The Central Series, as defined here, are the core six books or main stories about each Historical Character, covering the full initial story of each character over a span of approximately two years.
Originally Historical books were published for Pleasant Company by Scholastic, Inc but in approximately 1998 with Mattel's purchase, Central Series (along with all other books) are published by American Girl Publications (formerly known as Pleasant Company Publications), which works through Georgetown Publications in Canada for distribution.
Availability, Box Sets and Story Collections
Central Series books, unlike dolls and items, have been widely available through bookstores and other markets and not just through catalogs. A character doll could also be purchased initially with a full set of her Central Series.
Box sets included all six books in 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 a small fold out board game on the back and cardstock pieces for play.
Cover Variations and Details
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 other minor elemental changes. A collector can fairly accurately date the publication of a book by outside elements.
First Cover Style: 1986-2000
- The first three characters were introduced with parchment-colored covers. They are distinctive for the off-white spines and parchment-style boxes on the front and back. This general style was used through 2000.
Elements that were used in each cover were:
- A specific color was chosen for each girl and used for things like the year, her silhouette on the back cover, and the dingbat style logo on the spine.
- The year at the bottom of the front cover was split. So, for example, Samantha's would have "19" in burgundy on the left and "04" in burgundy on the right.
- The back cover had a list of the different characters and then a short passage speaking to the way times have changed, but girls are very much the same.
- The complete copy 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.
- The list of the characters on the back cover had only three in 1986 - Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. Each had her silhouette as a bullet, followed by a brief description of her character.
- Under the title and subtitle on the front cover, the book number was added. It was also added to the spines, just above the symbol.
- With Felicity's debut, the list of characters on the back cover grew by one. Felicity's green silhouette was first, since she was the earliest chronologically.
- Addy added a fifth character to the list on the back of each book. She had an orange silhouette. Also, the passage about the timelessness of girlhood was edited for length.
- The new version of the 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.
- When Josefina debuted, the back list changed altogether. Instead of simple silhouettes, each girl had a miniature portrait next to her description. Also, instead of being in a line on the left, the image of the girls alternated sides. Both Addy and Samantha's book series were given new illustrations and the cover art was changed to match. (Molly's had been updated earlier to match her first four books to her last two books.)
- The revised back copy:
- 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.
Cover Style Two: 2000-2004
Kit's books introduced a much different cover. The style was also used for Kaya initially. Although the illustrations used the same themes and compositions, there were several changes. They include:
- Cover illustrations with 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 symbol on the spine.
- The back cover stopped showing a list of all the girls. It then gave a description of the book and shows the other books in her series. The other girls are still represented in a small arch of their mini-portraits at the bottom, just above a brief description of "The American Girls Collection."
- The new version of the 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.
- The new version of the copy:
Briefly, Hallmark sold versions of these books. The only variation was that the back bottom cover stated The American Girls Collection from Hallmark and a Hallmark logo was on the spine.
Cover Style Three: 2004-2014
The covers were again changed dramatically with the release of Nellie's Promise. There was no longer a primary theme to the cover illustration, though some of them maintain an illustration style similar to the original covers. 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.
- Not only do the characters have a unique silhouette, symbol, and color, but a special font that is intended to mimic their handwriting. This font is used in their names in each title, which now is printed over a stripe of color towards the top of the cover. Books no longer have the book number or a subtitle on the front cover.
- The spine is still colored with each character's special color, but the symbol at the top is gone and now only appears inside the book. 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, but rather than a solid color, it is a crop of an illustration from inside. Below it is a description of the story, 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.
These books styles were retired with the launch of BeForever.
BeForever Relaunch: 2014-Present
With the Launch of BeForever, Central Series were rebundled into two-volume books--referred to as Classic Series--and the Central Series was no longer available as individual single book volumes. Each volume has a unique name and contains three of the books, with no separation between the books specifically. All new covers were done by Juliana Kolesova. 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. For example, Addy changed from a dark orange to medium blue.
- All internal illustrations have been removed.
- Cover Illustrations are more photo-realistic, and include detailed backgrounds.
- Transitional paragraphs and sentences are placed between chapters to tie books together.
- 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.
Patterns in the Central Series (1986-2004)
The patterns within the books were perpetuated with the covers all the way through Kit Kittredge's release. Each type of story had a specific cover style which varied only by the character and era, in part to help display the items available in the Historical Collections and show parallels. This continued through the 2000 revamp of the covers, but was discontinued with the 2004 cover changes. Until the BeForever launch in 2014, covers generally showed a larger version of an illustration inside the books with the exception of Meet Books, which have a large image of the character.
- See: Meet Books
Each meet book was titled Meet Name: An American Girl. The book establishes the character, their family and some friends, and the setting and historical era of the series. 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 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 significant (such as Addy and her mother's escape to freedom or Kit's family being affected by the Great Depression). These books were always packaged with the Historical Character dolls to introduce the character's world, and also available separately.
Meet Cover Design: The character was initially viewed sideways, walking in front of a location, with her head turned towards the viewer. She wore her meet outfit and at least some of her meet accessories. Updated covers 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.
Each fall/school book was titled Name Learns a Lesson: A School Story. The book takes place in the fall, within a short span of time after the events of the Meet Book. The main character starts school or formal education (in some cases for the first time, such as Felicity or 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 learns a 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.
School Cover Design: Also viewed sideways, the character sits at her school desk, 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.
Each winter holiday book was titled Name's Surprise: A Christmas Story. 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.
Holiday Cover Design: The character holds something special from her holiday story (often her gifted doll) and wears her holiday outfit. She is viewed from the front, with a holiday-themed background of some type (such as a tree or decorated hearth).
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).
Birthday Cover Design: Viewed from a slight angle, the character sits in a chair (often the one from the available Table and Chairs) with something that is part of 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.
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).
Summer Cover Style: An "action" shot, where the character in her summer outfit re-enacts 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 lantern.)
Each winter book was titled Changes for Name: A Winter Story. These books are set in the winter or 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, leading to further maturity, and helps to show their progress as a character since the Meet 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 world; 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) to the major (e.g. Molly's father returning from the Front Lines).
Winter Cover Style: Similar to the 'meet' cover, the character walks sideways but is turned 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; it is 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.)
Variations From Initial Central Series
Starting with Kaya, nearly all character books deviated from the standard six book title and events format for different reasons.
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 and unique illustration style, she kept to many of the traits on book covers from 2002-2004.
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--they just 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.
Rebecca's series do not follow the traditional titles and was confirmation that the traditional titles and patterns that had been placed 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 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 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 many years, the Central Series only covers approximately one year in the two girls' lives.
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 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 A Surprise for Caroline, her holiday book.
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 somewhat sectioned off, indicating that the six-book "format" is underlying her volumes. This includes a winter holiday surprise, a spring birthday celebration, and a summer trip to a different location in the order presented in books prior to Kaya.
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 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.
Books and Stories
Italicized listings are volume reprints for characters whose books predated the BeForever revamp, with Vol. 1 representing the first three books and Vol. 2 representing the second three books respectively.
- Meet Kaya: An American Girl
- Kaya's Escape: A Survival Story
- Kaya's Hero: A Story of Giving
- Kaya and Lone Dog: A Story of Friendship
- Kaya Shows The Way: A Sister Story
- Changes for Kaya: A Story of Courage
- The Journey Begins (Volume 1)
- Smoke on the Wind (Volume 2)
- Meet Felicity: An American Girl
- Felicity Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Felicity's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Felicity!: A Springtime Story
- Felicity Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Felicity: A Winter Story
- Love and Loyalty (Volume 1)
- A Stand for Independence (Volume 2)
- Meet Caroline: An American Girl
- Caroline's Secret Message
- A Surprise for Caroline
- Caroline Takes a Chance
- Caroline's Battle
- Changes for Caroline
- Captain of the Ship (Volume 1)
- Facing the Enemy (Volume 2)
- Meet Josefina: An American Girl
- Josefina Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Josefina's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Josefina!: A Springtime Story
- Josefina Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Josefina: A Winter Story
- Sunlight and Shadows (Volume 1)
- Second Chances (Volume 2)
Cécile and Marie-Grace
- Meet Marie-Grace: An American Girl
- Meet Cécile: An American Girl
- Marie-Grace and the Orphans
- Troubles for Cécile
- Marie-Grace Makes a Difference
- Cécile's Gift
- Meet Kirsten: An American Girl
- Kirsten Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Kirsten!: A Springtime Story
- Kirsten Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story
- Meet Addy: An American Girl
- Addy Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Addy's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Addy!: A Springtime Story
- Addy Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Addy: A Winter Story
- Finding Freedom (Volume 1)
- A Heart Full of Hope (Volume 2)
- Meet Samantha: An American Girl
- Samantha Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Samantha's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Samantha!: A Springtime Story
- Samantha Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Samantha: A Winter Story
- Manners and Mischief (Volume 1)
- Lost and Found (Volume 2)
- Meet Rebecca: An American Girl
- Rebecca and Ana
- Candlelight for Rebecca
- Rebecca and the Movies
- Rebecca to the Rescue
- Changes for Rebecca
- The Sound of Applause (Volume 1)
- Lights, Camera, Rebecca! (Volume 2)
- Meet Kit: An American Girl
- Kit Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Kit's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Kit!: A Springtime Story
- Kit Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Kit: A Winter Story
- Read All About It! (Volume 1)
- Turning Things Around (Volume 2)
- Meet Molly: An American Girl
- Molly Learns a Lesson: A School Story
- Molly's Surprise: A Christmas Story
- Happy Birthday, Molly!: A Springtime Story
- Molly Saves The Day: A Summer Story
- Changes for Molly: A Winter Story
- Meet Julie: An American Girl
- Julie Tells Her Story
- Happy New Year, Julie!
- Julie and the Eagles
- Julie's Journey
- Changes for Julie
- The Big Break (Volume 1)
- Soaring High (Volume 2)
In the early years of the American Girl of Today line, dolls came with a six book set that mimicked the Central Series, and came with writing guides that were intended to prompt the purchaser to create a central series of their own. These were later discontinued.
- ↑ With the exception of Cécile and Marie Grace's series; see details in article.
- ↑ Some characters with Best Friends would include sneak-peek chapters of their books as well.
- ↑ The first six Historical Characters each celebrated Christmas; though Kirsten Larson's book centers on St. Lucia Day.
- ↑ Kirsten is the only character with a complete change in outfit, being put in the Winter Skirt and Blouse and the matching Knit Woolens.