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CentralSeries Sam

Samantha Parkington's box set Central Series (before the BeForever Launch and the game box sets).

The Central Series, as defined here, are the core main stories about each Historical Character, covering the full initial story of each character over a span of approximately two years.[1]

Originally historical character books were published for Pleasant Company by Scholastic, but in approximately 1991, the Central Series (along with many other books) began to be published byPleasant Company Publications (later known as American Girl Publications).[2] They also work through Georgetown Publications in Canada for distribution.

Availability, Box Sets and Story Collections

SamGameBookSet

A Samantha 2010 box set with the game back.

Central Series books, unlike dolls and items, have been and remain widely available through bookstores and other markets and were not just available through the company. Historical character dolls are always packaged with the first book in their series[3] and, for some time, could also be purchased with a full set of the Central Series in either hard- or paperback versions. Books originally came in both hardback and paperback versions; hardback versions came with paper covers that exactly matched the design of the uncovered books. In approximately 2007--before the release of Julie--all hardback versions were phased out; no characters after Julie have hardback versions of individual books.

Six-book box sets included all books from the central series. With characters that had Best Friends released, for a short time it was possible to purchase a seven-book set that included their book as well. Box sets from 2011 to 2014 (prior to BeForever) included an attached fold-out board game on the back and cardstock pieces for game play; sets for Julie, Rebecca, Cécile and Marie-Grace, and Caroline only came in sets with game-play boxes.

Story Collections included all six books in one bound volume, but only included the Looking Back section of the "changes" books, if at all. Some characters with Best Friends would include sneak-peek chapters of their books.

Newer volumes are packaged in three-book sets with the My Journey Books included.

Book Cover History

There have been many changes to the American Girl books through the years, especially the covers. The covers of books had three major changes before the BeForever release, with several minor elemental changes. A book can be fairly dated to its publication run by its traits.

First Cover Style: Parchment (1986-2000)

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First style cover as shown by Meet Samantha.

1986
The first three characters were introduced with parchment-colored covers that were carried through 2000. They are distinctive for the off-white colors and parchment-style boxes on the front and back. This general style was used until 2000 and modified as needed to add new characters and elements.

Standard elements included:

  • A specific color was chosen for each girl used for things like the year, her silhouette on the back cover, and the selected dingbat style logo on the spine.
  • The year at the bottom of the front cover was split (e.g. Samantha's would have "19" in burgundy on the left and "04" in burgundy on the right).
  • Each character was listed in chronological order with her colored silhouette as a bullet beside a brief description of her character.
  • The complete back opening text read:
The books in this collection tell the stories of three American girls who lived long ago:
Kirsten, a pioneer girl of strength and spirit who settles on the frontier,
Samantha, a bright Victorian beauty, an orphan raised by her wealthy grandmother.
Molly, who schemes and dreams on the home front during World War II.
You can share their worlds -- the friends they make, the struggles and successes they have in school, the excitement of their Christmas secrets, their birthday celebrations, and their summer adventures. You'll see that some things in their lives are very different from yours. But others -- like families, friendships, and feelings -- haven't changed at all. These are the important things that American girls will always share. These are the traditions that come alive in the American Girls Collection.

1988
The book number in the series was added under the title and subtitle on the front cover and to the spines, just above the character's dingbat symbol.

1989
Molly's first four books, including covers, were re-done to use illustrations done only by Nick Backes throughout, instead of the ones that had been done by Chris Payne and David Gaadt.

1991
Felicity's debut added a fourth character to the list on the back of each book; her green silhouette was first, since she was the earliest chronologically and she was described as: Felicity, a spunky, sprightly colonial girl full of energy and independence.

1993
Addy's debut added a fifth character to the list on the back of each book with a burnt orange silhouette between Kirsten and Samantha; she was described as: Addy, a proud, courageous girl determined to be free in the midst of the Civil War.

The new version of the opening passage read:

You can share their worlds -- the friends they make, the struggles and successes, their sad times and celebrations, their secrets and adventures. You'll see that some things about growing up have changed, while others -- like families, friendships, and feelings -- haven't changed at all. These are the important things that American girls will always share. They come alive for you in the American Girls Collection.

