By Kara Chyung
Did anyone else grow up thumbing through American Girl’s guides to health, friends, and manners, or poring through their quiz books with your friends? I certainly did. Funnily enough, The Care of Keeping You, A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friends, A Girl’s Guide to Money, and a few others still have a place on my bookshelf, although they remained untouched until recently.
The other day, as I was rummaging through my room, I came across A Girl’s Guide to Manners. I smiled as I looked through its pages, remembering fondly how well-informed I felt after reading about which foods should and shouldn’t be eaten with your fingers. I then went and found The Care of Keeping You (this seems to be by far the most popular American Girl book), and as I read, I was amazed at how different it felt to read it when I was no longer a scared eleven-year-old, when my friends and I combined had experienced the eating disorders, the hormonal moodiness, and the acne described in its pages.
At first, you may not think that any sort of girl-empowerment would be found in a product of American Girl, whose dolls are often criticized for their exorbitant prices. But as I looked through my other American Girl guides, I realized that many of the basic messages about self-respect, self-esteem, kindness, and empathy were first imparted to me through these books. It’s nice to know that there is a company out there that seeks to nourish young girls physical, mental, and emotional health and help guide them through difficult situations.
I wish that there was an equivalent series for boys. Perhaps one exists, but if so, it isn’t nearly as prominent. Should boys and girls be educated differently about how to approach difficult topics? How different would A Boy’s Guide to Manners be from the female equivalent? Does the fact that these types of guidance books are more available girls than to boys girls indicate anything?
They may seem like silly books full of trite advice, but it’s important to be aware of the messages that we are imparting to children. These are the ideas that they will carry with them into their adulthood.