Girls of the Year, also known colloquially as Limited Edition dolls, are dolls and characters that are available on a limited basis.
Originally characters were only available for one year before retirement but, starting with Gabriela McBride, remain available for approximately two years. Originally, the line was classified as part of the American Girl Today collection, but with Jess McConnell the line was separated into its own collection.
Girls of the Year were introduced in 2001 with Lindsey Bergman.
List of Girl of the Year Characters
- Lindsey Bergman was released in 2001.
- Kailey Hopkins was released in 2003.
- Marisol Luna was released in 2005.
- Jess McConnell was released in 2006.
- Nicki Fleming was released in 2007.
- Mia St. Clair was released in 2008.
- Chrissa Maxwell was released in 2009.
- Lanie Holland was released in 2010.
- Kanani Akina was released in 2011.
- McKenna Brooks was released in 2012.
- Saige Copeland was released in 2013.
- Isabelle Palmer was released in 2014.
- Grace Thomas was released in 2015.
- Lea Clark was released in 2016.
- Gabriela McBride was released in 2017.
- Luciana Vega was released in 2018.
- Blaire Wilson was released in 2019.
- Joss Kendrick was released in 2020.
Girl of the Year Companions
In 2009 Chrissa Maxwell came with two companion dolls, the only time that a Girl of the Year came with any other accompanying dolls. This was predominantly because Chrissa's story emphasized friendship. Her two companions were:
Each doll came with the American Girl book Friends; there was no additional stories from their viewpoint or unique items for them in Chrissa's collection. With the retirement of the Best Friends side lines, it is unlikely that there will be any future companions for a Girl of the Year, though characters continue to have friends mentioned prominently in stories and some are shown in MegaBloks releases.
Traits of the Girls of the Year and collections
Girls of the Year are always characters that originally are about nine to twelve years old (with an average age of ten), with stories set in modern-day America during the year of her release. The character is given a story that expands on her personality, a specific situation she is involved in, relevant social issue, and/or her personal hobbies. This creates an overarching theme for the year which is expanded in the collection.
While the line started modestly, Girls of the Year now have sizable collections including multiple outfits and often one large "fancy" item. Originally the largest item was furniture such as a bed, but nowadays varies into high-priced playsets (such as rainforest style huts, bakeries, faux space habitats, or vehicles) that generally have a multitude of accessories.
Lea and Gabriela were also available through other retailers; packaging was initially adjusted to accommodate this and secure product for other retailers. Gabriela's packaging was modified to open on top with a clear-front plastic opening. The doll slid out connected to a colorful cardboard backing; her first book, instead of laying on top of her, is tucked behind her. Outfits were packed in clear front boxes with contrasting thread to secure items; accessory sets were (and continue to be) packaged in closed boxes and sealed shut, with the items shown on a front image. However, this packaging was panned by consumers and, other than being used for Contemporary Characters and accessory sets, packaging has reverted to the clear-window style doll box and solid cardstock boxes for outfits. After Gabriela, Girls of the Year were no longer available at secondary markets.
In 2012--at the release of McKenna Brooks--older character pages began to be removed from the site. In 2015 Lindsey, Kailey, and Marisol were temporarily removed from the Girl of the Year Archives and no longer seen on the site; they were later restored. No characters further back than ten years were on the main Girl of the Year site ; the oldest was removed soon after the release of the next character. Starting with Blaire, the page focused on the current Girl of the Year and older characters were listed on the intertwined character page  that includes Girls of the Year, Contemporary Characters and Historical Characters.
The Girl of the Year comes bundled with a book, much like Historical and BeForever characters. The books are targeted to ages eight and up. Originally books were smaller at only about five or six chapters and a little longer length than a Historical Character central story; they later expanded to roughly ten short chapters each. With the release of Grace Thomas, books no longer had illustrations (much like BeForever books) and consist of about thirteen to fifteen chapters, telling a longer and more involved story. Starting in 2014 or so, books became available in both e-Book and physical books. With Joss, illustrations returned (as they had returned to the Historical line).
Starting with Nicki Fleming, Girls of the Year started to receive multiple books. The first book is bundled with the doll and any additional books are available separately. The additional books expanded the story and allows for a more rounded image of the character through the year. For several years, books had an after-story section which discussed real life girls who have done the same things the character has done; for example Nicki's books talk about other girls who have worked with service animals, Mia's had a question and answer section about sports, and Chrissa's had a question and answer section about friendship and bullying. The books are all written in first person narrative from the viewpoint of the main character. With Isabelle, three books were available as well as a short story e-book. Three books and e-shorts continued with Grace and Lea, but no e-shorts were made for Gabriella and books were reduced back to two with Blaire.
Originally, American Girl kept all prior books in stock for purchase. Starting with the release of McKenna Brooks, American Girl began to phase out older books when the books Lindsey, Kailey, Marisol, and Jess were retired from direct sale. Books then started to be phased out or placed on sale for clearance after approximately three to five years after initial release.
Chrissa Maxwell was the first Girl of the Year character to receive a movie, Chrissa Stands Strong. Movies were not released again until McKenna Brooks and her movie, McKenna Shoots for the Stars, but were consistently released through Lea Clark. While the doll's collection was mostly released on January 1, movies generally did not premiere until closer to the summer.
Movies are available on Blu-Ray and DVD formats and were originally also broadcast--frequently on NBC--with commercial interruptions after the home release. Grace and Lea's movies were launched straight to DVD/BluRay.
No character after Gabriela has received a movie; full length movies have mostly been phased out for new media distribution (such as shorter Amazon Prime Specials). This is likely due to the costs of filming and distribution.
Starting with Nicki, American Girl has held contests and/or campaigns to promote the Girl of the Year and themes in the collection.
- Nicki was a Real Girl 2007 contest to promote girls who were helping in service ways.
- Mia was Real Girl 2008 of girls who performed in inspiring ways.
- Chrissa was part of an anti-bullying campaign and American Girl partnered with the Ophelia Project .
- With Lanie, American Girl partnered with the National Wildlife Federation and the Be Out There™ Movement to encourage appreciation of nature and outdoor activities.
- With Kanani, American Girl partnered again with the National Wildlife Federation to raise awareness of endangered animals and promote wildlife preservation as part of the Shine On Now campaign.
- McKenna was part of an initiative aimed at increasing childhood literacy with Save the Children's U.S. Literacy Program.
- Saige's release included an arts contests for girls, a school grant contest for elementary arts teachers, and activities developed with Americans for the Arts.
- Isabelle's release included an online sweepstakes contest for girls, but no noted partnerships with campaigns for dance or design.
- Grace's release had American Girl launch a yearlong fundraising initiative, "For Goodness, Bake!", to support Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign to relieve child hunger in America.
- Lea's release included an arts campaign, Wild at Art, along with a yearlong partnership to support the World Wildlife Fund.
- Gabriela's release included a partnership between American Girl and Scholastic to create a custom curriculum program, "Express Yourself," on using poetry as a tool of self-expression.
- With Luciana, American Girl, along with Scholastic, NASA, and Space Camp, helped fund the Blast Off To Discovery program, which included STEM-based lesson plans and activities. American Girl and Scholastic also hosted a Mission to Mars sweepstakes with the grand prize trip to Space Camp.
- With Blaire, American Girl was not connected to any major programs or partnerships, but emphasized themes of farm-to-table meals, food allergies and sensitivities, and food preparation.
- With Joss, American Girl has donated $25,000 to the non-profit Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) to support educational programs. Additionally, through December 2020, purchasers can make a $1, $5 or $10 donations through the site and at stores. A promotion, "Walk With Joss", with the Walk4Hearing was intended to be held in person in twenty cities, but has moved to a virtual walk due to the covid-19 pandemic. The contest, "Walk With Joss" is now online, children ages five through twelve can apply to potentially win the doll and accessories.
Character Availability Timeline
The Girl of the Year is released on January 1st (regardless of which day of the week it is) with at least one if not both books about her, extra outfits, and accessories. A "large" furniture or playset item started to be released at launch as well, generally of a cost over $200 US.. While originally a "starter collection" of the doll with some of her beginning outfits and a few accessories came bundled at a discount, this has been discontinued. Grace, Gabriela, and all characters after her have not received a Starter Collection upon their debuts, though they could be bundled with accessories at a slight discount.
At least one child-sized outfit is released, generally the meet outfit with any modifications needed (for example, Nicki's meet outfit was separated into a top and skirt instead of the bodysuit the doll received).
During the first three days of release at American Girl Place locations, various events are held for the Girl of the Year, including activities. Starting with McKenna's release, a small giveaway item was offered as well, only available at the stores; no purchase is needed, but it is only offered the first three days of release to visitors. Saige and Isabelle received white t-shirts with their personal name and matched logos. With Grace and Lea, the items came in unique envelopes.
- McKenna Brooks: Duffle Bag
- Saige Copland: Decorated Logo T-shirt
- Isabelle Palmer: Decorated Logo T-shirt
- Grace Thomas: Red Chef Apron
- Lea Clark: Pink Beach Sarong
- Gabriela McBride: Boombox Notebook
- Luciana Vega: Decorated Logo T-shirt
- Blaire Wilson: Striped Apron
- Joss Kendrick: Orange Drawstring Bag
Later in the year, near the summer or early fall, a second set of items is released. Lindsey's and Kailey's collections were small and so had no additional releases. Jess and Marisol had their larger items, Marisol's Spotlight Stage and Tiara and Jess's Motor Scooter and Helmet, released mid-year. From Nicki to Lea, all large items are released at launch and the second fall release is generally a single additional outfit and a related accessory set.
After the second release, a character's "whole world" collection originally become available for purchase; this included every item available for the doll and all books bundled at a discount. Chrissa was not given a whole world set which was assumed to be because of her companion dolls. Lanie was also denied a Whole World Collection. Kanani received a Whole World collection, but no character since her has received Whole World Collections; this is likely due to the prevalence of larger items in collections.
Occasionally, items that are not specific to the stories or character outfits but connected to the collection are released for children; these generally involve shirts and accessories, some based on the character's items.
All items in the collection originally remained available through about November or December, though larger items may begin to sell out in October. Previously, starting in November any items that become sold out are retired and not restocked. The entire collection, regardless of any remaining stock, was officially retired after December 31st and no longer made available to purchase. The character is also listed on the American Girl Archives.
The first break from this after Kailey was Gabriela, who remained available until December 2018. The current method is to keep the doll and multiple items available for about two years. Regardless of the prior availability of the previous character, the new doll and collection is not released for purchase until January 1st of a new year (barring early release parties). For a while post retirement books and other media (such as movies) remain available through American Girl for purchase.
In 2016, American Girl partnered with Mega Brands, a subsidiary company of Mattel, to create various MegaBlok sets (later rebranded as MegaConstrux). Girl of the Year sets have so far focused on Nicki, Mia, Lanie, Kanani, McKenna, Saige, Isabelle, Grace, Lea and Luciana. McKenna, Saige, Isabelle, Grace, Lea and Luciana have had sets that include friends or family mentioned in their stories.
Criticisms of Girls of the Year
There are several major criticisms of the Girl of the Year Line.
With the focus by American Girl on the Girl of the Year Line--particularly the original emphasis that she and her items were only available for one year--other lines, such as the Historical Characters line, suffered in lack of focus. Many American Girl Place locations give larger or more dominant display space to the Girl of the Year, emphasize the character more prominently (barring any other product launches or changes), and items and meals in bistros generally focus on the character. With the BeForever rebranding and continued emphasis on the Historical characters post, this has been less of a concern but is still brought up frequently.
Lack of Character Ethnic/Racial Diversity
There has been a considerable lack of diversity through the life of the product line. In the years since the launch of the line in 2001, only Marisol Luna, Jess McConnell, Sonali Matthews, Kanani Akina, Gabriela McBride, and Luciana Vega have been the Girls of the Year of color (not of a white background), for 1/3rd (33.3%) of the dolls. Of the six characters, only three main characters--Marisol Luna, who is Latina (specifically Chicana/Mexican), Gabriela McBride (African American) and Luciana Vega, who is Latina (specifically Chilean)--have not been either white or partially white. Jess and Kanani's stories each explicitly state that they have one white parent (Jess's father and Kanani's mother). Sonali is said in books to have a South Asian (Indian) mother (her father is not specified), but she was a companion to Chrissa's collection and not a main character.
There were no fully Latina-identifying characters released for several years after Marisol; Lea is marked as one-eighth Brazilian through heritage, but does not personally identify as Latina (and in the movie was played by a white actress).
Not all cultures have been represented fairly. For example, no East Asian or South Polynesian characters that have not been white-biracial and no Native American characters have ever been released in the line.
Critiques to the company about a lack of diversity in the Girls of the Year Line have frequently been dismissed, often with customer service suggestions that consumers may look towards the Historical Characters or Truly Me lines available (and later, the Create Your Own) for diversity in purchasing items. However, these problems discussed are specifically with the Girls of the Year line, where each character receives the large focus (and originally the launch on the first of a new year) and are given full characterization in books and themed modern-day collections.
The line has seen a frequent repetition of themes. Of the sixteen main characters, three--Marisol, Isabelle, and Gabriela--have all had themes of ballet dance and each one was given ballet or dance outfits (even though both Marisol and Gabriela only had ballet-style dance as minimal plots in the stories). Both Nicki and Saige had a collection that in part centered around a horse and the character's interaction with them, and had a large horse as part of the collection. Most collections focus in part on pets and animals, traditionally feminine activities, or non-science pursuits. The closest to a character that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics) was Kailey's interest in saving tide pools and Lanie's personal interest in animal biology before Luciana's collection; however, Kailey's collection did not discuss anything STEM  and Lanie's collection items and themes focused more on outdoor play and camping.
The lack of activity/theme diversity has let to complaints that character ideas are being recycled and not branched out past typical themes of dance, art, and/or animals. Luciana was touted, however, as a STEM character; her collection shows deep emphasis on space exploration, astronomy, and aspects of engineering. Mia was the first character to be heavily into sports, to the degree that the sports shown in her collection are part of her stories (as compared to Nicki's skiing, which was not the drive of her stories); Joss is the second.
Starting with Marisol's release, characters were emphasized as being only available for a single limited calendar year. This led to the frequent complaint that consumers who received or purchased a Girl of the Year for a December holiday celebration--often without knowing the limited time of the collection-- would have only a short time to purchase additional items, running the risk of not being able to purchase much from a specific character's collection if anything. This was especially prominent if items or dolls had retired early in December before the bulk of the holiday purchasing season; for example, Nicki and Mia dolls sold out very early in December 2007. This was partially addressed with Gabriela being available into 2018, and currently, this has been carried forward for characters after her.
Gabriela and Tenney
It is heavily theorized that Gabriela McBride was a last minute shift by the company into being the Girl of the Year. Her Truly Me look-alike, #46, was pulled from purchase availability shortly before her launch; consumers who had purchased #46 within a short time frame of her launch were sent an offer to receive Gabriela's complete meet outfit separately for no cost, and it was sold separately from the doll for some time. She was the first Girl of the Year in several years to not receive a movie, no large items were initially available at launch like had been done since Nicki, and later her "unique" earrings were made available for Tenney Grant when piercing a doll. Comparisons between Gabriela's collection and the character after her, Luciana, show marked contrast in item design and detail.
It has been suspected--though it will likely never be confirmed by the company--that Tenney Grant was intended to be the 2017 Girl of the Year, but she was instead used to launch the contemporary character line after the last minute change.
- Contemporary Characters, a smaller modern character line
- Truly Me, the modern unnamed character line
- ↑ The first exception was Lindsey, who was available for about a year and a half. However, she did so poorly in sales that it was not until 2003 that another Girl of the Year was released. Kailey was also available for multiple years.
- ↑ While Jess's book was predominantly set in Belize, she is from Michigan.
- ↑ This was also done with WellieWishers items.
- ↑ Kanani is the exception; her books are written in third-person narrative similar to the Central Series, Short Stories, and Historical Character Mysteries for the Historical Characters.
- ↑ See more on the Scholastic article page.
- ↑ Since Chrissa's movie was released when Blu-Ray was not a widespread format, it is only available on DVD.
- ↑ Chrissa's movie was broadcast on HBO and Isabelle's movie was broadcast on the Disney Channel.
- ↑ American Girl's 2016 Girl of the Year Is Lea Clark, Photographer and Animal Lover, abcnews.com, accessed December 31, 2015.
- ↑ American Girl's 2017 Girl of the Year™ Inspires Girls To Find Their Creative Voices And Speak Out To Make A Difference, accessed December 31, 2016.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 American Girl's 2018 Girl Of The Year™ Is On A Mission To Inspire Girls To Push Beyond Boundaries And Reach For The Stars, accessed January 1, 2018.
- ↑ Hearing Loss Association of America Partners with American Girl® to Increase Education and Awareness of Hearing Loss, accessed January 2, 2020.
- ↑ Or the first two, with characters that had three books.
- ↑ Chrissa did not receive a "large" item, likely due to the two companions that were released.
- ↑ The notable exceptions are McKenna and Lea, who had starter collections with exclusive outfits, and Joss who later received "Joss's Ultimate Collection," though there was no discount in items.
- ↑ Lindsey's and Kailey's Meet outfits were not made available for children, though Kailey's Bikini was.
- ↑ With the exception of Gabriela, who did not receive her loft bed until the summer.
- ↑ The earliest an item has sold out is Grace's French Bakery which went out of stock in September.
- ↑ With Isabelle, multiple additional components were made available in AG sales online after her retirement for some time, though the doll remained retired and items could not be purchased in store.
- ↑ Note that, however, STEM as an acronym and educational focus was not widespread or heavily emphasized before 2005.