Monday, August 21, 2017

Waiting for Eliza

As many of you have probably heard, American Girl debuted their Create Your Own doll feature early this month.  This is an online program that allows kids (of any age...) to design their own dolls and clothing from a wide range of options.  It's similar to My Twinn's old BFF customization tool, but it offers more variety.  I think the addition of this option to the American Girl lineup is a brilliant move by Mattel.  Not only is the website super-fun and easy to use (I spent the better part of a day playing around with it) but it allows kids (and doll reviewers) to have pretty much exactly the doll they want.  This is great because it will eliminate the inevitable disappointment that accompanies each year's new doll releases.  This year, if you don't see the doll you want, you can design him or her yourself!

I designed a custom doll who I've named Eliza.  Eliza has a few backordered features, and so she won't arrive until mid November.  I figured that while I'm waiting for Eliza to arrive, I could walk you through some of my experiences with the Create Your Own program.  That way, we can all wait together to see if the final product lives up to our expectations.

I didn't want to publish a post filled with nothing but screenshots, though, so I decided that I'd also use this opportunity to share an American Girl doll that I purchased back in April; the new 1960s BeForever character, Melody Ellison:

BeForever Melody Ellison by American Girl, $115.
A few of you might remember when I wrote Waiting for Annie, way back in 2013.  That post--and the subsequent full-length review of Annie--chronicle my experiences with the My Twinn company's 23-inch BFF customization process and their 18-inch custom dolls.

Here's Annie as she looks today:

A little beady-eyed.
Annie did a fair job of living up to my expectations initially, but then her eyes faded and I had to replace them last summer as part of the My Twinn Project:

18-inch My Twinn, Annie.
I designed Eliza to be somewhat similar to Annie, so that I would be able to make some direct comparisons.  Incidentally, those names--Annie and Eliza--are after a pair of sisters who are very dear to me.

So, let's launch right into exploring the American Girl Create Your Own program, and then I'll do a quick review of Melody Ellison at the very end of the post.

First of all, I hope that if you rush over to try out the Create Your Own website, you don't get this:

Since its release in early August, the site has suffered many temporary shut-downs.  I suspect the company is still making little tweaks and adjustments, but I suppose the inaccessibility of the website might also be due to an overwhelming number of orders.  I'd love to know how popular this new feature is!  I've certainly spent my fair share of time on the site during the past week or so.  I'd also be curious to know how many people are actually ordering dolls, and how many are simply having fun playing with the software.

One of the setbacks to actually ordering a custom doll is the price.  Each doll costs a flat $200.  Considering that a BeForever doll with her book and extra accessory set costs around $160, this isn't a huge increase, but it's still a heck of a lot to pay for a play doll.

When the website is up and running, the first screen will give you a choice between creating a doll or designing an outfit:

I started by creating a doll.  

The program will scroll through some pre-designed template dolls, and you can wait and click on whichever one catches your eye:

It's fun to watch all of the different combinations scroll by.

Once you've selected a starting point, there are four main categories of customization: Outfits and Accessories, Hair, Face, and Personality:

I started with Outfits and Accessories.  Within this category, there are four subgroups; Outfits, Accessories, Glasses, and Pierced Ears: 

There are six different outfits to choose from (in order from top to bottom): Let's Create, Let's Play, Let's Smile, Let's Daydream, Let's Explore, and Let's Celebrate.  My favorite two are Let's Smile and Let's Explore.  Each outfit has at least two pieces and a pair of shoes.  

I made a GIF to quickly scroll through all of the options for you:

The only outfit I don't like is Let's Create.  The collar is too fake-looking.

I settled on Let's Smile--the same outfit that caught my eye in the first screen:

In the lower left corner of the outfit picture, there's a group of accessories.  These are hard to see.  Here's an example:

A lime purse, a smoothie, a watch, and a paint set?
There are seven options here, including "none."  Who would choose no accessories, though?  It doesn't change the price of the doll.  

The accessory sets have the same names as the outfits.  Here's another GIF to show you all of the choices:

I decided to be boring and just pick the accessory set with the same name as my doll's outfit.  I couldn't really see exactly what was in each set, so I figured this would give me the best chance of matching.

Anyway, next I got to pick glasses.  There are six different types of glasses, and I narrowed it down to three favorites, Glitter:


And Striped:

I decided on Raspberry.  I also decided to have my doll's ears pieced (even though my own ears are not pierced).  I assume she'll come with earrings, too!

