American Girl E-News
In this issue, enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Kanani™, our 2011 Girl of the Year®.
Meet Kanani, Girl of the Year 2011
Every January, American Girl introduces a new Girl of the Year, a contemporary character who reflects girls’ present-day interests, activities, and concerns. The 2011 Girl of the Year is Kanani Akina, who lives on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. Kanani (kuh-NAH-nee) means “the beautiful one” in Hawaiian.
The first step in creating a new Girl of the Year is to survey our most important audience—girls. In response, our girls told us that their top issue is helping people and animals, and their strongest interests are animal rescue, beach sports, and dance. While it’s not always possible to combine girls’ top interests and issues into one character’s story, in the case of Kanani, these themes all came together.
Famous for its beautiful beaches, surfing, and hula dancing, Hawai‘i is unique for its aloha spirit—a sense of good will, community, and mutual caring. “The aloha spirit perfectly expresses girls’ natural desire to help others,” says executive editor Jennifer Hirsch, who used to live in Hawai‘i. In her stories, Kanani loves helping customers at her family’s store, Akina’s Shave Ice and Sweet Treats. When she finds a rare Hawaiian monk seal pup caught in a net, Kanani takes initiative not only to rescue the seal but also to raise money for protection of these endangered animals. And when Kanani discovers that some of the older folks in her community could use some help, she provides assistance in unexpected and creative ways.
Author Lisa Yee, who lives in Los Angeles, says she visits Hawai‘i “as often as possible.” To write Kanani’s stories, she spent a week there doing everything Kanani does. She visited beaches and local hangouts to soak up island culture, took surfing and paddleboarding lessons, went snorkeling, watched wild seals, attended a lu‘au, and ate lots of shave ice. Lisa laughs that it was “sometimes six cones a day, all in the name of research—it was an arduous trip!”
For the team at American Girl headquarters in Middleton, Wisconsin, it was a treat to enter a tropical state of mind in the midst of a snowy Midwestern winter as they created Kanani’s illustrations, clothing, accessories, and the doll itself. “The Hawaiian setting was incredibly rich with creative inspiration,” says Megan Boswell, director of Design and Development. “Colors were carefully selected to give the sense of the magical and vibrantly colorful environment of Kaua‘i. Prints and patterns on her outfits and accessories reflect the unique cultural graphic designs of Hawai‘i,” which include the classic tropical floral prints as well as Asian influences.
The doll’s look was also influenced by the mixed racial heritage typical of families in Hawai‘i, where every race is a minority and most families are multi-ethnic. Kanani herself has a blend of Polynesian, Caucasian, and Asian features, just like most Hawaiians. Megan adds, “Kanani is a uniquely beautiful doll that we feel proud of—not just for her physical beauty, but also for the beauty of the Hawaiian culture that she represents. All of our products were reviewed by cultural experts from Hawai‘i for accuracy and authenticity. We wanted to be sure we were getting it right!”
Also seeking to get it right was illustrator Sarah Davis, who lives in Australia. She visited a hula school near Sydney to find young models for Kanani and her friends. First she prepared sketches showing her plans for the illustrations. Once models were chosen, she photographed the models in the poses she needed and then revised the sketches to show the characters in place. Last, she added color using paint and digital techniques. When the finished art arrived at American Girl, there were “oohs” and “ahhs” of delight at the rich colors, lush settings, and charming characters that Sarah had created to bring Kanani and her world to life.
Executive editor Jennifer Hirsch adds, “The collective teamwork and international collaboration involved in creating Kanani gives American Girl a wonderful opportunity to share the unique and cherished aloha spirit of Hawai‘i with our customers—and also gave the team a chance to experience the aloha spirit firsthand in the process.”