My mom, my sister, my niece and I all went to the American Girl store together, each of us approaching the outing with a different perspective. The neat thing was that despite our different tastes, and with the huge array of dolls and accessories to look at, we all agreed about what our favorite item in the whole store was--and it wasn't at all what I expected. It was the amazingly charming BeForever miniature doll, Kaya.
When the BeForever line first came out, I looked at all of the dolls online and decided to purchase Mini Rebecca and Mini Kit. For some reason Kaya's catalogue pictures didn't grab my attention. I have already reviewed Mini Kit, so in this post I will take a look at Kaya and Rebecca, and will also share some quick impressions of the Manhattan American Girl store.
|American Girl's Mini Kaya, $25.|
My niece is eight years old and I have always wanted to go with her to an American Girl store--mostly because she's super-fun to be with, but also because I wanted to hear her opinions about everything. After our American Girl shopping adventure, I sat down and interviewed my observant niece about her experience.
For the first part of this review, I will trade commentary back and forth with my niece, who would like to be known here as "Miss Elizabeth." I have a few pictures to go along with this little tour of the store, but I'll warn you that I wasn't especially good at snapping photos with my gimpy leg.
The best picture I got is probably this one of the outside store window. I love the elaborate kitchen display featuring the new Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas:
The first thing we did when we got to the store is go to the bookstore area, which featured a special display of Grace and her accessories. I'll have Miss Elizabeth start things off by telling you all about that.
Miss Elizabeth: We liked that Grace was a baker, and loved all of her outfits. We all really liked the Eiffel Tower earrings, too (especially Nana). But the stunning thing about those was that you could only get the Eiffel Tower earrings with Grace, or if you brought in your old Grace doll--not if you had any other doll.
|Eiffel Tower earrings = super-cute, but annoyingly exclusive.|
Miss Elizabeth: the shocking part of Grace’s props was that they were too expensive. One of the rooms that had many bakery items was $500 when it should have been $200. Half of the room and everything in the room was plastic. Only about 25% was wood and maybe 1% metal. The cool part of the room was that there was a cute little refrigerator that actually held a box of little eggs and on the wall of the refrigerator was painted the Eiffel Tower.
Emily: I agree with Miss Elizabeth about the price of this bakery. It is very large, but does not seem to come with a huge variety of accessories (maybe some things were missing from the display?). I really liked playing with the sink and the oven, though. The little power knob actually clicks and turns, and all of the doors open. When I was a kid, I thought it was fun to build stores or houses for my dolls out of pillows and boxes. It would be nice if some of these bakery items (like the sink, refrigerator and display counter) could be purchased separately for those who don't need, don't have room for, or can't afford the entire bakery building.
I took a few close-ups of some of the bakery treats. I was not incredibly impressed with these. They don't have a lot of detail for their size, and some of the scaling is way off:
|Those cookies stay in one tall stack.|
|The cake and tart are only slightly bigger than Grace's hand.|
|That doesn't mean I'd pay $150 for it, though.|
I also like Grace's Opening Night outfit that is on display with the Pastry Cart:
Emily: I came to the store thinking I might purchase Grace. I do appreciate that she has a less common face mold (the same as Rebecca and Josefina), and her coloring is wonderful (l love the dark hair/blue eye combination--with freckles!) but I wasn't wild about her bangs and she didn't seem that different from many of the other dolls. In fact, she reminds me a lot of a photo I took of My American Girl #55 in Boston. It might just be the beret-style hat, though:
|From the Boston store in 2013.|
The other doll I wanted to see in person was the new My American Girl #61. She has bright red hair and green eyes. Here are some very yellow pictures of her:
|The Easter egg set shown here looks nice (the eggs aren't removable, though) but the birthday set seems very sparse.|
Miss Elizabeth: After discussion, we came up with the answer that redhead #61 was altogether a better doll than Grace, the Girl of the Year. Our reasons were that #61 is the first true redhead (no tinted blonde) to be produced by American Girl. I also thought that Grace’s face was not as good as the traditional face of Redhead #61. The disadvantage was that #61 had green eyes that were unrealistic had a mossy look to them.
