Molly McIntire arrived in the Aberdeen Timberland Regional Library as an experiment. Complete with a set of books and an outfit inspired by the 1940’s, Molly was placed in a box along with several accessories, and set behind the library desk.
Molly is one of many historical dolls, inspired by specific time periods, made by the American Girl Company and is based on the Molly book series that are set in America during the time of World War II. Each doll has her own book series, line of clothing and historically accurate furniture and accessories. While coveted by many girls, these toys are often too expensive and many children are left wistfully browsing the beautiful catalogues without ever experiencing the joy of holding an American Girl Doll.
Inspired by a New York Times article, two Grays Harbor families, linked by a common set of granddaughters, decided to anonymously purchase American Girl Dolls for the Aberdeen and Hoquiam Timberland libraries. They lovingly selected Molly as the first doll and outfitted her with clothes, a journal and carrying case.
Sarah Livingston, Youth Services Librarian for the Hoquiam Timberland Regional Library explains, “Many families could never afford the dolls or the accessories included with the dolls we have here. I love that we have two of them and the girls who borrow them are so excited. These are memories they will always cherish and connect to their local library. It’s an opportunity for us to reinforce positivity and we hope it keeps kids coming back to their library as adults.”
Immediately, Molly was popular and the donors decided to purchase Emily, Molly’s British friend in the book series. The hold list extends for months and eager children schedule plans and events for when they get their two-week ownership of the dolls.
Prompted by the success in Aberdeen, the anonymous donors purchased a doll for the Hoquiam Timberland Regional Library. Ruthie arrived in Hoquiam in April 2014 and has since been checked out 25 times, with a current total of thirteen girls on a waiting list. Alexandra, purchased by the Hoquiam Young Mothers, joined Ruthie at the in June 2014.
A journal travels with each doll to record their adventures, including scribbled drawings, misspelled stories, and some narrations from parents. “I curled Alexandra’s hair and watched the polar express and had a spa day,” said one entry, followed by hand-drawn pictures of hair curlers. “I had a slumber party with my doll and Alexandra and now they are best of friends,” says another little girl’s entry.
Sarah Livingston, Youth Services Librarian for the Hoquiam Timberland Regional Library explains, “Many families could never afford the dolls or the accessories included with the dolls we have here. I love that we have two of them and the girls who borrow them are so excited. These are memories they will always cherish and connect to their local library.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to reinforce positivity and we hope it keeps kids coming back to their library as adults,” adds Livingston.
For some girls, the wait is tediously long. Many of them ask about their doll with every visit to the library, hoping that somehow they were bumped up the list. “It’s so fun calling someone who has been on the list for a year. For these girls, it is worth the long wait,” says Livingston.
The other benefit to the circulation of these dolls is the connection to historical fiction. Sarah Little, a Youth Services Associate at the Aberdeen Library explains, “It is one more thing the library can provide to bring in more families and add excitement.”
“The American Girl Dolls are great literacy tools. Children read the stories and then act them out and narrate them with the dolls,” adds Little. “The books put the history in a fun way and promote learning and then the nonfiction pages in the back of the book help flesh it all out.”
Both library employees narrated the caution and care girls take with the borrowed dolls, often brushing their hair or sewing new accessories for them. “Their faces just light up and they work so hard to contain their excitement when picking up their doll,” smiles Little.
Behind the scenes, the donors are having nearly as much fun as the girls who borrow the dolls. They check in every once in a while to replace clothing or read the adventure journals. The donors are two grandmothers, a daughter, and two granddaughters who have American Girl Dolls of their own.
“I am thankful to the youth librarians at both Timberland Regional Library branches for helping us facilitate the loaned dolls,” says one donor. “Without their patience, coordination and acceptance, we would not be able to share these dolls with Grays Harbor kids.
Inspired by the New York Library, one donor reflects, “The author wrote about the reactions of the little girls…the experience seemed special, almost magical. Not necessarily life-changing or that impactful, but definitely an opportunity that I thought girls on our side of the United States could also enjoy. The librarian naturally mentioned families who could not afford to buy American Girl Dolls and all the trimmings, but she also talked about families who had pledged to not purchase manufactured toys, or gender specific toys. Girls in those families also could enjoy playing with the dolls, without the investment or commitment from their families, or the compromise in family policy.”
This donor’s daughter caught her mom’s enthusiasm for the idea and decided to get her daughters involved. “When my mom told me about the article she read in the New York Times, I knew that this was the perfect way to engage my daughters in philanthropy. My kids were involved in every step of purchasing the items for the dolls and setting up the carrying cases for delivery to the library. They wrote journal messages to the kids that would be checking out the dolls and prepared an inventory of what was going home with the dolls to make it easier to return a complete set to the library.”
“I believe my job as a mother is to provide my daughters with examples of caring for others. I want them to grow up and see that an act of kindness can be anonymous, long lasting, and simple,” she adds.
Thanks to the anonymous donors, the Hoquiam Young Mothers, and enthusiastic librarians, these dolls are bringing joy to dozens of local girls and inspiring an interest in our American history.
The Grays Harbor family is considering a fund to expand the American Girl Dolls On Loan to other branches of the Timberland Regional Library. To ask questions or pledge your support, contact GraysHarborTalk Editor, Amy Rowley, who is in contact with the donors.