So far, so good, right?  I was impressed with how many extra items are included with this doll.  It's fun to pick everything out!  The items included at this stage are about equivalent to a BeForever doll and her extra accessory set.

Next, I had to make Eliza a redhead--of course:

There are seven hair colors to choose from!
Once I settled on a color, there were tons of different wig options.  This decision took me a looong time--which isn't a complaint by any means.  In fact, choosing the right wig might have been the best part of the whole experience.  Different types of hair really change the overall look of the doll!

This part of the program was pretty glitchy, though.  Notice in this next GIF how many of the hairstyles don't have working graphics...and the doll will randomly change skin colors:

There were other glitches, too, like the picture circles not corresponding to their labels:

The picture circle says "bob," but shows a bob with bangs.  Eliza got the correct bobbed wig, though.
I think this must have been one of the issues Mattel was fixing the last time the website went down, because it seems better now.

I settled on a bobbed wig.  Again, I think I got attached to how my template doll looked.

I have to show you another GIF of what the hair selection looked like for a different doll I created (just for fun).  For some reason the Let's Explore outfit made some hysterical things happen to the head and face.  Notice how the skin color and face mold change randomly!  I swear the only thing I was doing was clicking different hair types:

Unfortunately, the graphic for Eliza's bobbed hair disappeared when I tried to select a hairstyle for her:

Total Eclipse of the Head.
She was also given a pale face...before I'd even had a chance to see the skin color options--notice that the hands are still a darker skin tone.

I couldn't see what any of the three hairstyle options (Barrette, Double Braids and Headband) actually looked like:

Double braids?
Mattel fixed this glitch after I purchased Eliza, so I went back and took some more pictures today so that you can actually see all of the options:

There are even more choices if you pick a long-haired wig.  I opted for the pretty blue headband.  It matches the Let's Smile outfit.

Back when I was creating my actual doll, though, I could not see what I had chosen.  This is how Eliza looked as she went into the face-selection stage:

Still with a pale face and dark limbs....and maybe with a headband.
There are five faces to choose from.  They are (from top to bottom): Classic, Josefina, Jess, Sonali and Addy.  Here's a GIF of all the options:

The only strange thing that happened with these graphics is that something got stuck on the Addy face.  Look at her right eye--it's too big:

Wonky-eyed Addy face.
I switched skin colors and the defect corrected itself:

Normal Addy face.
Initially, I wanted the "C" face (Jess), but somehow thought that it was Melody Ellison's face (it isn't).  I knew I already had a Classic face (Keira) and a Josefina face (Lea), so I opted for the Sonali face (D), thinking it was new for me (it's actually Melody's face).  My bad.  If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have chosen the Jess face, but the Sonali face is great.  No worries.

This is what the face looked like the day I made Eliza...

And this is what it should have looked like--with the hair and hairstyle visible:

The next thing I got to do was choose an eye color for Eliza, and this was great.  Look at the selection page:

There are seven different eye colors, and you can choose a color for both eyes, or you can select different colors for each eye!  Ahhh!  My doll can have heterochromia iridium!  Awesome.  Of course I opted for that.

I wanted two iris patterns that matched, though, so I had to try and distinguish between the decal eyes (like Lea's) and the pinwheel eyes (like Melody's).  This website was very helpful to me.

Light brown and hazel ended up being a good match (as far as I can tell, anyway!):

I believe that those are the only two decal colors.
When I tried this again later (again--just for fun) I got a crazy blooper with the mismatched eyes.  Look at how much bigger this doll's right eyes is!

Mad Eye Addy.
I was also able to select freckles for Eliza:

I can't see the freckles, but I'll trust they're there.
And a hearing aid for her left ear:

Can't see that, either...even though she's bald.
It was important to me that the hearing aid be for the left ear--and here's why: hearing deficits can be associated with a lack of melanocytes.  Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin, which is the pigment that causes color in our skin.  

Melanin also controls eye color: pale eyes have less melanin.  I'm not sure about the physiological validity of this in humans (I'm basing my hypothesis on dalmatians...) but it seems logical that the side of Eliza's head with the paler eye (the hazel eye) should be the one with less melanin...and therefore a possible hearing deficit.  This could all be complete fiction, but it made sense to me in the moment.

Anyway, I decided not to put Eliza in braces (I think they're just little stickers for the teeth...), so the last thing I got to do was choose some personality traits for her.

