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Published May 04 2010

Briggs: Girls possess power to teach

If you’re over the age of 30, you’ve probably said at one time or another, “Why didn’t they have that when I was a kid?”

I said it first while plugging in a DVD for my kids to watch in our minivan. My sister, brother and I would have loved to watch movies on our frequent cross-country trips. Instead we argued over who got to lie on the ledge of the back window. (We might not have had movies, but we also didn’t have car seats.) And how much would we have loved the Nintendo DS and the Wii video game systems?

But most recently, I’ve found myself wishing I had something even less techie: an American Girl doll.

American Girl is a hugely successful company founded in 1986, perhaps best known for its line of historical dolls that help children learn about important eras in American history through the eyes of a 9-year-old girl. There are dolls representing colonial America, the Civil War and the Depression. We had immense sadness at our house recently when the company decided to retire Kirsten, the 1854-era pioneer girl from Minnesota.

But my daughters have since recovered and chosen the two dolls I would have picked myself.

My oldest daughter got Julie, the American Girl from 1974. Looking at Julie is like looking at old Polaroids of my friends and me in the ’70s. She wears smocks, bell bottoms and long, straight, Marcia Brady hair. She dances to 45s on her foot-shaped shag rug, drinks Tang and eats fondue and Jiffy Pop popcorn. Groovy!

Last month, my daughters were the ones dragging me out of the Julie section of the American Girl store at the Mall of America.

“But girls, wait, did you see her bike? It has a banana seat!”

They didn’t seem to comprehend just how groovy that is. But it’s not just pop culture. The books about Julie tackle some tough issues from the ’70s, including the feminist movement and Title IX. Heady stuff for a kids’ book.

My younger daughter chose Molly, the little girl from World War II. Molly’s movie chronicled her hardships watching her father go off to war. I had to pause the DVD every few minutes to explain things like rationing and air raid drills. I finally had to hit stop when they asked why World War II started in the first place. Yikes! That’s pretty deep for family movie night! The next morning at breakfast, my husband said my 5-year-old wanted to go to the computer and learn more about “that mean president from Germany.”

But I think that’s what I like best about American Girl. Not only does it help history come to life for our daughters, but it also helps them see that everybody, even little kids, play a role in our changing world.

That’s pretty awesome. Almost as awesome as that banana-seat bike.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is a personality for WDAY AM 970.