Emily: Elizabeth is right. The new redhead is great, but the color of her eyes is a little strange, and she doesn't have any freckles. I wish she had freckles like Grace. I didn't end up buying the redhead, either.
I was seriously tempted by this set, though, given the circumstances...
Miss Elizabeth: When we were wandering over to the My American Girl section, we saw a picture that had a cute little hamster cage accessory. Aunt Em really wanted to buy that cage! The unfair part was that you could only get the cage in a picture and you couldn’t get it as a real prop.
|Classroom cardboard backdrop with hamster accessory that should be for sale.|
Miss Elizabeth: while we were sightseeing American Girl dolls, we also spotted horses. The horses were amazing, but the thing that was bad about them was that they seemed to be wearing skin suits and not real skin. There was one stable and horse section where we saw an adorable foal (spotted) this was the only horse that looked both realistic and cute at the same time. The disappointing part was that there was no box or price of the colt anywhere. So, if the colt had any accessories, you wouldn’t know what they were or where to find them in the store. We guessed that the horse would be $75 or $65, but later we found out that it was $48.
One of the fun parts was that they had a gymnast on a bar and you could actually twirl her around (which we did...a lot).
|(My niece is an outstanding gymnast).|
Emily: One thing I noticed during this visit was that the eye colors--particularly the greens--were not as realistic as I remember. As Elizabeth noted, My American Girl #61's eyes were a funny green with no iris detail, and the only other two greens I saw were this sort-of yellow-green:
And Caroline's eyes which are paler, but have the same odd jungle-stripe pattern as the doll above:
Miss Elizabeth: There were four floors in the store, one was a middle floor. We thought we were going to the second floor, but it was actually just the restrooms! We made a big joke about that. When we finally found our way to the second floor, we were drawn to some mini American Girl dolls, especially Kaya and Addy. The thing I liked about Kaya was that she has an awesome little leather dress with strips hanging down that seemed to flutter whenever you move her. The fascinating part was that there were pearl-like buttons that were attached to hair elastics to make braid pigtails. In my opinion, the best part of Addy was her hair that was done up in an elegant braided mass of buns. When I finally chose Kaya over Addy, it was because of the cute leather dress and the awesome boots, and because of her really soft hair that we later found out was in two shades of brown, and especially because of the little beads that she has on her dress. Kaya has no accessories that go with her in her box (except for the book). We later purchased the full copy of BeForever Kaya (Volumes 1-3).
Emily: We all liked the full-sized Kaya, too (and her horse--and her clothing collection for real girls), but there was just something special about Mini Kaya's face that made her irresistible. I don't think I would have even looked that closely at Mini Kaya if it weren't for my mom and my niece. They gravitated towards her right away.
|Kaya even has one of the uber-cute foals--Sparks Flying!|
Miss Elizabeth: When we came over to the salon part of the American Girl store, we were fascinated by how fast and how many people were busily working on many dolls. Many of them were curling the doll’s hair or braiding them. Some were putting the hair into two ponytails. Some people were making buns.
When we compared the Boston American Girl to the New York City American Girl, we decided that the Boston one was altogether better because there were more things that you could play with. Most things at the American Girl store in New York were behind cases that you could not touch.
Emily: Yep. I agree. The Natick store outside Boston was more spacious, had far more items available to inspect up close, and seemed to have a larger stock. I can't be sure about the stock, though, because the layout of the two stores was so different. Still, it was really fun to finally see the store in New York--especially with such great company. Elizabeth and I each left with a Mini Kaya.
My niece's Kaya came right out of her box and accompanied us on the rest of our New York adventures--including a late-night trip to the amazing Birdland jazz club.
|Kaya at Birdland.|
I'd like to say a big thank-you to my niece, not just for coming with me to the American Girl store, but for all of the time she took afterwards to tell me her opinions and help me write this review! You are the best, kiddo.
