For those parents who are familiar with the American Girl dolls, you’re probably already acquainted with the controversy surrounding Addy Walker. Although many of the original dolls back when I was little had somewhat troublesome stories or tribulations, Addy’s was perhaps one of the hardest.
The little girl escapes slavery and goes on the search for her father and brother who were sold away. Such heavy subject matter gave some parents some pause as Addy’s story seemed to grapple with different events than say wealthy Samantha Parkington. I also remember some parents taking issue with the company’s one Black doll being a slave. But the company has now introduced a new Black character named Cécile Rey who comes from a ton of money.
Little Cécile Rey lives in in New Orleans in the 1850s and comes from a “a well-to-do African-American family.” She befriends Marie-Grace Gardner, and two assist the city during the yellow fever epidemic in 1853.
The author of Cécile’s six book set, Denise Lewis Patrick, told The Huffington Post:
I would say that she’s a child who grows up fast, because she has to face some very serious events in her family and community. She also outgrows the kind of sheltered life she’s had before, in becoming friends with Marie-Grace and actively helping children who are less fortunate…I hope that girls learn from Cécile that sometimes, true friendship finds you even when — or especially when — you’re not looking for it. It comes when you need it. She discovers an ability that all girls have — to bravely open their hearts to a bigger world than the one they’ve known.
Is Cécile Rey a doll that parents will be less hesitant to hand to their kids? Personally, I don’t think children should be shielded from history’s ugliness, especially if the subject matter is presented in a tasteful, non gratuitous way as American Girl often does in their books.
But in perusing the doll’s page online, I’ve already found one strike against her. Little girls who get Cécile Rey as a present will be horrified to learn that you can’t brush Cécile’s hair. “Finger-stlying” is recommended for keeping Cécile’s curls intact. Try explaining that to the eight-and-under set.