I was so excited to get my American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide in the mail today! I’ve been waiting for it to finally release for months. I have already read it to cover to cover and well, honestly I have a bit of a mixed review.
First of all, the idea behind this guide is fantastic! A big beautiful book full of colorful, glossy doll pictures? Yes please! It is well organized in four categories: Meet American Girl, Beforever, Girl of the Year and Truly Me. The Meet American Girl section was my favorite part. I learned a bit about the beginning of the company that I didn’t already know and it was so awesome to read about how they go about designing each character. I would be absolutely tickled if the entire book had been about those things. Unfortunately the fascinating behind-the-scenes info stopped at page 28.
The remaining three sections, Beforever, Girl of the Year, and Truly Me, contained no more information that what a stack of old catalogues would give you. Less, in fact, and some of it blatantly inaccurate. The pictures are beautiful and the layout is very snappy. It is more or less designed like a catalogue, with pictures of a product and a little blurb about it (example: a picture of Kirsten’s winter sweater accompanied by a sentence explaining that Kirsten’s mother would have knitted it for her using traditional Scandinavian patterns). Note that absolutely no doll is displayed with her entire collection. Not even close. I admit that I foolishly had my hopes up, thinking that it would be like a collectors guide; a comprehensive list of every product ever available for each doll with info about when it was released, retired, etc. There are some interesting tid-bits spread throughout, but it’s not that useful to a serious collector. Fun and beautiful to look at though.
Regarding the inaccuracies, I found several but I will just name a couple. On Marie-Grace and Cécile’s page, it states that “When the girls are invited to a winter ball, Marie-Grace worries that she has nothing to wear. Luckily, Cécile comes to the rescue with the perfect matching blue-and-pink outfits.” Umm. No, that’s not what happened at all. It was a Mardi-Gras ball, first of all, and the costumes were provided by Mademoiselle Oceàn, the girls’ voice instructor. It also says that Nellie got a job working as a house servant when her parents died of influenza. Wrong again. Nellie’s family worked as house servants UNTIL her parents died of influenza. Then Nellie and her sisters went to live with their uncle in New York City before being adopted by Gaurd and Cornelia. Many of the captions in the Beforever section followed this thread, actually. It seemed almost as though the authors of this book were just sort of making up stories and scenarios that went along with the products. I know they are little things, but seriously. If you are going to go to the trouble of making a big beautiful book like this, let’s make sure the details are correct.
The Girl of the Year Section was similar to the Beforever section in format. I am a Beforever buff, but definitely not knowledgable about Girl of the Year stuff at all, so I don’t know if there were any inaccuracies or not. The Truly Me section was a bit of a let-down. There is a picture of all of the current Truly Me dolls, but none of the retired ones are shown. Wouldn’t that have been interesting and relevant, to at least show a picture of the original 1995 line-up? Or maybe a time line with all of the meet outfits? Instead it just showcases pretty much everything that is available currently using catalogue pictures from the past year or two. As a music teacher, I am a bit affronted that while sports and dance were each give full two-page spreads, this tiny box in the corner is the only recognition given to their musical instruments:
A while back my mom, aided by my sister, started on a big project of making a binder containing a picture of every product made by American Girl. There are online guides out there, but she wanted something physical that can be easily leafed through. I admit that I’ve been less than supportive about it (cutting up all those catalogues makes me flinch! I’ve squirreled away some of the oldest to my house to keep them safe from the scissors!) but now I really do see how useful it will be, compared to the relative uselessness of this guide. She actually has a separate binder for each line of dolls (Beforever, GOTY, and Truly Me) and a section in each for every doll. Here is an example of how she has it laid out:
All in all, I am glad I have the American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide. It is fun just to look through and would be great for someone who is just getting into American Girl, or perhaps someone who was into it as a kid and wants to reminisce as an adult. I do recommend it, but just know it is not a useful collectors guide. Also, read the books if you want to make sure you have the correct facts about the characters. 🙂