Parent Involvement: Unnecessary
Gabriela McBride is the Girl of the Year 2017
* This review is a little different than my standard format because there is a lot of things outside the basic story which are worthy of discussing.
Right off the Bat, I have to note that Gabriela is The First American Girl Character – Ever! – who has a “Disability”. While I would absolutely Love to see a girl with an obvious physical challenge, such as an amputee or who is confined to a wheelchair, or a girl who deals with mental challenges like depression or ADD, for displaying a girl who is relateably average to “most” girls AND has an obstacle that affects her relationship with the outside world, Gabriela is fantastic. Gabriela has a stutter, a quite serious one, actually. Her stutter is better or even not present when she is relaxed, but add any stress, nervousness, frustration or anger into the mix and she trips over her words so much that it often prompts others around her to jump in and interrupt her to speak for her or explain her situation to others. The interruptions make Gabriela mad, which in turn, often makes her stutter worse. It’s a vicious cycle. Gabriela’s books are about her learning to manage her stutter and find a new level of confidence in herself and her ability to communicate with everyone around her.
Because this is such a potentially delicate topic, I have to share that I personally am very sensitive to people who face challenges that are culturally referred to as “Disabilities”. When I was growing up my mom was in a wheelchair, my grandmother had debilitating asthma and was frequently hospitalized for life-threatening attacks and my best friend was deaf. So, when I say I’m aware of these things, I really am. I don’t personally believe in “Disabilities”. I much prefer Differently Abled, or just people. Disability is a way our culture refers to what is different from us about “them”, but there is no “Them,” the millions of people who deal with and overcome their “Disabilities” every day are normal, average people who have challenges that others don’t have. That being said, it is also something that deserves more attention than it gets. I’m glad to see American Girl approaching the topic, and I hope they plunge in further, educating kids about how other kids who have challenges that make them look like they are “different” or “weird” would be an amazing gift in society.
It is worthy of note that Gabriela is ALSO the first black character in the Girl of The Year series. These topics will be important later, but don’t worry – I promise, no pop quiz! 😉
Gabriela McBride loves dance, art and poetry. Her mom runs the Liberty Arts community center in Philadelphia. While there, preparing for the Annual Rhythm and Views talent show, Gabriela and her friend Teagan plug in some electronic equipment to test a slide show, and the electrical system in the historic building fails. An Electrician says the entire system (and some other things) need to be replaced to bring it up to code, and subsequently the city says the building must be closed until the repairs can be carried out.
Gabriela and her family and friends have only a couple of months to raise $20,000 for the repairs, or they’ll lose Liberty Arts forever. In this process, Gabriela must learn to trust and be proud of her own voice, to save the things that are most important in her life.
At first Gabriela’s parents try to keep the kids out of the planning and dealing with fundraising efforts, telling them they “Don’t want them to worry about adult issues.” But Gabriela is struggling with guilt because she believes her actions testing the slideshow is what truly caused the problem, and she had been too afraid and upset to tell her parents “About her mistake”. When she finally does tell them about her concerns, they reassure her that she didn’t do anything wrong, the building and wiring are very old and needed to be replaced, anyway, it could have happened at any time, and they agree to let Gabriela and her friends join in the fundraising to help them feel involved with the solution.
They try many different fundraising ideas, but are still unable to get the required funds. Throughout these events, time after time Gabriela will start to explain the situation and why they are asking for donations to passersby, and best friend Teagan will interrupt her with “What Gabriela means to say is _____” immediately upon her starting to stutter. Gabriela grows increasingly frustrated with Teagan and other interruptions, but keeps it to herself and struggles with growing insecurity about her ability to talk to people. Eventually, Teagan starts just answering FOR Gabriela instead of even letting her speak, and Gabriela finally snaps at her and tells Teagan to let her speak for herself. (Teagan is offended and they don’t speak for a while).
With the deadline closing in, and more upset and insecure than ever, Gabriela has an idea to make a viral internet campaign by organizing a flash mob. Little does she know that her biggest challenge in the book will finding the courage and confidence to actually speak to a news crew filming the event to explain her heart-felt plea for donations to save her beloved community center.
There is some controversy surrounding Gabriela. As she is both the first black Girl of the Year – and to be honest, she is the first Girl of the Year who is a person of color who does NOT have at least one WHITE parent – AND the first AG character with any type of “Disability” , many people feel Gabriela was particularly slighted by American Girl. Gabriela, like all Girls of the Year was released on January 1st 2017. Normally, the Girl of the year (GOTY) receives most of the emphasis of both marketing and product development for the entire year, Her colors will be woven into marketing material and also influence store design and events during her year and for the last six years the GOTY has also been featured in an annual movie.
However, in 2017, American Girl launched their Contemporary Character Series — which honestly feels extremely similar to the GOTY premise, the only perceptible difference being that the Contemporary Characters will be available for longer than the calendar year of their release. The first installment in the Contemporary Character series was Tenney Grant, and of course Logan – the first Male AG doll, who were both released only a few weeks after Gabriela, on February 14 2017.
In retail stores, the footprint dedicated to Gabriela was remarkably smaller than previous GOTY’s received, and instead Tenney and Logan had (in most locations) a much larger space with more displays. Many felt that Tenney and Logan had a more thought-out and higher quality product line, and in fact there was a rumor that Tenney was intended to be GOTY 2017, before they decided to create the Contemporary series, thus perhaps rushing a future project to completion in time for the January release. I’m not sure I agree with that rumor, because I do feel that the books are very well done and don’t feel under edited, rushed or thrown together in any way (Note, however, that I Do Not feel the same way about Tenney’s first three books – yes, she’s getting at least one more, Which is quite unfortunate in my opinion, I am not a fan of Tenney.) However, what I’ve heard about Gabriela’s doll products, accessories and items are that they are not up to typical AG quality – so maybe there is something to it. I’ve never had personal experience with the doll products for Gabriela, and this blog is only about the books, but it bares mentioning.
The other “Slight” dealt to Gabriela, was that the annual movie went to Z Yang, the second girl in the Contemporary Character series, who is of Korean descent and asian heritages are woefully underrepresented in American Girl products.
No matter where you come down on this issue, I hope that you enjoy Gabriela for the really sweet, inspirational story she is. I have to say, I wish there was more of her stories or a movie about her, she really would lend herself to a great film, but I doubt that is to be.
I discuss this topic in depth because it is a fairly hot-button topic in American Girl circles, and I don’t know what may be said between friends discussing the topic, so I wanted to inform parents of the facts behind the controversy.
Conversation Topics: This section are just my ideas for discussions you can have with your kids or family based on the topics of each book. Start a conversation and see where it leads!
How does self-consciousness and insecurity affect you? Everyone is a little bit self-conscious, you aren’t the only one.
What do you think about people with disabilities or those who are different than you? What can you do to make them feel appreciated and good around you? (Like Teagan having to learn not to interrupt Gabriela.)
What hobby do you have that makes the rest of your life better? (Like Gabriela’s dancing and poetry) Is there any hobby you’d like to try?
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