1997
Josefina's debut changed the back list arraignment altogether. Instead of simple silhouettes, each girl had a miniature portrait next to her description and instead of being in a line on the left, the images alternated sides. Both Addy and Samantha's book series were given new illustrations and the cover art was changed to match.

Josefina was described as Josefina, an[4] Hispanic girl whose heart and hopes are as big as the New Mexico sky.

The revised back copy read:

Some things about growing up have changed, while others -- like families, friendships, and feelings -- haven't changed at all. These are the important things that American girls will always share. They come alive for you in the American Girls Collection.

1998
Addy and Samantha's books were fully re-illustrated to have new (and in the case of Addy, more uniform) illustrations. Melodye Rosales and Bradford Brown's images were replaced by Dahl Taylor and Nancy Niles's images were replaced by Dan Andreasen. These were integrated into the current book cover style, but the overall style didn't change.

Back Cover Gallery:

Second Cover Style: Faded Background (2000-2004)

MeetSamantha2

Second style cover as shown by Meet Samantha.

Kit's book release in 2000 led to a full revision of the book cover, which were also used for Kaya initially. Cover illustrations used the same themes and compositions but with several image changes. They include:

  • Cover illustrations were given more detailed (though faded) backgrounds that filled the entire cover, rather than a small section.
  • The title, year, book number, etc. moved from the bottom of the front cover to the top.
  • The spine was colorized to match the colors assigned to each girl, rather than just using the color on the dingbat symbol on the spine.
  • The back cover no longer showed a full list of all the characters. Now there was a description of the book's plot and the other books in the character series. The other characters are represented in a small arch of mini-portraits at the bottom, just above a brief description of "The American Girls Collection."

The new version of the back copy:

What was it like to be a girl long ago? The American Girls Collection takes you inside the worlds of girls who lived during exciting times in the past. As you read their stories, you can imagine how different life was back then. But you'll also discover that their feelings, ideas, and dreams are just like yours.

Hallmark sold versions of these books in their stores for a short time. This variation had the back bottom cover state The American Girls Collection from Hallmark and a Hallmark logo was on the spine.

Third Cover Style: Large Illustration (2004-2014)

MeetSamantha3

Third style cover as shown by Meet Samantha.

All covers were again changed dramatically with the release of Nellie's Promise. There was no longer a primary set theme to the cover illustrations, though some of them maintained an illustration style similar to the original covers.

  • Characters were given a special font intended to mimic their handwriting. This font is used in their names in each title.
  • The title is printed over a stripe of the character's unique color towards the top of the cover.
  • Books no longer have the book number or extra subtitles on the front cover.
  • The spine remained the character's special color, but dingbat symbols at the top are gone and now only appears inside the book for paragraph breaks. The girl's name is shown in its special script.
  • The back cover changed fully. The stripe at the front of the book is echoed on the back as a cropped inner illustration. Below it is a story summary, then an arch of the other books in the series and a blurb about the series itself. In the lower left-hand corner is the AG Inner Star logo with the Inner Star blurb that can be found on the website and other AG products. Other characters are not listed externally, but can be seen on an internal front page.
  • Books either showed a wholly unique illustration or a larger, close up version of an inner illustration with a brighter background. The Meet Books retained the style of the character's walking introduction in her meet outfit[5] and Holiday Books retained the larger image of the character in her holiday wear from the hips up.[6]

Julie's separate books, Rebecca's separate books, Cécile and Marie-Grace's books, Caroline's separate books, and the Best Friends books were only available in this cover style. This style was retired with the launch of BeForever, though older character books somewhat remain available through multiple venues.

Fourth Cover Style: BeForever Relaunch (2014-Present)

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BeForever Cover as shown by Manners and Mischief.

The Launch of BeForever resulted in the most dramatic changes in the Central Series.