She can have a favorite location, which for me was a toss-up between the lake:

The mountains:

Or the beach:

Since it's summer in Maine (and it's been perfect beach weather almost every day...) I had to pick the beach.

Next, I got to select Eliza's favorite activity.  This choice came down to reading and writing:

Two of my favorite things!
Music and dance:

I like music...and watching people dance.
Or nature:

I went with nature.

Last, I got to pick Eliza's favorite animal.  This was a tough choice between a dog:

Is that Coconut?  He's so cute.
And a horse:

Blocked by the backorder notice.  Boo.
Out of loyalty to my pack of three dogs, I picked the dog.

That was it!  My Eliza was complete and I was able to add her to my cart:

Her hair and headband magically showed up again at the very end, which was nice:

Once Eliza was in my cart, I actually had one more customization task.  I could add a name to the personalized box.  Fun!

I decided to go with "Designed by Toy Box Philosopher:"

It was possible to edit Eliza right up until the last minute.  In fact, it seemed like I was being encouraged to edit her because of the backordered options I'd picked.  These backordered features will become more of a problem as the holiday season approaches.  For anyone considering a Create Your Own doll as a special gift, you might want to order soon.

The cart description lists some of my choices for Eliza, but not all of them (there's no mention of pierced ears, hearing aid, hairstyle choice, or freckles).  Because of the glitches in the program's graphics, it would have been great to get a complete list of all the features I chose--just to make sure nothing went wrong.  I bet all of the information is coded in that design number, but that's not much help to me.

Eliza will come with everything I selected, plus free shipping, a free custom doll shirt, and a free six-month subscription to the American Girl magazine.  Not bad.

I compared this price to an equivalent Truly Me package (doll with pierced ears, glasses, and a hearing aid):

I added the purse because all of the Create Your Own accessory sets have bags of some kind.
A custom tee shirt would add another $14 to this, the magazine subscription would add ~$15, and shipping is $16.95.  That's a grand total of about $207.  So, the price of the new custom dolls is fair...or no less fair than any other American Girl doll purchase.

The other option on the Create Your Own site is to design clothing for yourself or your doll:

This section starts with a bunch of template outfits.  There are four basic options for doll clothing: a dress ($32), a tee-shirt ($14), a sports outfit ($34) and a tunic & leggings outfit ($32).

There's also a customizable child's tee shirt and a $45 backpack option, which I assume is child-sized:

I mentioned that you get a free Create Your Own doll tee shirt with every custom doll purchase, but the code for the free shirt comes with the doll, so you can't order the tee shirt until you have your doll.  That's a bit of a bummer.

Once you select a basic type of outfit, you can choose from five different themes:

School, Sports, Sparkle, Animal and Explore.
Within each theme, there are six categories of customization: Backgrounds, Patterns, Choose your Own Color Graphics, Standard Graphics, Fashion Details, and Type:

Each theme has a different color palette for the background fabric of the outfit.  For example, the Explore theme has these background options:

I love this shade of blue!
Once you have a background color, you can add a pattern to that background:

I had a hard time finding patterns that I liked, so I usually skipped this step.  Also, will the pattern be printed on the back of the dress, or just the front?  I can't find that information anywhere.

There's also a page for adding "Fashion Details" to the clothing.  Fashion details include things like collars, skirt overlays, scarves, vests, and belts.  For this dress, I selected a tiered skirt overlay and a belt:

Again, will this be just on the front of the dress, or on both sides?
These details look great, but I don't think the actual dress will have a skirt with tiered layers and a detachable belt.  My guess is that these extra designs will just be printed onto the fabric of the dress. 

I inspected some of the advertising materials for the Create Your Own line to find evidence of how these designs are executed.  This picture makes me think everything's printed--look at the scarf, in particular:


It would be awesome if the details were three-dimensional, but I don't see how Mattel can offer that for $32.

As for what the backs of the outfits might look like, the only piece of clothing that can be turned around during the design process is the sports shirt...and it can only accommodate text.  Knowing Mattel's propensity for leaving the backs of garments blank, I really wish I knew if details like skirts, vests and scarves are included on the back, too.  If not, some of these designs will look pretty silly.

