Maplelea Girls are sometimes referred to as "Canadian Girls," probably because they are the rough equivalent of American Girl dolls. There are six Maplelea characters who have distinct personalities, cultural backstories, and themed accessories. This collection is similar to American Girl's historical lineup. There are also "Maplelea Friend" dolls that parallel the My American Girl collection. These dolls have a range of physical feature options, but don't come with pre-set character traits. While American Girl places a large focus on their in-store buying experience, Maplelea Girls can only be purchased online from the Maplelea website.
I have been eyeing the Maplelea Girl website for over a year, but it has taken me a while to buy a doll and write this review. My problem was not choosing a doll--I knew instantly that I wanted Saila, the Inuit girl from Nunavut. Her story and appearance are incredibly unique in the doll world, and her name reminds me of someone special in my life. My biggest hesitation has been the fact that there are already several excellent reviews of this doll. Doll Diaries has a great collection of posts about Saila, and Maple Leaf Mommy has a review that features some magical pictures of her young daughter toting around this beloved doll friend. I figured I could contribute to this review mix by doing some comparisons to American Girl, showing you a few of Saila's extra outfit pieces, and of course addressing my usual hangup: articulation. My biggest reason for buying this uniquely beautiful doll, though, was that I simply wanted her in my collection:
|Inuit doll, "Saila," by Maplelea Girls.|
Maplelea Girls are shipped in large, heavyweight cardboard boxes. Saila's box is impressive. It is tastefully designed and sturdier than any other 18 inch doll box I've ever seen. Beyond being an excellent storage container for the doll and her clothes, this box could be used around the house for a variety of different things. It's very practical:
|Gorgeous, sturdy box.|
There's a heart decal attached directly to the box, and also a band of cardboard encircling the box that has another heart-shaped logo and some decorations that fit Saila's Nunavut theme.
I have to say, for the first several months that I was browsing the Maplelea site, I thought the name of the doll brand was pronounced "Mah-plee-lee-ah." The abundance of maple leaf decorations make it obvious that the name is a play on "maple leaf," but I can be a little slow sometimes. Even knowing that this name starts with "maple," it's still not perfectly clear to me how it should be pronounced. Is it "Maple-lee," or "Maple-lee-ah?" Update: I'm told it is "Maple-lee," like "Avonlea," which makes a lot of sense. Thank you, Barb. :)
Saila's name, on the other hand, is very nicely explained on the website. It looks like it might be pronounced like "sailor," but with an "ah" instead of an "or." This is what I thought at first. It's actually pronounced "sigh-la," the way I'd imagine "sailor" might sound with a heavy Australian accent.
Saila's box opens like a shoebox. Inside, the doll is secured against a purple cardboard support:
The purple cardboard is decorated with colorful pages from Saila's journal:
The journal itself is attached to the lower part of the cardboard backdrop:
Saila is held in place with twist-ties covered in tissue paper. She has a tie around her neck, and one around each arm and each leg:
The presentation is beautiful. From what I can tell, each of the Maplelea characters has the same blue outer box, but their inner cardboard decorations match each particular doll's color scheme. Here's a quick summary of the other dolls in the Maplelea Girl series:
Alexi (from Toronto, Ontario) has black hair, dark brown eyes and an orange-based outfit.
Brianne (from Manitoba) has blonde hair, blue eyes and a pink-based outfit.
Jenna (from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia) has red hair, green eyes and a turquoise-based outfit.
Léonie (from Quebec City, Quebec) has light brown hair, hazel eyes and a red-based outfit.
Taryn (from Banff, Alberta) has brown hair and eyes and a green-based outfit.
