The newest American Girl doll, brainchild of local author Jennifer Castle, lives in Ulster County

 

Blaire by Bonticou

One year ago, when we interviewed Jennifer Castle about the release of her latest YA novel, Together at Midnight, the local author was harboring a secret so exciting that she could barely contain it. Now we finally know what it was: Castle was chosen to write the book series to go with the latest doll to be manufactured in the American Girl line. If you’ve raised kids who like dolls in the past 33 years, you know about American Girl dolls: characters of various ethnicities from various periods of history going back to the time before European settlement. Their stories, costumes and accessories are windows into the past. They are highly detailed, costly and collectible.

In 2001, the company began updating its image by launching a “Girl of the Year” series that spotlights contemporary American girls. In 2018, for example, customers were introduced to Luciana Vega, a Latina STEM geek whose dream is to become an astronaut. Well, on January 1, American Girl’s Girl of the Year 2019 was unveiled. Her name is Blaire Wilson, and she lives on a family farm-turned-B&B/wedding venue in a fictional rural community called Bluefield – which, according to Castle, is tucked in somewhere between New Paltz and Gardiner, at the base of the Shawangunk Ridge.

Unlike some of their iconic predecessors in the doll line, these modern-day American Girl characters don’t have big historical problems like the Civil War or the Revolution. But the company is pitching them conflicts that make them relatable to kids of today. Blaire is a creative type who loves to cook, decorate and blog, and helps out at a local food pantry patterned after Family. She is lactose-intolerant, affording another angle toward discussions of food issues. Like many of her peers, she spends too much time caught in the vortex of electronic devices and social media. Much of her story will be about learning to appreciate ways of connecting with people via real-world activities such as outings with friends (including to the Ulster County Fair), family gatherings and volunteering. The American Girl website hints that cyberbullying will become a topic as Blaire’s adventures on the printed page continue.

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Castle, a New Paltz resident, is the author of The Beginning of After, What Happens Now and the Butterfly Wishes series for younger readers. She is the mother of two daughters, one of whom has celiac disease, so Castle understands the challenges of having to eat differently from other kids.

The Blaire Wilson doll, accompanying outfits and accessories (including a lamb, a piglet and gardening tools), plus the first couple of books telling her story are available on the American Girl website and at the American Girl retail store in Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. The basic doll with one costume retails for $115; the books are a much more affordable $7.99 each. To learn more, visit www.americangirl.com/shop/meet-blaire.

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