The six-book series were rebundled into two-volume books--referred to as Classic Series--and the Central Series became no longer available as individual single book volumes. Each volume has a unique name and contained three of the six books, with no titled separation between the books specifically. Reasons include making the books more palatable to e-book formats and to "age up" the books to the desired eight-to-twelve age range (as most children of those age ranges have or will soon transition into chapter books of considerable length with few to no illustrations).

Books released for characters exclusive to BeForever, starting with Maryellen and onwards, are only available in this cover and book style.

  • The top stripe contains the American Girl Logo, and below that the BeForever Logo.
  • To the right side in a single character color stripe is the character name and the year. Instead of individual styled handwriting, a standard script font was used for all names.
  • An oval logo contains the unique name of the volume and "A classic featuring ____"
  • Volume numbers are listed in the lower right.
  • Theme colors for some characters changed dramatically (e.g. Addy's color changed from a dark orange to medium blue).
  • All internal illustrations have been removed.
  • Cover illustrations are more photo-realistic, and include detailed backgrounds. All new covers were done by Juliana Kolesova.
  • Transitional paragraphs and sentences are placed between chapters in some books to tie books together.[7]
  • The Looking Back Section has been changed to "Inside ____'s World" and is a two-page summary of the era.
  • The spine is in the assigned color. At the top (left, when held with text upright) is the BeForever logo. In the center is the title of the volume, the new dingbat logo, and "A 'Character' Classic 1 (2)". The bottom/right is a red section with the American Girl logo.
  • The back text either headlines with "Meet Character's full name" (Vol 1) or "Character's Story Continues..." (Vol 2) and discusses, briefly, the stories contained inside the volume. Below are shown the covers of the other volume and the My Journey Book, with text saying to look for the other books. Below that is the AG promotional text, followed by a unique dividing line appropriate to the era (e.g pearls for Samantha) over data about American Girl, the book and the ISBN and barcode.

Older style books were slowly phased out of print and retired. This resulted in books for Felicity and Molly (until rerelease), Kirsten, Marie-Grace and Cecile, and all Best Friend Characters books being no longer available as easily through American Girl directly, though they remain available through the website when searched.

The newer BeForever style was also loosely applied to the Girls of the Year and, later, the Contemporary Characters.

Story Patterns in the Central Series (1986-2004)

The patterns within the books--both plots and covers--were perpetuated all the way through Kit Kittredge's release. Each parallel book in the individual series had a specific cover style which varied only by the character and era, in part to help display items available in the Historical Collections and show parallels among characters. Plots generally loosely aligned in some way.

Meet Books

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Meet Book Example:Meet Kirsten.

See: Meet Books

Each meet book was titled Meet Name: An American Girl. The book establishes the character, their family and some friends, a major issue or theme for the series, and the setting and historical era. The timeline is set from either late spring or summer to the early fall, so as to neatly connect to the following school book. In each, the character experiences a conflict or personal dramatic issue related to the era's events. These range from small in personal scale (such as Molly's Halloween "war" with her brother) to greatly character significance (such as Addy and her mother's escape to freedom or Kirsten's immigration). These books were always packaged with the Historical Character dolls to introduce the character's world along with the doll.

In the American Girl of Today writer's guide, it is explicitly stated that each character is given a big problem that will carry throughout the six books--i.e. the themes of their stories.

Meet Cover Design: The character was initially viewed sideways to the right, walking in front of a location, with her head turned towards in a three-quarters view.. She wore her meet outfit and at least some of her meet accessories. Updated covers before the BeForever Changes did not change this much, except for Molly McIntire who was shown in her Halloween Hula Costume.

When Kit was released, a set of all seven Historical Characters' meet books was available for a short time.

School Books

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School Book Example:Felicity Learns a Lesson.

Each school book was titled Name Learns a Lesson: A School Story. The book takes place in the fall, often within a short span of time after the events of the Meet Book. The main character starts their formal education (in some cases for the first time, such as Addy) and, if she has not already met their "Best Friend" in the first book, meets them here--an example being Kirsten and Singing Bird.

During the course of the book, the character both learns educational lessons and a personal lesson outside of a classroom setting that expands or changes their perspective and helps to lead to personal maturity. Oftentimes, the "outside" lesson reflects or is influenced by larger scale historical events.