...and of course Saila (from Iqualuit, Nunavut) has black hair, brown eyes and a purple-based outfit:
The purple backdrop slides right out of the blue box, and the twist ties can be easily undone from the back:
Behind the purple cardboard, there's a brown cardboard support, some silica desiccant bags, and a small slip of paper:
The note recommends looking at the journal section on doll care:
The journal is much more impressive than I assumed it would be. I figured the entries would be fairly short--with maybe a brief description of Saila's character and then a lot of blank diary-like pages. In fact, the journal is a thick, sturdy, six-ring binder with four large sections separated by paper tabs:
The first section introduces some basics about Saila, including a really interesting explanation of her name. Saila's last name, Qilavvaq, used to be her grandfather's first name, but when the Inuit began using two names for identification, Saila's grandfather gave his name to the family and picked a new first name for himself.
|Saila is ten years old and speaks Inuktitut and English.|
This is an incredibly neat journal--it's packed with colored drawings, photographs, and great information about Nunavut. The Maplelea Girls website says that Saila and her journal are the result of over two years of research, and after seeing the journal, I believe it. Everyone in my house has been leafing through this book with interest. One neat fact is that there are no trees where Saila lives. Since I'm surrounded by forest, this is really hard to imagine!
At the back of this first section is a collection of pages intended for the doll's owner to record details of his or her own life. What I like about this is that the pages aren't blank--there are questions and bubbles to fill in. It's essentially an activity book, encouraging kids to think about their own life, and perhaps compare it to the life of an Inuit pre-teen.
The second section of the journal is short and contains instructions for how to take care of the doll:
The third section of the journal is a repeat of the first, but it's written out entirely in the Inuktitut language. It's fascinating to see the very different-looking alphabet:
The last section is another repeat of the first, but this time in French:
At this point in the review, I would typically show a full-body picture of the doll just as she looked out of her box. However, the boots that Saila comes with make it almost impossible for her to stand up on her own. The boots look great, but the soles are made out of bent cardboard and are covered with a shiny, heavy vinyl fabric that has no significant weight or grip:
The boots have two layers--an outer furry layer with the shiny soles, and an inner embroidered fleece lining:
These shoes are carefully modeled after kamiik, traditional Inuit snow boots. Real kamiik are made out of seal skin and embroidered felt. I read online that some of these boots are meticulously hand-sewn, and that the seal skin is prepared by people chewing on it for great lengths of time!
Saila's boots are amazing to look at, but the arched soles seem like an odd--and not necessarily authentic--design choice.
|I think it needs more chewing.|
The fleece liners are also beautifully made, with colorful flower embroidery all along the top:
Saila can stand up if she is just wearing the boot liners, but she still doesn't balance when she's upright.
|She comes with her arms wrapped in plastic.|
I have to tip her forward and move her arms in front of her midline to get her to stand alone:
Here she is with the tie removed from her hair and the plastic removed from her arms:
I love this doll's face. She has very distinct features: her skin tone, round face, almond-shaped eyes, absence of an epicanthic fold in the eyelid, and flat profile are all suggestive of Inuit ancestry.
Her thick, shiny, dark hair is also a common Inuit feature:
This doll is wigged, with nice hair fiber that's styled in long layers. The hair looks beautiful, feels soft and smooth, and is fun to brush and style:
Saila has a sewn part on the left side of her head:
This wig has a moderate amount of shedding. Throughout the review, I was regularly pulling away a loose strand of hair or two. Brushing the hair (with a wire brush) caused more hair loss. I haven't had this doll for very long, but I get the sense that the hair is falling out less now than when I first got her, and I am hoping that eventually it will become a rare occurrence.
|Let's try to keep this hair.|
I tested out a somewhat sloppy ponytail hairstyle on Saila, just to see how the wig would react:
|I didn't put a lot of effort into this....|
Like American Girl wigs, this wig has a lot of dense, short hairs near the scalp. These short hairs conceal the stitching in the wig cap, giving the doll more styling options...provided that the appearance of the short hairs doesn't bother you:
|It bothers me a little bit.|
I think Saila has a serene, warm smile:
Saila's profile is interesting, too, but the neckline of her vest makes it hard to see the lines of her jaw.
