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An American Girl for every girl — almost

Marketplace Staff Aug 21, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Some of us parents worry about those video games, whether all the mayhem is a bad influence. And some toys are. Not so a line of dolls from Mattel. Each “American Girl” doll is a character from history. She comes with a story, educational and inspiring. That’s the theory, anyway. In this edition of the Loh Down, humorist Sandra Tsing Loh says girls will be girls.

SANDRA TSING LOH: For the three of you left in the country who still don’t know what American Girl dolls are, know that compared to Barbies or Cabbage Patch Kids, American Girls are the new gold standard of doll.

Heroic, intelligent, inspiring, multi-ethnic — just like our daughters today — each American Girl opens her own unique door into history. For instance, this year’s doll is Jess. Half Irish-American, half Japanese-American, her family loves archaeology, they all can’t wait to explore Belize.

Jess is also verging on $90, which is why I was stunned and grateful when my two small daughters received, as gifts in the mail, from dear family friends, their very own American Girls.

But things went wrong from the beginning. My 5-year-old immediately gave her American Girl doll what she imagined was the fancy otherworldly name of “Sheisana,” or sometimes “Sheislana.” In German, the root is . . . not a word for anything nice.

Impressed by the extraordinary quality and hand-crafting of the dolls — their clothes are better made than mine — I solemnly read my girls the elaborate care instructions which, sadly, we’ve not been able to find since. We were bewildered that the instructions were so long, font so tiny. I have a vague recollection of the phrase “damp cloth,” certainly never full-body immersion.

Currently, Sheislana’s historically accurate jacket is being worn by a Chuck E. Cheese monkey who, while not technically homeless, has spent a considerable number of evenings outdoors.

But the nadir came at the hands of the 4-year-old, whose crime against American Girl dollhood is so unspeakable she may literally have to be deported from the land of America. Which is to say, although Suzy denies it, ascribing the act to a fictional character, evidence strongly suggests that my 4-year-old has drawn an indelible blue Bic pen moustache on the upper lip of Sheislana. The family heirloom we were planning to pawn for her college education.

My hope is we can give the doll away. My dream is, somewhere in America, there’s a girl with a blue Bic moustache who wants a doll who looks just like her.

RYSSDAL: Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of “A Year in Van Nuys.”

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