The "Choose Your Own Color Graphics" section has theme-specific shapes (on the right side of the screen) that can be colored with any shade from the left side of the screen:

Each theme also has a page of "Standard Graphics," which are shapes that come in pre-determined colors or patterns:

The size and orientation of any graphic can be changed by grabbing and pulling a corner of the surrounding box or using the rotation tool at the bottom of the box:

The last thing that can be customized is the text.  You can write whatever you want--a cool slogan or a name--and then pick a color for your words.  Each theme has its own fonts and colors.

The size and rotation of your message can be changed, just like the other graphics: 

I made little GIFs of some dresses I designed with the other themes.  Here's the Sparkle theme (how awesome would it be if the dress had actual sequins!):

This is the School theme (my least favorite):

The Sports theme has the best backgrounds, in my opinion.  I love this multicolored option: 

But I like the bright orange even more!

I ended up designing all of Eliza's clothes with the Animal theme.  Because she loves dogs (and there are several dog decals available) I actually made all of her clothes with a dog theme.

I didn't order any of these next few dresses, but they'll give you an idea of how much fun I was having!

Look at all of the cute dog decals!

I probably would have ordered this next dress--it was going to be my piece de resistance!

However, I guess I went a little overboard:

I tried toning it down a little...

...but it was still too much.  I wish the program had warned me when I reached my graphics limit!  I spent over an hour on this dress.

 I stuck to simpler designs after that.

If you sign up for an account, all of your designs can be saved.  I highly recommend this.  The only downside is that the outfits cannot be edited once they're saved.  The dolls can be edited--which is great--but not the clothing.

You can accumulate a massive amount of saved clothing, and then purchase the things you like (or not) whenever the mood strikes:

Eliza appears in my collection of saved items, too, and this is nice because there's a big picture of her (I think I see those freckles!) and a decent-sized picture of her accessories, too:

I think there's a coffee cup in that set!  I love coffee...but do ten-year-olds??
Now, whenever I log into my account, I see my own custom creations on the opening screen:

This website is so much fun.  I wish the site didn't get taken down so frequently...although maybe it's good for my productivity to have some forced breaks.  

I ordered a few different outfits, and even tried some of the "Fashion Extras," just to confirm that they're two-dimensional.  I'll share all of the clothing with you as soon as it arrives...which should be well before Eliza herself makes an appearance.

So far, here are my critiques of the Create Your Own concept:

1. There are a lot of visual glitches in the website.  These are funny sometimes, but they detract from the customization experience.  I think Mattel is working hard on this--there seem to be fewer glitches now than when I first visited the site.

2. I wish the doll's accessories were easier to see in the selection pictures.  I wasn't sure exactly what I was choosing.

3. More face molds would be awesome, but five is a great start.

4. It would be reassuring to see a complete checklist of all selections in the shopping cart--including things like pierced ears, hearing aids and freckles.

5. I wish all clothing themes had the same background color options.  I wanted to stick with the Animal theme for Eliza's outfits, but loved some of the other theme's background fabrics.

6. A detailed description of the clothing's decorative features would have helped me make informed decisions.  Are the belts, collars and scarves (etc.) real, or are they just printed?  Furthermore, are things like skirts and fabric patterns printed on both sides or only on the front?  In both cases I strongly suspect the latter, but it would be nice to know for sure before ordering.

7. A warning or block on adding too many graphics would have saved me a lot of time.  I hate to think of kids spending hours on a garment only to discover that it's un-savable.

8. I'd criticize the price, because wow are these dolls and clothes expensive, but you get a lot with the dolls (I'd pay simply for that mismatched eye option!) and the clothing design experience is very unique and engaging.  I'll reserve judgement on the price until I see how everything looks and feels in person.

That's it!  Now I just have to be patient.

While I wait for Eliza, I'm fortunate enough to have this cutie in the house to enjoy:

Melody Ellison.
Melody has the bright-eyed Sonali face with a textured bob hairstyle.

Not only do I like the appearance of this doll, from her unique hair down to her shiny blue shoes, but I also enjoy the character's music-themed personality and backstory.  Most of my family grew up in Detroit, so I can relate to that on some level, but I also find the 1960's civil rights-themed nature of Melody's media timely and important--more important than I ever thought it would be in 2017.

Melody comes with the first book in her series, No Ordinary Sound.  I haven't finished this story yet, but it revolves around Melody's preparation for a solo singing performance, and how a violent, tragic, race-based event in history (the 1963 Birmingham church bombing) temporarily stuns her into silence.  It's not a piece of fluff.