I will show you Saila's outfit first, and then we'll come back to look at her face in more detail after her clothing is out of the way.
Saila is wearing jeans, a pink tee shirt, and a purple fleece vest:
The vest has a sturdy purple plastic zipper with a pink zipper pull:
The vest is incredibly well made. Every little detail is exactly like you would expect it to be on a full-sized garment.
The vest has pink piping in the collar, around each arm hole, and lining the openings to each pocket:
The pockets are functional, and if the doll could bend her arms, she might even be able to fit a hand into one of them:
The edges are hemmed and serged and look durable:
Underneath the vest, Saila is wearing a simple pink tee shirt. I like that this shirt has a gathered neckline that hides the doll's neck seam:
The shirt has a small embroidered maple leaf with an "M" for Maplelea:
The shirt opens all of the way down in back with a long strip of white velcro:
Saila's jeans are made out of a very thick, stiff denim with a sprinkling of glitter:
The pants have an elastic waist in back, and a tailored waist with a velcro fly in front. The pockets on these jeans are also fully functional and surprisingly deep:
The jeans give Saila a bit of a Humpty Dumpty profile, though:
Like the rest of the outfit, the pants are impeccably made, with impressive finishing and detail.
It's nice that the pants are white on the inside--reducing the risk of stains from the dark denim:
The only problem I have with Saila's pants is that they are harder to get on and off than her other pieces of clothing. The stiff fabric has to be wrestled around the doll's feet. I think the tradeoff here is that the tough fabric will stand up to many years of use and play (and will probably relax a bit over the years, too), so it's not all bad.
Underneath her wonderful clothes, Saila has a canvas body with vinyl arms and legs--similar to the body of an American Girl doll, but clearly not identical to it:
It's easier to see the contours of Saila's head without the collar of the vest in the way, so let's take a closer look:
Saila has dark brown eyes that close when she lays down. She has faint painted eyebrows with some lined detail. She has no lower eyelashes and her upper lashes are rooted into the eyelid:
Saila's eyelids are slightly yellower than her face, but the match is good--better than many dolls I've seen:
The inner edge of the eye sockets is quite thick compared to the rest of the eye, but this only looks odd from some obscure angles:
Saila has a great mouth. I love everything about it--the shape, the color, how her smile creates a small dimple in her chin...everything. She looks so sublimely happy:
|The pink dots inside her nose are a little weird, though.|
I really liked how Kayleigh's recent guest review pointed out the different expressions in Dreamhouse Raquelle's two facial profiles. With this in mind, I took a close look at the two sides of Saila's face:
Saila's smile is slightly sweeter on the left side of her face, I think. She doesn't look quite as happy from the right.
I think my favorite angle for this doll is a half-profile:
Again, the two sides look similar, but I still think the left side of the face is very slightly softer and happier:
Here's a peek at Saila looking up from below:
And looking down from above:
She really doesn't have any bad angles.
On the back of Saila's head, there's a copyright mark:
This is interesting because it says "C.G." instead of "Maplelea Girls." This stands for "Canadian Girl" and is another trademark of the Avonlea Traditions company:
If you search "Canadian Girl" online, you get the Maplelea website. I wonder if the dolls were called Canadian Girls originally and the name got changed? Hm. Despite my pronunciation difficulties with Maplelea Girls, I still think it's a much more original, creative name than Canadian Girl. Canadian Girl just seems like copying--as if the company has nothing more to offer than a version of an American Girl doll...which is definitely not the case.
Anyway, back to Saila's face: behind her thick hair, she has very simplified ears that lay fairly flat against her head:
I don't tend to pay much attention to ears, but Saila's ears are different enough that they inspired me to do a little aural comparison among some of my 18 inch play dolls.
First, here are Karito Kids Gia (on the left) and American Girl #29, a.k.a. Keira (on the right):
Gia's ears have funny proportions--the opening is small compared to the back of the ear. Keira's ears have a nice balance of being realistic, but also being simplified in a way that fits with the rest of the doll's face.
