chosen as the GoTY. Sonali was a nice touch last year and it was wonderful of AG to finally give us a doll that represented yet another ignored ethnic group in this country, but she was a background character at best and wasn’t as prominently displayed as Gwen and Chrissa. Why does American Girl continue to ignore their non-white fans or treat them as token consumers with two badly-ignored historical dolls and a limited selection of identical dolls to represent an entire spectrum of young African-American girls who are continuously ignored or treated unequally when it comes to representation of their lives and families in children’s literature and toys.

    • Hi, Elle. I’m in there with you wanting to have wonderful characters that represent all kinds of diversity. Just so you know, the doll design was already well underway by the time I met with the American Girl team to discuss the theme they had in mind and whether I’d be interested a creating a character and story. I loved being able to bring in something that I can see from your post you also feel strongly about: the power of ordinary humans to change their worlds for the better.

      Maybe I’ll write a whole post about this because I imagine it’s on other people’s minds, too–especially since so many of my books do connect with Ethiopia, which (I know from reading speculation on the web) set up certain expectations. Thanks…Jane


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