American Girl's Newest Doll is Homeless

Charlie - posted on 09/30/2009 ( 4 moms have responded )

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American Girl dolls are expensive and extremely popular - among the most sought-after toys among girls from ages four and up.

Each doll comes with its own storyline, and a relatively new doll is causing quite a stir.

"Gwen," which debuted this year, is portrayed as being homeless.

In an accompanying book and movie, "Chrissa Stands Strong," a friend stands up for Gwen against bullying classmates.

"I think (a 'homeless' doll is) a good idea," one mother shopping in an American Girl store told CBS News Correspondent Hattie Kauffman. "It kind of shows awareness to what's going on in the world."

"I think it's really a good idea, because homelessness affects everybody, at different economic levels," Herb Smith, president of the Los Angeles Mission, remarked to Kauffman. "I actually think it's a good teaching tool."

Not so fast, say some homeless advocates, such as one who observed to Kauffman that she finds "the whole concept to be extremely disturbing. It's not a doll I would ever buy for a child."

There are between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless children in L.A. alone, Kauffman notes, and it's doubtful many, if any, could afford Gwen's $95 price tag.

One homeless woman in a shelter Kauffman visited said Gwen touched her heart when she saw the doll in its box.

The women praised the doll, Kauffman reports, until they learned Gwen isn't a fundraising device for the homeless.

"I don't even see why you would make a homeless doll, anyway," one woman said to Kauffman, unless it was being used to raise money to help charities aiding the homeless.

American Girl says the dolls "offer valuable lessons about life," and it is "disheartened that there has been any confusion over our fictional characters." The company adds that, while no proceeds from sales of Gwen and related offerings go directly to help the homeless, it has given almost $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that tries to help the homeless find housing.

Another concern of some advocates for the homeless is that the dolls could send the wrong message to kids. Tanya Tull, president of Beyond Shelter, says she's "afraid that they're going to pick up the idea that it's OK, that it's an accepted segment of society that some children are homeless and some children are not."

Homelessness should not be just "Accepted " or normalized in my opinion and children should not bear a burden such as this , although i do think awareness of the issue should be discussed when the children are ready for it , when a child is mature enough to ask about these issues they can also discuss what can be done to give people in need a helping hand .

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Sarah - posted on 09/30/2009

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I had Molly when I was younger, my sister had Samantha and my mom had Kirsten. I agree that there were hardships portrayed in their books, but I always thought that the purpose was as Diana said, to teach young girls about growing up in different time periods. I am not familiar with any of the newer dolls (although I think I will go to the website and check them out) but I don't see how a homeless doll teaches anything about history. If you are creating a doll for today that seems to go against what I always viewed as the point behind the American Girl dolls. I also agree that while there are many homeless children, it shouldn't be accepted as a way of life for children of today. The war stories in Molly's books were typical of children living during that time period...

I don't know, I am not being very coherent right now and so I am going to stop rambling :-)

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Jeannette - posted on 09/30/2009

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I read this to my husband...he said, "what about a baglady doll? One that includes the stench, to bring awareness?" "What about a hooker doll?"
Yeah, we can be a crass people sometimes. I would point to the doll on the shelf and tell my daughters, you better get a good education so you don't end up like that. I would use it as an object lesson.
How about a college drop out doll? A doll working in a back breaking job the girl never thought she'd be in, but she dropped out of college because she didn't think it benefitted her.
I don't know...because I am talking about dolls, that I didn't buy my daughters, I almost can't be serious. I did buy a couple of the books that Alexis read and she told me they were disturbing. I don't know what was in them...I thought they were going to read like Little House on the Prairie books. They seemed innocent enough, but I still don't know what is in them.

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I'm not sure I agree with the idea of a homeless doll, but this isn't the only foray into the less pleasant side of society the company has had. Samantha, who was on the market until being retired this year, had a friend named Nellie who was split from her siblings when her parents died, placed in an orphanage, and forced to work in a factory. One of the books tells Nellie's story of life in factor, even giving details about one of the machines pulling out all of a girl's hair when it got caught in the machine. Kirsten had a friend who died during the journey to the U.S. and was buried at sea. Felicity had a friend who deserted the army after seeing what war was like. Molly has an English friend, Emily, who moves in with her family during the evacuation of children from London. She criticizes Molly for "playing" blackout and talks about how horrible it was to walk outside after a bombing and see that the house next door is just a pile of rubble. The point of the dolls is to teach girls about history in a fun an interesting way-but they've never tried to pretend that history is all pleasant or pretty. Personally, I had (and still have) Samantha, Molly, Felicity, and Kirsten and all of their books. But I got none of them before the age of 10, when I was old enough to appreciate their stories and want to learn about history and about what girls had been through before. I think it's a bit silly that the company isn't giving any proceeds to charity, but I don't think it's any more wrong to portray a homeless character than any of the other things they've already done.

Kylie - posted on 09/30/2009

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I had a look on the America girl website, I love dolls and had never heard of these ones. I read this on the site - Just Like You dolls help girls share their stories with the world. Every girl can find a doll to match her spirit and look—inside and out. The hair and eye color, skin tone, and outfits and accessories help bring their story, and friendship, to life.

I don’t think the very poor and homeless will be buying a homeless doll for that price! I think children should be allowed to be children, economic issues should be saved for age appropriate talks with mum n dad or the teacher not included in their play as an “educational too” I think toy companies create this out there stuff to get some media exposure; they don’t care about the kids.

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