Celebrating Girls and all they can be

Spring 2014

American Girl E-News

Meet Isabelle, Girl of the Year 2014

Have you met Isabelle Palmer? She's the 2014 Girl of the Year, an inspired dancer with a flair for fashion design who learns to believe in herself and discovers her own way to shine.

Every January, American Girl introduces a new Girl of the Year, a contemporary character whose interests and concerns reflect those of girls today. How do we know what girls care about? Because we ask—through ongoing dialogue with girls who read our magazine, visit our stores, and explore our website. We also do extensive research. In an online survey of girls and their moms, we confirmed that "dance" and "fashion design" are popular interests. Girls are also excited to read about characters attending special schools for the arts, such as those focusing on dance, drama, and music.

We dug a little deeper to find out what girls worry about, what challenges they need help with. They told us—and moms confirmed—that girls today find it difficult to "be your best self," to find the confidence to stand up to others and to ignore peer pressure. That information inspired us to create a character who could be a role model to readers, a ten–year–old who struggles with the same issues many girls struggle with, but finds a way to overcome them.

Crafting the story, choosing the setting

After weeks of brainstorming, our Content Development and Product Design teams began envisioning the story of Isabelle, a girl who loves ballet and also spends time in her mom's sewing room dreaming up her own fashions. But when she begins attending a performing–arts school, she's suddenly comparing herself to the talented students around her and feeling as if she doesn't measure up. Add to the mix her big sister, Jade—the star ballerina of the school—who is seemingly perfect.

How does Isabelle find a way to overcome doubt, step out of her sister's shadow, and be her best self? She learns to tune out criticism and tune in to her own unique talents. To showcase that growth, we created a book series with three books rather than two—a first for a Girl of the Year character. In Book 1, Isabelle begins to discover her unique talents. In Book 2, she finds ways to use those talents to help others—even her sister, Jade. And in Book 3, Isabelle ultimately becomes a mentor for other young dancers and dreamers.

Isabelle's school, Anna Hart School of the Arts, is fictional. But to ensure a realistic portrayal of a performing–arts school, we consulted with two experts: Kristy Callaway, executive director for the Arts Schools Network, a nonprofit that supports the development of arts schools and programs; and Shannon Gallagher, owner and dance instructor at Madison's Premier Dance Academy, LLC. Both experts reviewed all story manuscripts and answered many questions during development.

The author of the Isabelle series is also something of an expert in the performing arts. Laurence Yep, a Newbery Honor award winner, wrote the Ribbons series of books about a young Chinese–American dance student, as well as the American Girl Mia series, about a young ice skater. He has also written plays that were produced off–Broadway in New York, and at the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center.

Our experts and our author helped us choose an appropriate setting for this series: Washington, D.C. We knew there was a high concentration of performing–arts schools in the Northeast, particularly in larger cities. We ultimately chose the D.C. area—a fresh setting for our Girl of the Year books—because of its rich culture, emphasis on the arts, and abundance of both public and private performing-arts elementary schools.

Throughout development of the Isabelle books, we sought to ensure that she would be a relatable character. She attends a performing–arts school, which isn't an everyday experience for most girls. But the themes of her books—sibling rivalry, tuning out criticism, working hard to achieve goals, and nurturing one's talents—are universal for young girls.

Adding style to the story

While Isabelle's storyline was being developed, so was her product assortment. Our Product Design team wanted to create clothing and accessories that would capture Isabelle's personality, her interests in dance and fashion, and her urban setting.

The Isabelle doll herself represents something unexpected: her blond hair is pulled back into two side twists, a style preferred in surveys with moms and girls. Our designers also added removable pink–tipped hair extensions—another way Isabelle expresses herself.

Because Isabelle is a dancer, the fabrics and silhouettes of her clothing represent movement: crisscrossing trims and color fades that pull the eye along a moving path. There's also a dash of "theatrical" sparkle and shine, such as the gold trim on her tutu or the sequined waistband on her dance pants, that reflects the joy and energy of being in the spotlight. Even the color palette of Isabelle's products is drawn from the worlds of dance and design, including satiny pinks, glittery purples, and edgy golds.

The products also had to capture Isabelle's creativity. She's a girl who likes to express herself through unique fashions, so her outfits are modern and fashion forward, including clever touches such as the silver studs on the tops of her otherwise classic ballet slippers. Her outfits showcase contrasting fabrics, asymmetrical hems, raw edges along sleeves or hems, and dimensional appliqués—all the trademarks of handmade, one–of–a–kind designs.

Our designers tested several "meet" outfits—the outfit the doll comes in—with girls and moms, and ultimately chose a coral tee and shimmery capris. In her stories, Isabelle designs the coral T–shirt herself and wears it when she needs a boost in confidence. Other sets—such as a dance case that girls can decorate themselves and a fashion design studio that doubles as a ballet studio—also encourage creative play and invite girls to express their unique perspectives and talents, just as Isabelle does.

Through Isabelle's engaging stories and the world of products that bring them to life, we hope girls will be inspired to nurture their own one–of–a–kind talents. Whatever your girl's strengths, recognizing the ways in which she's special can help her step into a spotlight all her own.