My Kaya had to wait until we got back to Maine to get out of her box. Kaya's box is just like BeForever Mini Kit's box.
Here's the little face that won us over, peeking out of the window on the front of the box:
Kaya's box is held closed with two tape circles, but the doll is not tied down inside the box at all. She is wonderfully easy to get out. The tiny book is held in place at the bottom of the box with a small plastic shell.
These new mini books are so small, it's a real strain to read them. And there are no pictures. I did manage to squint my way through this one, but I got my niece the full-sized version, which she read in one afternoon (skimming some of the pages, I think) and seemed to enjoy.
I found the story quite interesting--especially the pieces of information about Nimíipuu (Nez Perce) culture. The description of how all of the kids are punished (by "Whipwoman!" Yikes.) when one of them misbehaves was especially fascinating to me, as was the ceremony of the courtship dance. This is an abridged version of the story, though, and it cuts off at the worst possible cliffhanger! What happens to poor Speaking Rain?!
I really like the name "Kaya," but I found it strange at first that the other characters in the book have descriptive names (like Brown Deer, Speaking Rain, Wing Feather and Cut Cheek) while Kaya has a very modern name.
A little online reading taught me that Kaya is actually a nickname for Kaya'aton'my, which means "one who arranges rocks" in Nez Perce. I spent a certain amount of time arranging rocks when I was a kid (especially white ones...), and my niece has a keen eye for collecting rocks now, so I find this name especially poignant.
Having the nickname Kaya is unrealistic for 1764, but it makes a lot of sense for modern day marketing.
Here's the Kaya doll on her own:
Kaya's balance is pretty good, but the leather shoes have soft soles that make her more prone to tipping over than some of the other new American Girl minis.
I just love this doll's face. The closed-mouth face mold is limited to this doll alone (the Nez Perce people did not smile in public). It is the only closed-mouth face available in the entire American Girl line. Not everyone is fond of the visible teeth on most American Girl dolls, so it would be great to see Kaya's face on some other characters.
To me, the mini version of the face is even cuter than the full-sized version:
Kaya has brown painted eyes and a very subtle smile on her face:
Kaya's eyebrows are mostly painted as one spiky line, but there are two individual hairs drawn at the inside edges:
|These are different from Kit and Rebecca's eyebrows.|
The eyes have two shades of brown in the iris--a mocha brown around the edges and a lighter crescent under the pupil. My doll's left eye has three areas of smudged paint. These are hard to see at normal magnification.
Kaya's long, two-toned brown hair is tied into pigtails. The top of each pigtail is secured with a black rubber band and decorated with a pearlescent white button. The button is sewn into the hair. The ends of the pigtails are tied with more black bands and decorated with small strips of leather:
Kaya's pigtails feel wonderfully silky and smooth. The ends of the braids are very flat and abrupt (you couldn't get real hair to do this unless you cut it after you braided it...), so my niece and I almost immediately started to chat about taking the hair down and re-braiding it to make it look more natural. I'll save that project for the end of the review, though.
Kaya's outfit is really nice. It is a long imitation suede dress with decorative leather fringe and some modest beaded detail.
The waist of the dress is accented with a dark brown imitation leather belt that closes in the back with velcro.
The beads along the neckline of the dress are arranged in a zig-zag pattern. The white beads are not all individually sewn to the dress, though, but are threaded onto a string that is tacked to the dress with a few stitches.
The four blue beads at the bottom of the dress are each sewn into the top of a leather strip:
The movement of the leather strip fringes on this style of dress is described very nicely in Kaya's book. During a scene where the young adults in the tribe are performing a courtship dance, it says, the long fringes on the girls' dresses rippled and swung as the girls moved. And then later, [Brown Deer] held her head high and looked straight ahead. She made the fringe on her dress snap with each graceful step.
The fringes on Kaya's dress look great, but they are too thick and short to have the kind of fluid movement that is described in the book. For example, they stick out pretty straight when Kaya lifts her arms:
Here's the imitation leather belt up close:
With the belt removed, the dress can be unfastened down its single velcro seam:
The dress is quite stiff, but it really looks and feels like it is made out of leather:
Even the inside texture of the dress had me fooled that this was actual suede:
In reality, this dress (and the full-sized Kaya's dress) are made out of "faux deerskin." It is very soft and very convincing--although it can look a bit like felt in some of these photographs.
Here's a close-up of the fringe and beadwork on the front of the dress:
Like all of the BeForever miniature dolls, Kaya has an all-vinyl body with five simple points of articulation:
Kaya isn't wearing any undergarments, but has imitation leather shoes that are tied in place on her feet.
I untied one of these moccasins to see how easy it would be to get back on again:
The shoe has a velcro seam in back that makes it easy to get off:
Those ties are really long!
But it was pretty easy to re-wrap the ties and get them fastened again.
Here's Kaya back in her full outfit:
Kaya's beloved horse, Steps High, plays a large role in her story. Because of this, I wanted to see if I could find a horse for Mini Kaya to ride. I tried my 10" black Paradise horse first, because her color is the most similar to Kaya's horse in the book:
|She's a little too big for Kaya.|
Next I tried a Breyer horse, who is completely the wrong color to be Steps High (and doesn't look at all skittish...) but is much more in scale with the doll:
|Kaya and Barely Lifts Feet.|
Here are a few more pictures of sweet Kaya:
Now, I am going to very quickly take a look at the BeForever Mini Rebecca doll that I bought back in September:
Back then, I chose BeForever Mini Rebecca because I had already reviewed the original Rebecca mini doll, and because I bought the full-sized BeForever Rebecca, too. In the end, I gave the larger doll to my niece, and then forgot about reviewing poor Mini Rebecca! I figured this might be her best chance.
This doll also comes with a tiny, unillustrated paperback book:
One of my biggest criticisms of the older version of Rebecca was that her hair was coarse and hard to manage. This doll's hair looks pretty unruly right out of the box, but it actually feels really nice.
The hair is quite long and is styled with large curls at the ends. It feels very soft and silky.
This doll has a different face mold from BeForever Mini Kit...
...although I find Rebecca and Kit's face molds hard to tell apart:
And I prefer Kaya's face to both of the others!
Mini Rebecca has dark green eyes with some lined iris detail:
Her ginger eyebrows are drawn as nine separate lines:
This doll has an open-mouthed smile with two white painted teeth:
Rebecca's hair is held away from her face with a single working plastic barrette:
I took Rebecca's barrette out and brushed her hair. The curls are too large for the size of this doll, but the hair brushes nicely and feels great:
I prefer this doll's hair when it is pulled back into a simple ponytail:
|BeForever Mini Rebecca.|
Here's a quick comparison between the older Mini Rebecca and the BeForever version:
|Cloth-bodied version of Mini Rebecca.|
I think the new doll has better eye paint and hair. I prefer the older doll's mouth shape and eyebrow design, though. Overall, I think the new doll's face is much cuter.
BeForever Rebecca is wearing a new outfit: a purple skirt and belted jacket that are sewn together as one piece.
The outfit is easy to get off, thanks to a long velcro seam in back:
The dress has thickly woven plaid fabric on the top and a coordinated tweedy pleated skirt:
The top is accented with sewn (decorative) buttons, a velvet ribbon belt, and white cuffs and collar.
The quality and construction of this garment are very similar to that of the older Mini Rebecca's dress:
I slightly prefer the red dress, mostly because of the color choice, but I also like the style a bit better, too--it's not as bulky.
