I absolutely adored the American Girl books growing up, so with some time to kill in Barnes & Noble yesterday, I decided to pick up one of the ones that had come out in the time since I was the target audience.
Meet Rebecca by Jacqueline Dembar Greene
(Pleasant Company Publications, 9-12)
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Rebecca Rubin is a Russian-Jewish girl in New York City in 1914. And while I'm pleased they've tackled this era of immigrant families in turn of the century New York and also Jewish families, there was just too much exposition on the culture and traditions. I felt like instead of telling the story, everything needed to stop and be explained. Furthermore, there isn't a whole lot of story besides. Rebecca wants to be an actor like her cousin, but mostly she just wants people to stop thinking of her as little. Most of the book was focused on Rebecca's whining about one thing or another. Even when she sold her linens to pay for her (starving) cousin's way to America, she whinged about how angry her family would be with her. She's just not as likable a character as I come to expect from these books, and the storytelling lagged.
I did want to check to make sure this wasn't just my adult self rejecting something I would have enjoyed when I was nine. So I picked up Meet Kirsten: An American Girl, which was my favorite growing up for lots of reasons, least of all the fact that she had my last name and so that was the doll I ended up with. But Meet Kirsten held up to my standards. Without being explicit or as dark as things probably really were, it still gave a solid feeling of immigrating to the United States, with both real tragedy and joy. It's a story, and teaches you about another culture without being a Social Studies lesson.
For the Jewish aspect, some books I would recommend instead would include All-of-a-Kind Family, about a large Jewish family in turn-of-the-century New York City, that includes a lot about Jewish culture and holidays without beating you over the head with it. Or a great book about Russian-Jewish immigrants at the time would be Letters from Rifka, although it would be more for the young adult set.