The year was 1990. I was 8 years old and desperately yearning for only one thing for Christmas. Like magic, Samantha Parkington, one of the three original American Girl dolls, found her way under our family’s tree on Christmas morning. In a sea of blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls available on store shelves, Samantha was the girl who looked like me.
Many moms like me fell in love with American Girl during our childhoods. The lifelike accessories, the chapter books, and the detailed outfits enthralled us, offering hours upon hours of imaginative play.
My little sister also had one of the original American Girl dolls, Kirsten. Together we would sit in our bedroom and play with our dolls before and after school, on holiday breaks, and in the summers. To us, Samantha and Kirsten weren’t just dolls; they were more than that. We imagined they came to life in our bedroom when we were away from home, eagerly awaiting our return so playing could resume.
This morning, new magic came to life on Good Morning America when American Girl’s Girl of the Year 2018 doll, Luciana Vega, was lowered from the studio ceiling onto a well-deserved pedestal where she was revealed to a group of eager girls dressed in spacesuits. As for a little background, Luciana Vega is an 11-year-old girl of Chilean descent who dreams of going to Mars.
Luciana embodies young girls everywhere who want to be the next “first,” and is especially meaningful for those with interests in STEM.
Julie Parks, an American Girl spokesperson, tells Babble:
“For over 30 years, American Girl has championed a simple truth: that every girl has the power to change the world. Part of that power comes from girls learning about who they are and what kind of person they want to be, especially when faced with challenges or setbacks. For us at American Girl, it’s all about helping girls develop their strength of character (#charactercounts) — something that is more important in our world than ever. Luciana shows girls what it means to be a girl of strong character — where creative thinking, collaboration, and STEM literacy provide opportunities for meaningful growth and development.”
The contemporary space-craze theme kicked off with the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, which told the story of African American female “human computers” Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson who helped launch U.S. astronauts into space. In 2017, LEGO released their Women of NASA set featuring Mae Jemison, Margaret Hamilton, Nancy Grace Roman, and Sally Ride.
Over the last two years, space-themed children’s merchandise has appeared everywhere, including products like bedding, costumes, games, and toys. And of course, the 2017 historical solar eclipse created a lot of buzz as well.
Parks tells Babble:
“As technology continues to revolutionize what we do and what we know, Luciana is a character that can bring visibility and valuable lessons to girls at a time in their lives when they’re learning about their infinite potential to change the world. We know from various studies that encouraging girls in STEM opportunities can positively influence their personal development and identity.
Luciana’s world is rich with opportunities for girls to immerse themselves in informal STEM play — to learn awe-inspiring details about the universe and their potential in it, and to go on fun, remarkable journeys that teach them more about themselves and deepen their understanding of the diverse communities and people they’ll come to know. We hope Luciana can encourage girls to become strong innovators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math and be the ones asking, ‘What’s next?'”
In typical American Girl style, Luciana’s story is enjoyed and documented in several ways. First, with two books available now, and another coming out in May. There will also be over 20 products, including a Mars habitat “loaded with science and research essentials,” according to Parks. There will also be a robotic dog, and a space suit with patches, boots, and gloves. The Luciana collection will be available for purchase on January 1, 2018.
While American Girl’s goal is for girls to immerse themselves in Luciana’s world of space and science, they also hope to demonstrate her “competitive spirit and self-confidence” as well as “bravery, curiosity, and wonder.” And let’s not forget, there are also videos, online games, and other digital activities, all created with the partnership of NASA, Space Camp, and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center designed to bring the magic home.
As if Luciana couldn’t get any better, American Girl, along with their partners Scholastic, NASA, and Space Camp, will offer a “Blast Off to Discovery” free educational program for students in third through fifth grade on Scholastic’s website starting January 31.
My own 9-year-old is over the moon excited over today’s news, as she is obsessed with all things space. Her bedroom is decorated with stars, and books about solar systems and astronauts line her bookshelves. She reports space facts to us constantly and continues to surprise us with her extensive knowledge. She even begs us to go outside (no matter how cold it is) to use her telescope to look at the stars. When I showed her video of Luciana Vega this morning, she watched it on repeat with eyes wide with excitement!
And as for this mom? I still have my Samantha doll and all her outfits and accessories. Last year, my oldest daughter convinced me to open up the carefully packed plastic tote, and together we dressed Samantha, set up a tiny picnic with her accessory set, and then tucked her into her brass bed, complete with plush white comforter and tiny pink ribbons … and it was just as magical as the day Samantha became mine.
I cannot wait for Luciana to be the next cherished American Girl doll we bring home, this time placed in the arms of my daughter who dreams of one day claiming the title of astronaut and exploring the stars and skies for herself.