I also appreciate the conflict between Melody's brother (who wants to become a famous Motown singer) and her father (who wants him to have the benefits of a broad college education).  Both sides of that dynamic resonate with me.

Melody's first movie, Love Has to Win, follows many of the same themes as the book (including the impact of the Birmingham bombing).  The plot is different, though, and Melody has no siblings (or father) in the film.  I'll admit that the movie brought me to tears a few times.  The actor who plays Melody is delightful.  For anyone who is over ten years old and enjoyed Love Has to Win, I'd recommend the outstanding 2016 movie, Hidden Figures.

The doll version of Melody has a bright, optimistic face that mirrors the personality of the fictional character...although American Girl's doll faces are never as compelling to me as the gorgeous cover art on the books:

The Sonali face has eyes that are even more asymmetric than the Classic face's eyes:

The left eye is higher than the right.
I have to say, American Girl faces are so symmetric in other areas, the uneven eyes really stand out to me.

Melody has a blunted profile with very deep-set eyes: 

She also has a simplified ear mold, with an almost completely flat pinna:

I used Melody's headband to pull her bangs away from her face.  I'm never too excited about wigs with bangs, so I think the face looks better like this:


Melody has dark brown eyes with a pinwheel pattern in the irises:

I think the Sonali face is quite similar to the Josefina face.  Here's my Lea Clark with Melody for a comparison:

To me, the differences that stand out are Lea's smaller forehead, narrower nose, symmetric eyes, and large lower lip:

Lea also has decal eyes, which I think are more realistic than pinwheel eyes:

I hope I managed to choose two decal-style eyes for Eliza!

Lea has more detail in her ears:

And her profile looks a bit more realistic than Melody's to me:

I like both of these faces.  Many of the small details of Lea's face are more appealing (the shape of her profile and her ears, for example), but I find that I like the overall appearance of Melody's face best.  She looks sweet and kind:

I'm excited to see how the Sonali face looks on Eliza!

Incidentally, Lea can't be reproduced very accurately with the Create Your Own program.  Her hair color and eye color are not options.  This is the best I could do:

I think it's appropriate that American Girl gives unique characteristics to their BeForever and Girl of The Year dolls.  Those releases wouldn't be very special anymore if they could simply be reproduced with the Create Your Own program.

Just for fun, here's a comparison between my Classic-faced American Girl, Keira, and Melody:

I have a soft spot for Keira because she was my first full-sized American Girl doll.  However, I don't think her face mold is as interesting as Melody's.  She has very large eyes, an upturned nose, and one of the happier AG smiles:

Keira's eyes are also dark brown with a pinwheel iris pattern.  The color looks even darker than Melody's eyes:

Keira has more detail in her ears than Melody does:

But I think Melody's profile is the more realistic of the two--Keira's features are flat in comparison:

As much as I like Keira, I definitely prefer the Sonali face mold to the Classic face mold:

Unlike Lea, Keira can be approximated pretty well using the Create Your Own program:

Convincingly Keira.
Let's get back to looking at Melody, though!

I love Melody's textured dark brown hair.  I've never seen this type of wig in person before.  It's very soft to the touch, easy to brush, and I think it looks realistic.  I have to say, I've yet to encounter an American Girl doll who did not have good hair.  I hope this quality holds up with the custom dolls.

I also love Melody's short haircut with its playful, flipped ends...although the flipped curl is not quite as tight as I expected it to be:

I can't seem to stop talking about the Create Your Own site...but I want to mention one more thing: it's hard to replicate Melody in the Create Your Own program, and this is because of her hair.  There's no exact match for this style.  

The only textured wig that's available is long with no bangs.  The only short wig with bangs is too short and too straight:


After some of the other reviews I've done recently (and one I'm working on now...) Melody's sturdy balance is very refreshing.  She stands up nicely...even in a walking pose:

She's wearing a short, sleeveless houndstooth dress with bright blue accents.  I love the mix of colors:

The dress has ribbon bows at the neckline and on either side of the skirt.  

The bows on the sides of the skirt are attached just above thick pleats:

The dress opens part of the way down the back with velcro that perfectly matches the rest of the blue accents:

Melody's shoes are probably my favorite part of her outfit.  They're shiny patent leather the same bright blue that's featured on her dress:

Melody has the same basic body as my other American Girl dolls.  Like Lea, she does not have a strung neck--her head is attached with a plastic cable tie.