In the American Girl of Today writer's guides, it is explicitly stated that each character was intended to learn two lessons: a school lesson and a larger lesson about herself or her world.

School Cover Design: The character is seated facing left (opposite to the direction of the meet book), at her desk at school, wearing her school outfit and with some of her school accessories. The background consists of items from a school-room setting, according to the historical era.[8]

Holiday Books

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Holiday Book Example: Molly's Surprise.

Each winter holiday book was titled Name's Surprise: A Christmas Story.[9] These books take place around the Christmas holidays. The main character has something disappointing happen to them around the holidays that makes them personally sad, but this is almost always resolved by the end of the book. The main character is surprised in some way during the story, sometimes by their own actions to help bring the surprise about.

In the American Girl of Today writer's guide, it is explicitly stated that each character hopes for a gift and then faces a problem that makes her realize that family and friendship are the best gifts of all.

Holiday Cover Design: The character faces forward, fully showing her; she is holding something special from her holiday story (often her gifted doll) and wears her holiday outfit. There is a holiday-themed background of some type (such as a tree or decorated hearth).

Birthday Books

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Birthday Example: Happy Birthday, Addy!.

Each Birthday/springtime book was titled Happy Birthday, Name!: A Springtime Story. These books are set in the spring; this resulted in a majority of the characters released having spring or early summer birthdays. Initially the earliest birthday shown was Josefina Montoya in mid-March and the latest Kirsten Larson in mid-June. (While Marie-Grace Gardner's birthday is on March 3, there are no birthday books for either Marie-Grace or Cécile in their series.) The exceptions are Kaya, who is given a summer birthday and is not given a specific birthday celebration, and Caroline, who is given an autumn birthday that is briefly seen in Caroline's Secret Message. A pet or animal is usually featured prominently. The pet usually belongs to the character but not always (e.g. Addy, whose "pet" actually belonged to her neighbor, M'dear). The character learns a lesson about growing up and maturing. Most of the birthday celebrations happen at the end of the book and are anticipated by the character (the notable exception being Samantha, who has her party at the beginning to allow for later events).

In the American Girl of Today writer's guide, it is explicitly stated that each character faces a problem that almost ruins their birthday and, as they work through the problem, she learns something about herself and growing up.

Birthday Cover Design: Viewed from a slight angle, the character sits in a chair (often the one from the available Table and Chairs) facing left with something from her birthday collection in her hands or at her feet. She wears her birthday outfit and her pet is shown, and her table, dishes, and party treats can be seen in the background.

Summer Books

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Summer Example: Josefina Saves the Day.

Each summer book was titled Name Saves The Day: A Summer Story. These books are set in the summer, outside of school time. Many of the characters go on some sort of trip or vacation to a new location not seen before in the series. (Notable exceptions are Kit Kittredge and Addy Walker.) Actions occur--many times they are exciting to the character, but later lead to a problem to be solved that causes the "saving". At some point in the book--generally near the end--the character "saves the day" for herself and possibly other characters. The event can be the focus of the book (as in Molly's, where the plot was winning the Color War) or an accessory to the central plot of the book (as in Addy's, where "saving the day" was chasing the thief, but the main was Addy's compassion towards Harriet).

In the American Girl of Today writer's guide, it is explicitly stated that each character is faced with a problem or fear and working through it leads her on an adventure that ends with an act of bravery that "saves the day."

Summer Cover Style: An "action" shot, in which the character is dressed in her summer outfit re-enacting some of the "action scene" from the book. (e.g.: Molly is rowing her canoe, Addy is chasing the thief at the fair, Samantha is in the boat holding up a lantern to guide them, Kit is walking on the rails.)

Changes Books

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Winter Example: Changes for Samantha.

