I love American Girl dolls. Growing up with glasses was tough, but having a doll who also had glasses, and who was still confident, made it a little bit easier. I also learned a lot about history through my American Girl doll books. Thanks to Kit, I began dreaming about life as a big time journalist. Through Addy, I learned about the human spirit and its ability for both cruelty and resilience. And now, the next generation of American Girl doll fans will have Melody, an American Girl doll from the Civil Rights era who finds inspiration in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message.
Melody Ellison, a music-loving 9 year old from 1960s Detroit, is the third black American Girl doll in the BeForever collection, which delivers historical fiction through the eyes of young girls. She joins the Civil War-era Addy Walker, who was first introduced in 1993, and Cecile Rey, who was released in 2011 and lived in 1850s New Orleans. Although Addy is still an active part of the historical line (now called BeForever), Cecile was archived in 2014.
The author of the Cecile series, Denise Patrick Lewis, has taken the helm for Melody's story, and her list of historical consultants is kind of amazing: JoAnna Watson former Executive Director of the Detroit NAACP; Juanita Moore, President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; and Horace Bond, founder of the Morehouse College Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee are just a few of the people helping to bring Melody to life.
Melody's release is proving a much-needed change of pace for many American Girl doll fans. Julia Prohaska, vice president of marketing, explained to CBS News, "When we launched Addy, the universal feeling was that we needed to address the very difficult topic of slavery before we addressed any other experience in black history"; however, while this may be true, many have still voiced frustration over the fact that the only African-American doll currently active in the BeForever line is one who was born into slavery. In her essay "Addy Walker, American Girl" for The Paris Review, Brit Bennett notes, "Generations of black girls before me would’ve loved to hold Addy in their arms. But she is still complicated, fraught with painful history. If a doll exists on the border between person and thing, what does it mean to own a doll that represents an enslaved child who once existed on that same border?" The retirement of Cecile in 2014 was keenly felt; but while the addition of Melody certainly doesn't replace Cecile, it does represent a step forward. There's still plenty of room for more dolls depicting people of color, though, so here's hoping that others will soon be on the way as well.
Denise Patrick Lewis recently sat down with American Girl Doll to discuss her writing process and her thoughts on Melody. The message that Melody tries to get across, "there's always something we can do to make the world better," is one that some adults could stand to learn as well. Check it out below.