At first I thought Melody had a defect on her left hand--which is not something I've seen before with this brand:

Those white areas looked like spots of power, but they were not easy to rub away.  I wondered if they might be paint spots (?) or maybe mold (??).  I did finally get them off, though, which was a relief.

Because I ordered Melody last April, I assumed she's have the permanent underwear that was causing so much trouble...

Perma-wear. fact, I kind of hoped she would have that underwear so that I could see what all of the fuss was about.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), she has regular removable underwear:

After significant consumer backlash, Mattel started making dolls with removable underwear again.   So, for any of you who have a doll with permanent underwear, you might have a bit of a collector's item on your hands!

I took Melody's headband off so that I could see how her hair looks when it's down.  I love it!

The added texture gives the hair great implied movement--making it very fun to play with:

Melody's accessory set ($24) includes a blue felt hat that matches her dress:

And a blue patent leather purse that matches her shoes...

The purse opens:

...but it's really small (there's no way that strap will fit over Melody's shoulder...):

Mini purse.
The hat is wonderful and fits perfectly.

The accessory set also includes a pair of blue and white cat-eye sunglasses:

Last but not least, there's a little equal rights '63 button, which I think has become especially meaningful and poignant these last few weeks:

The button does not have a traditional pin closure (that would be a safety concern), but rather a plain plastic clip:

There aren't a lot of great ways to attach this button to Melody's dress.  The only thing I could think of was to clip it to the large blue bow:

This doll is groovy, baby:  

Toy Box Philosopher

One slightly random thing that I discovered as I was playing with Melody is that the texture of her hair makes for great-looking ponytails:

Most American Girl dolls can't wear ponytails very well because of all the short hairs at the back of their wigs.  These short hairs are intentional--to hide the wig cap--but I don't really like the technique.

Melody's wig has short hairs, too, but they blend in almost perfectly with the rest of the hair:

That looks great!
I really like how Melody looks in her original headband, although it was tricky to get it back in place and looking nice again:

Ok, this is turning into an American Girl marathon, but I have one last accessory that I'd like to show you!  

Because there's a lot of enthusiasm for the piano in my house, I wanted to test out Melody's Electric Piano ($48):

The keyboard is made out of plastic, with silver plastic legs that come detached and are easy to snap on.

The keyboard requires three AAA batteries (which are not included).  There's a power and volume dial near the battery compartment.

There are 37 working keys, starting and ending on a B:

The yellow buttons on the front allow you to chose from four different sounds.  The following video clip (with no picture--sorry, I was trying to film and play at the same time) demonstrates all four sounds in order, from the leftmost button to the right:

Some of the sounds have a change in tone quality part way up the keyboard.  Here's an example of that (again--with no picture):

This is just the result of poor sampling or sloppy tone adjustment.

The keyboard comes with one small piece of sheet music called Special Melody:

This is a Mattel original, complete with lyrics!

I have to say, the song isn't bad.  In fact, it's pretty catchy.  I had my son play it for me.  His adult-sized hands were a bit of a problem... I asked him to play around with the song on his real piano (sorry about the bad sound quality--it helps to turn the volume down):

You might notice the keyboard jiggling around a bit in that first clip.  It's possible to play with the legs removed, too.  This takes up less space and feels a bit more secure:

Here's Melody playing her keyboard:


It's well-scaled to her height and hand size.  I'm impressed.  I wish Mattel would do this well with their horses.


This is a fun, authentic accessory for Melody.  It's also a decent miniature keyboard.  I don't think that listening to kids play with it all day would drive me nuts.

Bottom line?  I really like Melody, her accessories, and her important story.  The keyboard is probably my least favorite of all the items I looked at, but not because it isn't fun.  It's a large, expensive piece that's a little hard to play with and will probably lose its appeal over time.  I highly recommend the other items.  Melody's accessory set (the hat, purse, glasses, and pin) seems overpriced for the contents, but all of the items add something great to Melody's look and I think she's a better doll with them than without them.

Melody is definitely a keeper.  After I reviewed Lea Clark, I thought I'd found my perfect American Girl.  I figured there'd be very little point in purchasing any more of these dolls.  However, Melody's music-themed personality and 1960's backstory drew me in.  As it turned out, Melody was only in the house for a few hours before she took Lea's place as my favorite.  Incidentally, I also find Ms. Ellison vastly more interesting than the current Girl of the Year, Gabriela.  I love Melody's textured, bobbed hair and bright brown eyes.  All of the details in her outfit are excellent--especially her shiny blue shoes and civil rights pin.  Her story is compelling and breathes more personality into the doll than other American Girl stories I've read.  I like to imagine this doll (and her accessories) encouraging kids in their pursuit of a musical talent.  More than that, though, I like to imagine Melody inspiring young people to respect and defend the progress our society has made with civil rights...and to keep pushing forward, not backward.  I'll mimic Melody's mother by quoting Dr. King's reassuring words; the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.  