Annie has large, realistic ears and Savannah has large but simplified ears. As much as I love Savannah, I think I prefer Annie's ears.
Jane's ears are (intentionally) low-set and have a good shape. Sydni's ears are also nicely-shaped, but they look quite large next to Jane. Sydni is the only doll here with pierced ears.
Ears are hard to sculpt. I think I like Sydni's ears the best. She has a very pretty profile overall.
So...getting back to Saila, let's take a quick look at her body construction and articulation. She has a soft body with strung vinyl limbs. I am not sure if her head is strung or not because she doesn't have the tell-tale string ends hanging down her back the way American Girl dolls do.
Even without her clothes, it is difficult to get this doll to balance on her own in a standing position. She has to lean forward at the hips or she will topple over backwards:
For this picture, I am holding Saila's feet in place so that you can see what her torso looks like when it is upright:
Saila's canvas body feels firm, solid and tightly stuffed--like it was made to last.
Her head rotates around a simple neck joint:
Her arms are attached in a similar way to American Girl arms. They have a sewn-in vinyl socket that allows the arm to rotate and also lift away from the body a little bit:
Saila has long arms (with elbow dimples!) and very realistically-sculpted hands:
Saila's legs are attached with the same ball-and-socket system used in her arms. She has indentations in her upper thighs that allow for a greater range of leg movement:
She can do side-to-side splits:
And she can do front-to-back splits...as long as her front foot is turned outward and her back foot is rotated in towards her body.
She sits best if she can use her arms to support her body:
It is also possible to get her to sit upright on her own if her arms are used for balance...
...or if she is put into the exactly the right position (she didn't stay like this for long):
I hope that as her body softens with increased posing and play, she will be able to hold sitting positions more easily.
She can balance in a natural-looking walking pose, which was a surprise given how hard it is to make her stand up straight.
Her foot shape is not as detailed as her hands, but she has long slender feet with sculpted toenails:
|Her "big" toe looks exactly like her second toe.|
Saila is slightly taller than Keira (mostly because of her longer legs), and her arms are about an inch longer than Keira's:
The comparison to My Twinn Annie is identical, since her body is basically the same as an American Girl body.
The fabric in the two dolls' bodies is very similar, although Saila's canvas might be slightly coarser. Keira's body wrinkles more near her joints:
Keira does not have the same balancing issue that Saila has--she is able to stand upright nicely on her own:
The two dolls otherwise have similar posing abilities, with just a few minor differences. Both can stand in a walking pose, although Keira is more solid in this position:
They do the splits equivalently, although Keira can balance without arm support and Saila cannot. Both dolls sit best on the ground when they can use their arms as supports. Saila's longer arms make this a bit easier:
Without using their arms for support, neither doll sits up well on her own. I was able to get Saila to balance in a more natural-looking sitting pose (very briefly):
I feel like this inability to sit must interfere at some level with imaginary play. Wouldn't it be easier to have tea parties, take a picnic outside, swing on a swing set, or hang out and share secrets with a doll who can sit well?
American Girl clothes fit Saila, but the shoes are too wide and too short (the boots, below, are not closed all of the way in the back):
|Saila in American Girl clothes.|
Maplelea clothes fit American Girl dolls, and while I didn't try Saila's boots on Keira, the other shoes I bought (which I'll show you in just a bit...) fit her well.
|Maplelea Girl and American Girl clothes sharing works well.|
I'll show you Saila with a few more of my similarly-sized play dolls. Here she is with Karito Kid Gia and Maru and Friends Savannah:
Gia and Savannah are both taller than Saila, but their torsos are similar. Saila wears Karito Kid clothing really well, and Gia can wear Saila's outfit, too, although the pants are short:
Gia's boots fit Saila nicely, and Saila's shoes also fit Gia.