Unlike Kaya, BeForever Mini Rebecca is wearing underpants and tights under her dress:
She's wearing plain purple vinyl shoes that are not as interesting as the older Mini Rebecca's imitation leather spats, but are easier to use and better for balance:
|Pre-2014 Rebecca's spats.|
BeForever Rebecca has an all-vinyl body with five points of articulation:
Rebecca and Kit have the same skin tone, but Kaya is darker:
I had a bit of a hard time getting Rebecca's purple dress back on. The tights and underwear are so bulky that I couldn't get the velcro seam in the back of the dress to close completely:
I ended up just removing the underpants/bloomers. With just the tights in place, the dress is easy to get on.
Here are all three of my BeForever mini dolls together:
Kaya is my hands-down favorite of the three. I love her beaded dress, her silky hair, and her adorable closed-mouth face. She'a a lovely little doll. I am not wild about either of the other girls' clothes, but I slightly prefer Kit because of her manageable hair, freckles, and the bright colors and red highlights in her outfit.
|BeForever mini dolls: Kit, Kaya and Rebecca.|
At this point, I wanted to take Kaya's braids out to see what the hair looked and felt like when it was down. I knew I would not be able to get the white buttons back in place unless I re-sewed them, but I decided to go for it anyway. Here's everything that was in her hair:
With the braids newly released, the hair is kinked and wavy, with a very stubborn midline part down the back:
Brushing alone didn't help much with the waviness or with the big gap in the back:
A quick dip in hot water straightened out the waves instantly, though, and Kaya's hair dried to be very straight and smooth:
The ends are a little uneven since the hair was cut in its braided style. This would be easy to trim.
I think Kaya looks great with braids, but I might like her even more with her hair down. The hair is very soft, long and fun to play with.
I had a hard time getting Kaya's hair into a good variety of new styles. I tried a single braid in back, but the braid was too thick. I also tried just pulling the sides of Kaya's hair back away from her face, and this worked better:
I bet that in the care of someone with delicate hands and a lot of patience, this doll could have some great hairstyles. I think she'd look particularly nice with a lot of small, thin braids down the sides of her face.
Like other American Girl mini dolls, Kaya can wear Our Generation mini doll clothes:
She'd also be able to wear Collector's Lane Kids' clothing and other American Girl mini outfits.
I like how she looks in Kit's brightly colored dress and red barrette:
I managed to re-braid Kaya's hair, but it's not quite as smooth and neat-looking as it was right out of the box. The ends of the pigtails definitely look more realistic now, though. Here's one last picture of Kaya with her new horse friend:
Bottom line? I have already offered a bunch of opinions about the changes to the American Girl mini dolls that came with the advent of the BeForever line. In general, I think the bodies and clothes are not as good as they used to be, but the hair and faces are an improvement. I don't own the older version of Kaya, nor have I ever seen her in real life, but it's hard to imagine liking another version of this doll any more than I like the one I have. In fact, of all the dolls I have ever seen at American Girl, Kaya is the first one that I've liked unequivocally from head to toe. She has a sweet face mold, nice face paint, wonderful hair and a unique, well-made outfit. The only thing I'd consider changing would be the all-vinyl body. It's not that I actively dislike the new body style, I just think that the older cloth-torso bodies were something truly special.
Beyond just appreciating the Kaya mini doll, I find myself pretty curious about this character's world, wanting to read (or skim) the rest of the books in the series and look more closely at the outfits and accessories. I admire Kaya's bold, headstrong approach to life, and can relate to the special connection she feels with her horse. I also really enjoy getting a glimpse into the realities of an 18th century Native American tribe, and hope that the historical details in the book are accurate--they are certainly interesting.
I have often heard that a major factor in the appeal of the American Girl experience is the historical characters: girls from different time periods with realistic stories that make the dolls and accessories come alive. It's possible for kids to find a particular doll with a story or personality that really resonates with them--sometimes even promoting fierce loyalty to that character. She becomes their American Girl. I have only experienced glimmers of this phenomenon in the past--enough to make me believe it's possible, but not enough to feel the pull towards any single character myself. After meeting Kaya through her mini doll version and the excerpt from her book, I can honestly say that I might finally get it. Who is my American Girl? Easy: it's the feisty, horse-loving rock-arranger, Kaya'aton'my.