I think American Girl's new Create Your Own doll line is an outstanding idea.  I had a great time playing with the software, and am quite excited to meet Eliza--with her mismatched eyes, goofy smile, and bright red hair.  I'll admit to feeling some cynicism about the future of this option, though.  Custom dolls are hard to manufacture, and most companies cannot sustain this type of retail for very long (Lorifina, MiM and Makies are all examples of this).  My Twinn's doll customization lasted longer than any other company I'm aware of, but throughout most of their reign they didn't utilize an online customization tool.  When custom orders can be generated so quickly, there's an increased risk that the quality of the product will decline in order to meet the demand...or that the line will simply become unsustainable.  I hope I'm wrong about this, because the Create Your Own dolls are an excellent addition to the American Girl empire.

So...Melody is the new favorite American Girl in my house.  The only question is, will little Eliza usurp that title when she arrives in November?  I can't wait to find out!

Toy Box Philosopher


  1. It looks like the custom outfits will be entirely sublimated onto the base dress/shirt/pants, based on the pictures. It's definitely an interesting way to get the most mileage out of the ability to make custom designs on the cheap for the manufacturer. Better yet, a lot of t-shirt shops now have sublimation, so you could conceivably remake your designer doggie dress (or a very close approximation) with one of them and get a real piece of clothing to match your doll's outfit!

  2. Wow i love the new create a american girl! I cant wait to see eliza! Actually, melody's piano reminded me of something... Your Azone K-on review. I was wondering if you will ever do another review of them again? If you do i would be very interested in that. Also, i found about a very strange but popular toy in japan right now. It is called "pose skeleton" it is odd but i almost want one myself! You should review one or look into them. Thanks for the great review!

  3. Who'd have ever guessed that we'd be having to fight for rights like it's 1963, or even 1933, all over again? Where those on the side of equality are equated with those who support the murder of marginalized people and those standing up for them? It's appalling. And you convinced me that I want Melody. Just need the money.

    I like the short hairs in the wigs. They do something important. Since real hair thins toward the bottom, a wig full in the scalp often feels too thick in the bottom, and hair thin enough in the bottom is scant at the top. Those short hairs add the fullness toward the scalp that is needed. My daughter's Grace Thomas watched the total eclipse with us. :)

    The Make-your-own site is currently giving me just a spinning star. I want to play with it!

  4. That was a great review, Toy Box Philosopher! Even though American Girls are so popular, I don't like them very much. They are very expensive, and (in my opinion)you don't get a lot for the price - AG can't wear summer dresses or beach outfits without exposing their unsightly neck seam, their visible teeth look a bit squirrel-y to me, and some of the dark-eyed dolls look a bit creepy.(Sorry, Keira!)
    Have you heard about WeGirls? They are 18-inch Polish dolls that are being made in a German factory and are very high-quality. Furthermore, I think that their faces are very appealing. Take a look at their website:
    Or just google WeGirls dolls. I own one, Angel, she's insanely pretty!
    Anyway, great review as always! Can't wait to see how your Eliza will look like!

    1. Any cloth-bodied doll will have seams like these dolls. There's actually something I like about the price of these dolls being high. And I say that as someone who desperately wanted Samantha when I was a kid, but couldn't afford one. For most kids who do get an AG doll, it's going to be just one doll. It's not going to be a dozen, as often happens with inexpensive Barbies or Monsters High dolls. By getting just one AG doll, it's more special. My daughter got Grace Thomas, and the care she gives that doll, and the events she takes Grace to to share with her (I have a picture of Grace set up to watch the total eclipse with us, and my daughter even gave her some crackers!) is very sweet. Her inexpensive Barbies and MH and EA and such all get tossed i a box. They're a dime a dozen to her. If AG was cheaper, I'd be tempted to buy several, but the price is high enough to prevent that. And my daughter knows that. She knows that Grace is a one-and-only, and that makes Grace more special to her. She knows Grace is a treat that can't be replaced. Grace isn't just another pretty doll to her. Grace means a whole lot more. If the price was down in the $30-range, AG would be just another 18" doll on the shelf, and sure, the company might make more money in the end because of increased sales, but the specialness of getting a grail doll would go away.