Each winter book was titled Changes for Name: A Winter Story. These books are set in the winter to early spring--roughly about one year after the events of the holiday book and about one and a half years since the Meet Book. Some profound change happens with the main character's life--often of a negative or depressing tone (i.e.Josefina's aunt possibly leaving the ranch, Kirsten's cabin burning down). This leads to further maturity, and helps to show their progress as a character since the first book; often, their maturity or change in perspective is noted by parental figures. These books originally served to wrap up the characters' stories, and close out the era; later Historical Character Mysteries and Short Stories expand the storyline. All of these books have some sort of positive event for the characters involved, ranging from small in scale (e.g. Kit's news story publication, the birth of Patriot for Felicity) to the major (e.g. Addy's family fully reunited, Samantha's aunt and uncle adopting Nellie and her sisters).

In the American Girl of Today writer's guide, it is explicitly stated that each character goes through many changes both sad and happy and while initially unhappy by the changes, they learn that change--for better or for worse--helps them grow; the strength they gain from the changes helps them solve their main arching story problem (i.e. Addy's entire family reunited in freedom).

Winter Cover Style: In parallel to the 'meet' cover, the character walks sideways facing right but is turned more to smile at the viewer. She wears her winter coat over another outfit (and often included winter outfit accessories) and waves. Many characters have additional clothing visible; usually one of the extra outfits in the collection (Felicity wears her work gown under her cloak; Addy's school skirt is visible under her coat.)[10]

Variations From Initial Central Series

Starting with Kaya, nearly all character books deviated from the standard six book formats-- titles, cover style, and events format, though each occurred for different reasons.

Kaya

Kaya's stories do not follow the traditional patterns or titles set by the first seven historical characters, as Kaya's Native American culture does not connect to the dominant American cultural pattern. Her storyline is written so that she does have several alike events, such as a winter festival; however, she does not have the lifestyle of the prior characters and so would not celebrate Christian holidays. Some titles tried to relate to the pattern of prior books, such as Kaya Shows The Way, and her meet and concluding winter books remained titled the same. She also was given subtitles, each relating to the events of the books.

While Kaya's books had different titles, plots, and unique illustration style, she kept to many of the traits on book covers from 2002-2004.

Julie

Julie's series does not follow the set title pattern given by previous characters, following Kaya's change in titles. The title changes did not clearly confirm that the original pattern was being ignored post-Kaya or due to the varying events present in Julie's series until Rebecca's release. The main stories, however, are loosely equivalent and are simply are not titled in the same format. With the exception of the first book, the subtitles of the stories that had been applied were also removed.

Julie's holiday book focuses more on Chinese New Year instead of Christmas, which is only shown briefly at the start of the book; however, her holiday collection focused on the tea with her father. Her birthday less focuses on the party and more on environmentalism.

Rebecca

Rebecca's series do not follow the traditional titles and was confirmation that the traditional titles and patterns that had been in place for the first seven characters would most likely no longer be used. Her holiday book focuses on Hanukkah as she is Jewish, and includes conflict with Rebecca being Jewish and having her own traditions while trying to live in a Christian-dominant American culture. The main stories still are loosely equivalent to the original series and keep to the same pattern, and like Julie's series, do not have the subtitles with the exception of the first book.

Cécile and Marie-Grace

Cécile and Marie-Grace's series do not follow the traditional titles whatsoever, with the exception of their dual Meet Books. The intertwining series make their books serve as a diptych and a parallel to one another. With two meet books, the same events were shown from each character's perspective. Additionally instead of covering two or so years, the Central Series only covers approximately one year in the two girls' connected lives.

Caroline

The main stories of Caroline's series loosely follows the pattern seen in previous Historical Characters' series, in terms of seasonal setting. However, they do not align to events in the same order as the others with the exception of the Meet Book. Caroline does not have a proper birthday book whatsoever; her birthday is celebrated at the end of Caroline's Secret Message (her second book) and this gives her a fall birthday. She also "saves the day" multiple times in her series, due to the events of the War of 1812 greatly affecting her life; this also includes the personal saving in both A Surprise for Caroline and Caroline Takes a Chance.