Savannah can wear Saila's outfit (again, the pants are short) but Saila has a hard time getting into Savannah's shirt. The sleeves are tight and the shirt has to be stretched to close in front. The shorts fit well, though. Shoe sharing is not an option with these two dolls because Savannah has tiny feet.
|This particular Maru and Friends top does not fit Saila.|
Last, here's Saila with my Journey Girl doll, Dana:
Dana's skirt is tight and short on Saila, but Journey Girl tops fit her well. Saila's outfit works on Dana, the pants are just slightly too loose around the waist. Saila's feet have to be crammed into these Journey Girl boots...but I suppose you could say that they fit. Dana's feet swim in Saila's shoes.
I keep mentioning Saila's other shoes, which is because in addition to the doll, I also purchased a few extra outfit pieces. I chose two sets, one called "Nunavut Now," and another called "Pang Hat." I bought the hat because I read on the website that it was actually made in Nunavut.
Both sets come in blue cardboard boxes. These boxes are much lighter weight than Saila's doll box:
I'll show you the Nunavut Now outfit first. This set cost $35 Canadian (~$33 U.S. dollars) and has a lot of pieces:
All of the clothing items are folded and stored loose in the box under a layer of tissue paper:
The set includes an extra page for Saila's journal. This page has some facts about Nunavut that Saila has compiled as preparation for a social studies test. The page also has a list of the items in the set:
Actually, the list of items is incomplete. It does not mention one of my favorite things--the shoes. These shoes are simple tennis shoes, but they are made out of a beautiful teal-colored canvas and have funky silver toes:
Once again, the detail and quality here is top-notch. The shoes have decorative white stitching, rubber soles, and metal eyes for the black laces:
The insides of the shoes are lined with blue netting:
Here are American Girl Keira's feet modeling Saila's shoes. They're easy to get on and off Keira, and they stay on...despite the gap at the back:
The rest of the outfit is exactly as it is listed on the journal page. It includes heather grey leggings and a matching shirt. The grey fabric has some stretch to it, making the fit very snug:
|This outfit would make great pajamas.|
The leggings have an elastic waist and can simply be pulled on and off. The shirt has a velcro seam all of the way down the back:
These pieces are plain, but the construction is great and I like the added detail of the purple stitching:
This set also includes a denim skirt:
I love this skirt. It has fantastic details, including a woven belt, a metal snap, and functional pockets:
The skirt has a folded hem that is covered with purple jersey knit and stitched with orange thread:
The skirt has a fly that opens and closes with a snap and a small black velcro strip. One of my favorite details on this skirt is the right pocket--it has that little extra mini-pocket that blue jeans tend to have. What is that pocket for, anyway?
The last item in this set is a turquoise cable-knit hooded sweater:
It's made out of lightweight acrylic yarn, but I love the design:
This rich, jewel-toned color looks fabulous on Saila, and goes really well with the purple elements in her outfit:
The hood covers Saila's head nicely, but it's hard to get it in place with all of her hair:
The journal page talks about Pang (also called "Pangnirtung"), which is a hamlet in Nunavut.
This hat set cost $20 Canadian dollars, which is high, but the fact that the hat is actually hand made in Pang (at the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts) makes the price more than worth it. This hat is one of many things that makes Saila quite a special doll. You can read about the hat and Saila's other authentic features on the "Making of Saila" page of the Maplelea website.
The hat is wonderful and ties together the turquoise of the sweater and the purple in Saila's other outfit pieces:
Saila has another outfit that was made in Nunavut. It's called the "Amazing Amauti" and is a traditional Inuit coat designed to hold a baby (or in Saila's case, a puppy). I really wanted this piece, too, but it costs a whopping $56.
The color coordination of Saila's entire wardrobe makes mixing and matching very fun. I'll show you a few of the combinations I tried with Saila's original outfit and my two extra sets.
