I have been into children’s books again lately.
After hearing a lot of criticism about the
2013 American Girl of the Year, Saige, I decided to read her book for myself. I
checked it out of the local library and read it, and I have to say, I was sort
of pleasantly surprised. Still, I have my reservations about Saige
that, through Saige, Jessie Haas and American Girl are inspiring young girls to
be passionate and are teaching the idea that every person can make a
difference. Saige decides to try and raise money to hire a part-time art
teacher when her school district makes budget cuts. I like that. I think that it
is a good reminder (and message for young girls) that the arts are important.
Haas reminds parents (who I certainly hope read their daughters’ books) that
children who are exposed to art (music, visual art, etc.) are more likely to
get good grades and succeed in life. I, as an artist, hate that art is being
cut from schools. That a large company like American Girl would devote a whole
year to protesting that through their Girl of the Year is kind of cool.
Another good message is that practice is important if you
want to be good at something. Saige’s best friend, Tessa, has just come back
from a summer-long music camp where she learned that she will have to practice
1,000 hours before she will be a true maestro. Tessa makes up her own practice
schedule and diligently works at it. At the end of the story, her work has paid
off and her vocal performance is significantly improved. I imagine that if a
book character had talked about that when I was a kid, maybe I would have
practiced the piano more often, making those four years of piano lessons
worthwhile (then again, probably not). However, when Saige is having trouble
getting her horse, Picasso, to do the parade walk she needs to do for the big
festival, it works out for her even though she didn’t practice as much as she
should have. I think that sort of sends mixed signals.
Another good part of the book is that Saige has to navigate
her best friend making another best friend and making new friends. That grief
is one that most young girls know and I would hope that reading about Saige
experiencing it would help young girls.
So, there are a few good morals to be found in the book.
Now, about the bad…
thing that I used to love about American Girl books (Molly, Felicity, Kirsten,
etc.) is that the girls were more or less ordinary. Molly was a wild child and
her adventures had a tendency to get her and her friends in trouble, but she
wasn’t some super-talented musician or anything like that. These girls were not
superheroes, models, or superstars. They were just girls with stories to
The girls in Saige
just girls. Every character in this book is a prodigy at something. Tessa
has a voice like a superstar, Saige can paint like a real artist, and Gabi can
train a horse she has never met before to do complex tricks in a couple of
hours. These girls are supposed to be nine.
Does that sound like any nine-year-old you’ve met recently? I mean, at nine
years old, I was convinced I wanted to be a writer and I would spend hours
writing (mostly bad) stories in notebook after notebook, but I also wanted to
be a nun (yes, really) and a computer scientist and possibly a rock star. We’re
talking about fourth graders
I hate to say it, because I really did like the book, but if
I was a mom and my nine-year-old daughter had self-esteem issues (and every
nine year old girl has self-esteem issues these days), I would not want her
reading this book. The message is that everyone has to be extraordinary at something;
everyone has to be a prodigy. Even the mean girl in the book, Dylan, gets to be
a super awesome musician. There is no one ordinary
in this story. Molly, my favorite American Girl, would never have been able
to be friends with these girls—and I don’t think I’d want my kid to be friends
with them either. Saige makes a conscious effort to be nice, but Tessa and
Dylan are pretty stuck up about their talent. Gabi is the best of the four in
my opinion, being shy and not overwhelmingly braggy about her talents. Plus,
she has to ask her aunt for help when training Picasso.
In a world where children are being overrun by
co-curriculars (the new term for extra-curriculars), filling up all their free
time trying to fill a resume (because no one tells you until you graduate college
that a real resume is only allowed to be one page long and only one
of the things you did will fit), I think that a book like Saige
sends the wrong message. Kids
shouldn’t be expected to be prodigies or to be able to do things that grown adults,
who have more practice, education, and experience, can do. Kids should be
allowed to be kids.
And, given that the Girl of the Year this year is a ballet
dancer (with a super awesome studio!), I’m betting that tradition is continuing
So, in conclusion, I’ll give Saige
3 stars for adults, but 2 stars for the kids it is meant for.
I’d rather have my 9 year old kid reading Saige
than, say, Twilight,
or The Hunger Games
, but it’s still not
something I would recommend parents. Read the original American Girl
books and then find something that will build your
daughter’s self image far better than Saige
will. I’ve seen what middle school is like these days— chances are, your
daughter will need all the self-worth boosters she can get.
read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot
your brain if you read it too much.
Good for what it is or not my taste.
book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required
for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE