Podcast 14: American Girls, Dangers and Delights

What are the dangers and delights of the American Girls series of books?  I gave you guys an intro to this subject in an American Girls post last week.  Today, I discuss the Kirsten series with my oldest daughter. So far, we have read the first book in the series, Meet Kirsten, and a short story collection about her.

I’ve already talked a little about the delights of the stories.  Historical settings that are educational yet fun, young girls who are winsome and represent various cultures in America’s melting pot.  And the writing is a step above many books for kids this age.  American Girl books often contain well-constructed plots that interest the target age group.

So what are the dangers?  Here are a few general thoughts:

  • Good Without God:  What happens when positive role models solve difficult problems, and in the case of Kirsten, deal the death of her best friend, with little to no mention of God?  Christian kids may unknowingly absorb the lesson that God is irrelevant to being good or successful. I don’t think this is an insurmountable problem, but it’s something we need to be aware of.  To avoid this pitfall, I recommend two things: 1) kids read two or three Christian resources to every non-Christian book like this.  That means I might read several chapters of the Bible each day to her, and I try to keep on hand songbooks, Christian poetry, and stories of missionaries or Christian historical figures who consciously depended on God for their survival or success.  And 2) teach them to go beyond moralism to see Christ in stories that never mention him.  Ask them, how are these characters being like Jesus–do they forgive each other or give sacrificially?  Teach them to connect the dots and see that we as readers are attracted to that kind of behavior because it is Christ-like.  But also remind them, these girls aren’t Christ, so they will always fall short in some way.
  • Multi-culturalism: I love that these books present heroes from many different cultures and religions.  If we’re going to appraise them without God in the picture, we’re all pretty similar: deeply flawed but still beautiful in that we bear the image of God.   I want my kids to believe that people from Sweden and Mexico and Native American tribes are no less valuable that the kids in their Sunday School classes.  And my belief is that each of these cultures has been gifted uniquely by God in a way that other cultures just aren’t.  I love that these books foster that.  However, probably the most seductive anti-Christian philosophy in our culture today is what D.A. Carson calls “cherished pluralism.”  It’s the idea that there is no Truth, just a cornucopia of truths and cultures that are equally beautiful and meaningful.  Tolerance is the highest virtue, and any dissent or idea of exclusive truth is viewed as hatred or intolerance.  My suggestion here is to talk explicitly about this to your kids.  Tell them what the Bible teaches about the peoples of the earth–that in heaven we’ll see every people and tribe and tongue and nation.  God values them all.  But apart from Christ, we all fall terribly short, and there is no hope without Him.
  • Feminism:  While the American Girls don’t fall prey to some of the more obvious displays of feminism–for instance, men and boys aren’t demonized–they can stray into girl-power mentality.  Certainly, many adults who foist them on kids will see them as empowering to girls, since girls are the heroes in this series and there isn’t any sense of girls having a different calling or sphere of influence than boys.  Issues like headship or what it means to be a good wife are things that you’ll have to bring in through other resources.
  • A Thing to Be Discussed:  As Sherry at www.semicolonblog.com said in her comment to my first post, there is often a “thing to be discussed” within these books.  Lying or keeping secrets from parents are common plot devices, and it’s often not critiqued.  After reading a few of these books, my daughter suddenly started keeping a “secret diary” and trying to form a club with her sister that purposely excluded me.  These were new ideas for her, and it took little suggestion for her to seek to apply them in her own life.  But we talked about it, and at this age, she was pretty easily disabused of the notion it’s cool to hide things from mommy.  As she gets older, that may not be the case.  In addition, there is a significant amount of religious content in these books–in one of the Kaya books, we hear her grandmother praying to her gods, and Rebecca’s Jewish traditions are a significant part of her stories.  All of these things are problematic, but in my opinion, provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss these things with kids.  The reality, though, is that in general, I do think their impact on the culture is largely to lead girls further away from Christian belief.

But enough of my thoughts!  Here is my interview with my six-year-old daughter about Kirsten.  It’s a little long, but I’m trying to teach her to be able to think critically about what she reads, and we really enjoyed the interview process.  Hear from her mouth what she found fascinating or problematic about the Kirsten books!



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  1. Jessalyn on April 20, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for these thoughts. I so enjoy how you encourage parents to be actively involved in the reading of literature with their children. What wonderful opportunities we have to delve into topics we may never have without stories like these. I find it very interesting that your daughter started her secret diary and formed the club 🙂 so sweet and yet, so wonderful that you had the wisdom to nip it in the “bottom” by explaining the need to be open and honest with her authority. It is amazing how literature can so easily influence!!!! LOL.

    I read a few of these books when I was a young girl and really enjoyed them, though I was not a Christian at the time. I remember the book about Addy having a profound impact on me. It was one of the first books I ever read dealing with slavery and really helped me understand the horrific idea of enslavement. I still recall a scene in it where she I think is forced to eat a bug or something to that effect. (Which to me, at that time, was terrible!!!!!).

    • dan groff on December 21, 2021 at 8:48 am

      hi Emily,
      We have a 10 year old daughter and I enjoy reading your review of Kirsten and appreciate your Christian world view.

      You said you had a interview with your daughter about the book which I really would like to read for tips in discussions with my daughter.

      Please could you help me find that in a link on your website or somehow show me where?
      The link only had this… [powerpress]

      blessings, dan

      • Hayley Morell on December 22, 2021 at 7:22 am

        Hey Dan!

        We’re so glad you are enjoying Redeemed Reader. Sadly, our site was hacked several years ago and we lost some content, including our early podcasts. This post about American girls might be helpful for you though since Emily added some discussion questions to it.

        Happy to be reading ahead for you and helping with this discussion starter.


  2. emily on April 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Jessalyn, Rebecca has actually described the bug-eating scene to me too! She said it was some kind of worm…maybe a boll-weevil, I’m guessing? haha.

    I really do hate to tell parents they have to talk about books with their kids, since I know how busy we all are and it would be so much easier if we could just put books into Good Book and Bad Book piles. But when we consider how many heresies have been birthed out of wrong interpretations of God’s perfect book, how much more do we need to help our kids think through the imperfect, man-made books we give them?

  3. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog on April 23, 2012 at 5:21 am

    […] American Girls, Dangers and Delights Really liked this idea. Emily Whitten interviews her young daughter about the American Girls series. […]

  4. April Craymer on December 29, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    I really appreciate this post! I would love to hear what your daughter had to say, but I don’t know how to read or listen to that section. Can you help me?

    • Betsy Farquhar on January 3, 2018 at 10:58 am

      Sadly, April, we lost the podcast files when our site got hacked in 2016. We keep trying to figure out where the files might be–feel free to pray to that end!

  5. Stephanie on May 4, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    I’m curious what exactly you think is wrong with Rebecca’s Jewish traditions.

    • Janie Cheaney on May 5, 2023 at 4:06 am

      Emily Whitten wrote the American Girls post over 10 years ago and she’s no longer with Redeemed Reader (though still a good friend!). I don’t think she would say there’s something “wrong” with Rebecca’s Jewish traditions. The word she used was “problematic,” in the sense that in the series all faith traditions are presented as equal: equally true and valuable. As Christians, we see Christ as revealing the ultimate truth. Emily is reminding Christian parents that some discussion may be in order even over a wholesome series like American Girls. I believe it’s worthwhile to learn about other faiths, and I believe Emily would too. As C.S. Lewis wrote, it’s not that all other religions are simply false; there is truth to be found. But part of our calling as Redeemed Readers is learning to sift out the truth and discern anything that leads away from Christ and toward some other source of salvation.

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