Here's the Pang hat with the Nunavut Now outfit, but I swapped in the fleece vest instead of the cable knit sweater:
Here's the original pink tee shirt with the Nunavut Now skirt, leggings and shoes. I've used the woven belt from the skirt as a hair accessory for Saila:
|It would also be a nice headband.|
Here's Saila wearing her original jeans paired with the Nunavut Now shirt, sweater and shoes.
I just adore this sweater with her dark hair:
I wanted to try a few outfits with the leggings and the boots, but these boots make it way too hard for Saila to stand upright:
|Quick! Take the picture!|
Here's Saila back in most of her original outfit, but with the Nunavut Now grey shirt and shoes:
...and with the Pang hat added in:
Saila's clothes are designed for the layering that is part of living in the Nunavut climate. In Maine right now, it's averaging about 85 degrees Fahrenheit every day, so Saila's clothes would be too warm. Still, I wanted to take this young lady on a short outdoor adventure, and thought it would be neat to chose a location without trees--so she'd feel right at home.
For her excursion, I dressed Saila in the Nunavut Now outfit, but removed the leggings and added the Pang hat:
Here's Saila at the ruins of Fort Preble, in Southern Maine:
The coast is rocky here, and the fort walls block all of the nearby trees from view.
The uneven terrain actually helped Saila find more standing positions that she could hold:
But she also spent a lot of time sitting on the rocks an just enjoying the view. The ocean came very close to the same color as Saila's sweater on this beautiful, cloudless day.
Here you can see how glossy and smooth Saila's hair is:
This is my favorite picture: Saila was showing me this shell at the exact moment that a wave crashed behind her. She managed to stay dry, but we hiked back to higher ground immediately afterwards!
Bottom line? This is a beautiful, high quality play doll that is being sold for less than many equivalent dolls on the market. What really impresses me about Saila, though, is the thought and care that has gone into the development of her character. Both this doll's physical features and the details of her imagined life in Nunavut are carefully researched and lovingly presented. Compared to some of the trite, generic backstories that exist for so many play dolls, Saila's rich cultural history is refreshing and educational. The addition of the authentic Pang hat and the Amazing Amaouti outfit to Saila's wardrobe make her even more special, and offer a real connection to the communities on which Saila's story was modeled.
Saila's body construction is very similar to that of the American Girl dolls, and her proportions are almost the same. These two groups of dolls can share clothes with one exception: Maplelea dolls can't wear American Girl shoes. Despite their similar body design, I found that my American Girl doll balances and poses slightly better than my Maplelea Girl. Saila's physical features are more realistic and more mature than American Girl, though--she looks like a real ten-year-old. I see a disconnect between the representation of American Girl characters in the books and movies (mature pre-teens) and the appearance of the dolls. In contrast, the Saila doll could have walked right out of the pages of her journal.
My only criticism of Saila is minor, and involves her balance and articulation. In general, I find it frustrating that this style of soft-bodied doll can't sit on the ground naturally without using both arms for support or having something to lean up against. I was also disappointed that Saila has such difficulty standing up straight on her own. There might be some variability from doll to doll, but my doll's balance is off. Unfortunately, Saila's wonderful kamiik boots have arched soles that only make this problem worse.
Everything else about this doll is amazing. Her clothes are perfectly made and have vibrant, complimentary colors. Her hair is silky and fun to style. Her body seems durable--particularly the tough canvas torso. Her face is charming and very real. Her warm smile and unique accessories will captivate children and pique their curiosity about Inuit culture...and the beautifully-made, informative journal will be there to satisfy that curiosity. Saila's appearance and story are cohesive and well-done, giving her a three-dimensional presence that is quite special. It might seem like so much research and thought could be wasted on the development of a play doll, but not in this case. With Saila, I see a doll that has opened up a wonderful opportunity for ongoing, effortless education and enrichment. Furthermore, I think that the passion and care that went into Saila's design practically shines out from her lovely face: