I’m pretty sure you’re aware of this if you’ve been following my blog for any period of time, I’m a sucker for a good book. What you probably don’t know, because I’ve never really talked about it, is I’m not really crazy about fashion dolls. I mean Barbie type dolls, or Monster High Dolls, or heaven forfend those Bratz dolls. Don’t like ’em. Not one bit.
On the other hand I get that plenty of people DO like them, quite a lot, and for the most part what I think about this is “to each their own.” And knowing that many people are crazy about Barbie, even if she isn’t quite my cup of tea, I’ve even held the occasional giveaway for Barbie stuff. It’s happened once folks, it’ll probably happen again.
I’m not saying I didn’t play with Barbie dolls as a kid. I did. They weren’t my favourite toy, more of a I can take it or leave it type thing. Though I did adore my Barbie Camper Van / Motor Home, and later my handmade dollhouse. I think I was more into the furniture and the miniatures than the dolls themselves.
Again, I get that this is a bit outside of the norm. And I’m not bashing these toys. I understand plenty of kids are crazy for them. It’s just that I am uncomfortable with some of the stereotypes that fashion dolls in general portray, and with the emphasis on looks over and above all else. It’s something I’m not going to push on my kids, unless requested.
So I draw the line at buying fashion dolls for my girls. Which isn’t to say they never play with Barbie. They play with Barbie at Grandma’s house. And my daughters have this really cute set of Kelly Club dolls; Jester, Prince, and Magician which I bought in 1999 and set aside until I had kids. But in general my feeling is I am not going to buy my girls fashion dolls unless they specifically ask for them.
As a Mattel Play Ambassador I get a box every month full of various Mattel toys and games. Some toys I save for gift-giving, or hand over to my girls, and others I donate to the local woman’s shelter. I’ll give you one guess as to where the Monster High dolls and and Barbie toys have been ending up… however I couldn’t quite bring myself to part with the Ever After High dolls. I have a growing stack stashed in my closet, thinking I might donate them, or I might give them to the girls when they get older. Undecided. Until today something swayed my decisions firmly over to the “my kids are going to have these toys” side of the fence.
From day one I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for the Ever After High dolls. I love fairy and folktales. I own several shelves worth of books about fairytales. I love things like Fables the comic book by Bill Willingham, or even the TV series Once Upon a Time, where they take fairytales, toss them in the modern world, and give them a twist.
So when I first saw these dolls I thought, “Cute. You know, back when I didn’t’ have kids and I used to sometimes collect toys, I could totally see me buying these.” I got a kick out of the little details in their outfits, such as Kitty Cheshire, the daughter of the Cheshire Cat, sporting an oversized pocketwatch, or the elaborate design on Cerise Hood’s cloak.
I was semi-aware of the whole are you a Royal or a Rebel theme, with some characters seeking to rewrite their stories. However lines like “Hexquisite detail, spelltacular shoes, fableous accessories” made me shake my head and go, yeah, fashion doll. Cute, but totally focused on looks and looks alone. Not what I want to promote with my kids. Not happening.
So what made me change my mind? It was a book. Sorting through this month’s Play Advocate box I discovered a hardcover Ever After High novel called “A Semi-Charming Kind of Life“. I stopped and looked it over. Like I said, I’m a sucker for a good book. And flipping through it quickly I discovered that this one was sort of lovely. The front cover almost turned me off though, with its illustration of a coiffed young princess with two princes in the background. However leafing through I quickly discovered the two boys on the front cover weren’t love interests, but her brothers, as the trio featured was the Charming family; Princess Darling, and Princes Daring and Dexter. And the first line on the back cover really caught my attention, “Darling Charming is bored in Damsel-In-Distressing class. She’d much rather be in Hero Training with her brothers.” Hmm. What have we here?
I was intrigued but still not expecting much. I grabbed the book thinking I would skim through a chapter or two, and instead found myself sitting down and reading the book in one go. It was good. Not like crazy award winning children’s fiction good, but actually a solid read. One that I would gladly hand over to my kids. And it wasn’t focused on looks, or shopping, or on getting the guy you’re crushing on to notice you, or any of the things I would have expected.
Instead it’s about a girl who bats off suitors by the dozen without blinking an eye, who tries to be the perfect princess because it’s what is expected of her, but who secretly wants to be the hero instead of the damsel in distress. However this chick isn’t just wishing and pining, she works out, she trains, and she is secretly proud of her skills and her strength. A closet Rebel, she manages to keep her tough side undercover, while still passing her Damsel-in-Distressing class. She kicks butt when she wins a jousting match in disguise, but also botches things by attempting to rescue her brother, when he didn’t ask for help. It wasn’t wholly predictable. There were plot twists that kept my interest. And the message was an incredibly positive one. One that had me thinking, “Heck yeah, I want my kids to read this!”.
It was not what I was expecting at all. Overall the experience left me shaking my head in bemusement, thinking, wait THIS is Ever After High? Well then maybe I don’t feel so bad buying into the whole cute doll thing, when the message behind it is work for your own destiny.
What about you folks? Are you Barbie fans or do fashion dolls make you feel sort of ambivalent, like me? What do you think of the Ever After High franchise? Do you like it? Do your kids like it? Are you a loyal Royal or a buck this Rebel?
Disclosure: I am a Play Advocate. As part of my affiliation with this group I receive special access to Mattel events and products. As always my words and opinions are my own.