Acclaimed author—whose inspiration for storytelling was sparked by her childhood love of American Girl—brings new 1920s historical character Claudie Wells™ to life in her first-ever novel for middle-grade readers
American Girl is proud to support Harlem School of the Arts with a $100,000 donation in funds and product to help encourage today’s youth in arts and culture
Today, American Girl, a cornerstone in the Mattel portfolio of purposeful brands, welcomes a new historical character—Claudie Wells—to its flagship line of dolls and books that give fans an understanding of important times in America’s past. Growing up in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in 1922, Claudie™ and her family are living in a profound period of cultural growth that would become known as the Harlem Renaissance, the most influential movement of African American artistic and cultural expression in U.S. history. In her first foray into middle-grade fiction, New York Times best-selling author and childhood American Girl fan Brit Bennett wrote Claudie’s story and takes readers on a journey to this extraordinary moment of Black artistic joy and expression, while also deftly exploring the challenges of the times.
“The debut of Claudie Wells is a true full-circle moment for American Girl, and it all started with a tweet,” said Jamie Cygielman, General Manager of American Girl. “In it, celebrated author Brit Bennett shared her desire to write an American Girl story based on her own experience with the brand. We loved the idea and felt it was the perfect time to celebrate how—after more than 35 years—American Girl has made such a positive impact on the lives of so many. The timing is even more powerful given this incredible resurgence of nostalgic love we’re experiencing from our fans of all ages. We’re thrilled to introduce Claudie and her vibrant life in 1920s Harlem to a whole new generation, and we’re honored to welcome Ms. Bennett to our rank of esteemed authors who inspire our readers every day and help us further our commitment to inclusive storytelling.”
According to Bennett, “Before I ever sat in front of a computer to type, I had already started telling stories each time I played with my dolls. My sister and I were in love with our American Girl dolls and books, especially Addy. While the doll itself was beautiful, what enchanted me was Addy’s courageous story written by the trailblazing author Connie Porter, so creating a new historical character for American Girl has been a dream come true. As a girl, I always loved studying the Harlem Renaissance, an outpouring of Black artistry that emerged alongside larger struggles for equal rights. I hope readers will enjoy exploring this fascinating era through Claudie’s eyes."
In her story, nine-year-old Claudie is surrounded by talented writers, painters, musicians, and singers in her beloved Harlem community. While Claudie is naturally curious and loves hearing about people’s adventures and stories, she worries about not having her own special talent to share with the world. As she begins to find her way as a storyteller, she uncovers her own family’s history and better understands why Harlem has become home to so many Black people searching for freedom. Each Claudie doll comes with a paperback “Meet Claudie” book, which is also available in an all-new keepsake, hardcover edition. The book is illustrated by the award-winning Laura Freeman whose works have been featured on the New York Times Best Seller List.
In addition to author Brit Bennett, American Girl collaborated with the following subject-matter experts who advised on Claudie’s development, from reviewing initial manuscripts to final products:
Keisha N. Blain: award-winning Historian and Professor at Brown University and Columnist for MSNBC.
Marcia Chatelain: Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Author.
Spencer R. Crew: Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University and is the emeritus director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History.
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham: Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Harvard University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama for “illuminating the African American journey.”
Shannon King: Associate Professor of History at Fairfield University and Author of the award-winning book Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?
To bring Claudie’s world to life, American Girl designers were inspired by 1920s historical publications, photographs, catalogues, and other resources like The Brownies’ Book—a first-of-its-kind magazine for Black children published by W.E.B. Du Bois, a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. The beautiful 18-inch Claudie™ doll, which features an all-new face mold, has brown eyes and dark, shoulder-length hair styled in bouncy ringlets and a hairbow. The Claudie doll comes dressed in her signature blue-and-white plaid dress and knit cardigan, and her special accessories include a heart-shaped necklace, a cloche hat, a journal, and an era-authentic Baby Ruth® candy bar. Additionally, American Girl is once again collaborating with Harlem’s Fashion Row®, the premier design agency that creates a bridge between brands and designers of color in fashion, along with top designer Samantha Black. Inspired by the era, Black designed three special-edition outfits for the line that showcase her modern take on 1920s glamour.
Claudie’s collection also includes a doll-sized kick scooter; a plush version of her favorite dog, Dizzy Dot™; and an authentically-styled 1920s bakery with more than 60 pieces. The three-paneled Angelo’s Bakery includes a built-in pretend oven and comes with a tiered bakery case and checkout counter; a prep table and three-level bakery cart; loads of kitchen gear and baking ingredients; plus, numerous pretend treats for display.
To celebrate Claudie’s debut, fans can participate in the following events and activities:
Hear from author Brit Bennett in this video chat and read about Why Claudie Matters, with a detailed look at the important themes covered in the story.
Visit American Girl retail stores to explore Claudie’s product world, enjoy special Claudie-themed menu items at the signature cafes, attend book signings, win prizes, and more.
Sing along to Claudie’s music video on American Girl’s YouTube and YouTube Kids Channel.
Check out American Girl’s TikTok channel and Instagram for fun, Claudie-inspired social content, like a virtual tour of her boardinghouse bedroom, a cooking demo of her favorite recipe, and other activities.
Enjoy free Claudie activities and read an excerpt of her book on American Girl’s play site.
To help encourage today’s youth to become creative thinkers, American Girl is supporting the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA), the renowned cultural center that emphasizes the importance of access and the transformative power of the arts in the lives of young people. The brand is donating a combined $100,000 in cash and Claudie dolls and books, with funding directed toward HSA Prep, a pre-professional scholarship program providing students ages 12-18 with advanced level arts training in music, dance, theater, and visual arts. Today through December 31, 2022, customers can also donate to HSA at americangirl.com and at American Girl retail stores. To learn more or make a donation, visit American Girl’s blog.
The new Claudie product collection and keepsake, hardcover book ($16.99) is available today at americangirl.com and at all U.S. American Girl retail locations. The special hardcover book can also be purchased from Amazon and at other fine booksellers nationwide. The second Claudie book will be published in spring 2023.