Maryellen

Maryellen was the first character launched wholly within BeForever, so she was never given a separate six-book format and only was released with the two-book "classic" volumes that lacked illustrations. However, her books can be internally sectioned off into the six-book "format" as was seen with earlier characters (especially Kit and earlier). This includes a winter holiday surprise, a spring birthday date and celebration, and a summer trip to a different location in the order presented in books prior to Kaya.

Melody

Unlike Maryellen, Melody's classic-volume books are not as easily sectioned off internally or tied tightly to the original six-book format. While stories can be semi-sectioned, there is no tightly wound six-book structure like many prior characters and the volumes read a lot more like a single book instead of three books in one volume. Her birthday is touched on early at the start of Volume Two; she is born January first, giving her the earliest birthday of any Historical Character. She does take a summer trip to a different location; Christmas is instead supplanted by New Years/Watch Night/her birthday.

Felicity (BeForever rerelease volumes)

Unlike other rereleased volumes, Felicity's BeForever books do not include frequent transitional paragraphs between the previously separated books. Only one is made between what was the fifth and sixth books.

Furthermore, her books do not have the same complete cover design as other BeForever volumes. Her name is in large script at the top below the American Girl Stripe, with no text of "A Classic Featuring Felicity" anywhere. The title of the volume is not isolated and is just printed on the cover image with no oval or white background. BeForever is instead in a small ribbon in the lower along with the year (1774). No Volume number is listed on the front.

Nanea

Like Melody before her, Nanea's classic-volume books are not sectioned off internally into the six-book format and each volume is written as a fully flowing story with multiple chapters from start of volume to the end. Her books start in Fall 1941. This is rather late as most earlier series tended to start in either summer or early fall; this is done so that the book directly covers the bombing of Pearl Harbor (in part, from Nanea's direct perspective on the day of the bombing) and the after-effects of the attack on their family and extended family. Christmas is only lightly touched on, and not a major focus of a plot like characters prior; this is also true with Nanea's birthday. Because of the attack, Nanea does not start school again until February, which is covered in her second volume. Nanea's books cover a span of just under a year from about November 1941 until approximately late June 1942.

Nanea's books do not have the same complete cover design as other BeForever volumes and more resemble Felicity's. Her name is in large script at the top below the American Girl Stripe, and the title is instead "A Classic Featuring Nanea". BeForever is again in a small ribbon in the lower along with the year (1941). No Volume number is listed on the front; on the back her full name is not listed and instead it reads "Meet Nanea..."

Molly (BeForever rerelease volumes)

Books and Stories

Italicized listings are volume reprints for characters whose first book releases predated the BeForever revamp, with Vol. 1 representing the first three books and Vol. 2 representing the second three books respectively.

Kaya

Felicity

Caroline

Josefina

Cécile and Marie-Grace

Kirsten

Addy

Samantha

Rebecca

Kit

Nanea

Molly

Maryellen

Melody

Julie

American Girl of Today Central Series

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The six blank books that came with the first American Girl Today dolls.

In the early years of the American Girl of Today line, dolls came with a blank paperback six-book set that mimicked the Central Series. They came with a decorative stencil and short writing guides by Valerie Tripp that covered tips for writing and included summaries of the books. They were intended to encourage the purchaser to create something akin to a central series of their own for their doll, and slipcovers could be ordered to protect the completed books for some time.

These were later discontinued.

See Also

References

  1. Exceptions are Cécile and Marie Grace's shared series and Nanea's series; see details in article.
  2. Scholastic renewed their partnership in 2016 and now publishes other lines. See article.
  3. BeForever dolls come with the first volume.
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  5. The exception being Molly.
  6. Exceptions include the holiday books for Kaya, Samantha, Josefina, and Molly.
  7. This is not done in Melody's or Nanea's volumes, as they are written without divisions, and only once in Felicity's rereleased volumes.
  8. Kit is an exception; she is sitting at her desk with her supplies and in her outfit, but her desk is at home.
  9. The first six Historical Characters each celebrated Christmas; though Kirsten Larson's book centers on St. Lucia Day.
  10. Kirsten is the only character with a complete change in outfit and is wearing the Winter Skirt and Blouse and the matching Knit Woolens.