For as long as I can remember, I’ve been tuned into unfair practices and their impact on the underdog. In the second grade, after reading a Scholastic News article about dolphins getting caught in tuna nets, I insisted we buy only brands that had “Dolphin Safe” stamped on the tin. When our local Alpha-Beta grocery store was bought by Lucky, I insisted we boycott, unable to support this quintessential capitalist move.
Whether my motives were well-researched or not, the idea of siding with the oppressed has been part of my outlook from my earliest memories.
When American Girl dolls first became popular I was too old to really play with dolls anymore but just the right age for the books that came with each doll. I don’t remember my exact age – probably 9 or 10 years old – when I received Samantha, the wealthy girl who grew up in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.
In the first book of the series, Meet Samantha, readers are introduced to Nellie, who works for Samantha’s neighbors. She is employed as a maid because factory work was impacting her health. In the second book of the series, Samantha Learns a Lesson, the storyline continues as Samantha researches child labor in factories for an essay she writes for school.
I loved these books because Samantha, who was about my age when I first read the series, stood with the oppressed. She listened to the stories and experiences of those who weren’t part of her economic class and let those stories change her perspective. She fought for acknowledgment and used her own privilege to give space and voice to someone who didn’t have that same audience.
I haven’t read these books in years but recently my old Samantha doll was rediscovered. Bea slept with her for a while and now Elle carries her around by the hair and brings her everywhere. This doll is definitely not a collector’s item but certainly has the potential for Velveteen Rabbit status one day. I remind myself that toys are meant to be loved, not preserved.
The books are still a bit above Bea’s comprehension but I’m looking forward to the day we can read them together. I’m sure that now, decades later, I’ll see flaws in the plotline. I’m sure the stories aren’t as well developed and there’s the clear issue of white privilege through the pages.
And yet, I saw myself in Samantha as a 10-year old reader. I read about a girl who first listened to stories and then acted toward reconciliation. I read about a girl who looked out for those whose circumstances didn’t offer the same privilege and who included them as friends.
Simplistic and formulaic as the stories may be, this American Girl series gave me a relatable example of what social justice could look like in my own world.
Which book most impacted your journey when you were 10 years old?
This post is Day 2 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.
6 thoughts on “Meet Samantha: A Groundwork for Social Justice”
Samantha was my American Girl doll too! (This was back in the days before you could special order a doll who looked like you and she looked the most like me). I loved all the books about all the characters and yes, Samantha was rather formative to me as well.
Ah, the days when we only had 3 options! 😉 I had forgotten how much those stories shaped my view of social justice until they came to mind as I mapped out this series.
I read a lot of Little House on the Prairie when I was ten.
Yes! I loved that series so much. I reread it when I was pregnant with Bea and then Frank just finished reading it aloud to her before bed. When Elle is old enough to read it, we’re planning a family road trip to see some of the cabins.
This is tough to recall – but I believe it would be Pippy Longstocking or Charlotte’s Web. Pippy was such and fearless and adventurous girl. I was shy and reserved boy and I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such adventures, super human strength, and a suitcase full of gold! She had freckles and was proud of them. I had freckles, and aware of them. I was also sad for her. Her father, lost at sea, she would dream of him walking down the street, head high to greet her. I remember thinking she would probably not be so difficult or grumpy if she had a mom and dad to hug her. I am still drawn to stories of kids in foster care, orphans, and difficult home lives. Especially when they overcome the hard luck life.
I love that Pippi Longstocking was your favorite! Such fun stories. I remember watching an old TV series with her, too. And, Charlotte’s Web is always a favorite, especially the last line…