This Doll is Experiencing a Renaissance

Exploring history through play

Sep 9, 2022
This Doll is Experiencing a Renaissance | Exploring history through play

Playing with dolls is a part of childhood. Children can gain empathy by caring for dolls and some dolls teach kids about careers they can have like astronaut Barbie. The American Girl collection teaches children about important times in America’s past with its historical line of period dolls and books.

The American Girl collection that is part of Mattel launched a new historical character in August, 2022 according to a press release. The new doll Claudie Wells – according to the story – and her family are living in Harlem in New York City in 1922.

This period was called the Harlem Renaissance due to the black cultural and artistic expression that was blossoming in the area. Like all of the American Girl dolls, she comes with a book about her life. A special hardcover collectors edition is also available.

As part of the launch, American Girl is giving a large donation to support the Harlem School of the Arts Prep that provides advanced art training to middle school and high school students, reported Fast Company.

“We’re always focused on the continual progress of girls and women. And we’re not simply reflecting culture, we’re earning lasting value with the fans,” American Girl president Jamie Cygielman told Fast company.”

Claudie Wells
Claudie is a nine-year-old girl who is finding her voice during one of the most creative times for black artists, according to the press release. She is surrounded by writers, artists, and musicians in her neighborhood. While she loves being around all this creativity, Claudie worries that she doesn’t have a special talent to share.

In the course of the Meet Claudie book, authored by Brit Bennett, Claudie decides to be a storyteller and learns about her family’s history. She begins to understand why black people looking for freedom settled in Harlem.

The doll comes dressed in a blue and white plaid dress, a knit cardigan and special accessories that include a heart shaped necklace, hat, and a journal for Claudie to record her story. The collection also includes an authentic 1920s style bakery and a doll sized kick scooter (that was a popular toy at the time), and three special-edition period outfits.

How this story began
Bennet, a best-selling author, tweeted her desire to write a story for the series. She and her sister loved playing with American Girl dolls as children.

“Before I ever sat in front of a computer to type, I had already started telling stories each time I played with my dolls, “ Bennett said in the press release. “My sister and I were in love with our American Girl dolls and books, especially Addy. While the doll itself was beautiful, what enchanted me was Addy’s courageous story written by the trailblazing author Connie Porter, so creating a new historical character for American Girl has been a dream come true.”

Addy Walker, released in 1993, was the brands first black doll, reported Fast Company. The story was set in the Civil War era and focused on Addy’s escape from slavery by running away and going north.  While this story is about a very important issue, the idea of buying a “slave doll” was very controversial.

Bennet and Cygielman discussed what era to portray and settled on the Harlem Renaissance. “We came together to talk about a period of time that we hadn’t yet tackled,” Cygielman told Fast company “The Harlem Renaissance was such an interesting moment in history.”

American Girl is experiencing a special renaissance of its own as its original fans are now parents who want to pass on their love of the special dolls to their own children. With dolls as inspirational as Claudie, that won’t be difficult to do.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.