    2. The thing is not about the price or the exclusivity! There are many doll brands that are either more expensive than American Girl but prettier than them, or not as expensive (but not cheap, either!) and are also cute. Just that American Girl is POPULAR. It's a huge trend and the company makes lots of money out of it. The main appeal of American Girl is based on a strategic marketing and advertising system. I find it sad to see that when people get to choose between a really beautiful doll and a popular doll brand, they choose the brand. My WeGirls doll isn't as popular as AG, but is SO high quality and realistic! I wanted her for a whole year, and she certainly lived up to my expectations! Instead of a cloth body, she has a soft vinyl torso that looks good in any outfit while keeping the softness to the touch, and her face is beautifully sculpted.

  5. Excellent review! I can confirm that the light brown and hazel eyes are both decal.

  6. Excellent review as always! Just wanted to offer a few comments to help clarify some stuff. :)

    Melody's movie is titled Love Has to Win, not Love Must Win, and in her books I'm pretty sure it's her father who clashes with Dwayne about college vs. music, although her grandfather is also an important character. While her books are especially timely, I would definitely encourage reading more of the historical character books if you want an understanding of why the line has managed to stay successful for as long as it has - the character's problems are really relevant to modern girls and are also great tools for introducing kids to history! I'm currently in a Master's program for Public History, and most of my classmates had a doll or read the books growing up, and do credit them for being sort of a gateway drug into our future career paths. They also often encourage the importance and fun of education, music, and arts, and two of the characters are big horse enthusiasts! ;)

    The design your own clothes/backpack debuted at the flagship stores (LA, NYC, Chicago) a few years ago, and while I think the CYO offerings are a little more substantial, they're essentially the same end product. The details are in fact printed on, and I'm pretty sure - although not 100% positive - that they don't repeat in the back, or at least they didn't in their original iteration! I always thought it looked cheap and kind of crummy for what you were paying for, so I never purchased one myself, but it was a cool enough souvenir if you picked a design that didn't rely on the printed texture. I'm not sure how the price compares to what was offered in the stores, but I'd imagine it's comparable?

    I have similar concerns about the long term feasibility of the CYO line. Custom products are really difficult to maintain in the long run, whether it's dolls or shoes or backpacks, and every company I've seen offer a service like it eventually discontinues it. I think even My Twinn went bankrupt two or three times before finally closing! As a longtime fan, I hope Mattel/AG finds a way to make it work for them, and continues making quality characters like Melody and their other historical dolls.

    Looking forward to seeing Eliza in the flesh! (Or in the vinyl?)

    1. Thank you so much for the corrections and extra information, Gwen! The discrepancies between Melody's book and movie confused me!! Your input is invaluable. I had a bad feeling about the printed clothing, but I designed most of Eliza's wardrobe to be immune to those shortcuts, so I hope it's worth what I paid. I'm a little nervous. :/
      Eliza "in the vinyl" sounds like a good post title to me! :D Thank you again for your help.

  7. I think it's weird that they don't seem to offer the amber pinwheel eyes found on #26 and #62(?). At first I thought the light brown option was this but apparently (as you have discovered) it is light brown decal? I don't know, I'm quite confused. I don't plan on getting one of these expensive little girlies though, so I guess it doesn't matter to me.

    1. Oh and another thing, in your traversing of the 18" doll world, have you ever stumbled across these?

      I see them pop up on Amazon and eBay pretty frequently and I think they have gorgeous faces. It feels as though they are just Chinese-made knockoffs or a recast/reuse of another doll's face, but I don't know what they are knockoffs of (they are sometimes advertised with "American Girl" in the title but don't seem to be overly similar other than the height) and I can't seem to find a brand name or artist credit for them anywhere. I thought, seeing as you're good at this kind of thing, that you may be keen to investigate further. I would love to see how these dolls stack up against other 18" play dolls, seeing as their price point is so much lower (especially on eBay).

    2. I agree, Heddy. Beautiful molds, but something does seem off about them. The photos with the white backgrounds look like professional photos that have had the backgrounds cropped, and the photos with backgrounds are either the crops digitally inserted or are unprofessional snapshots outside, like someone bought a doll to knock off, and took it outside for a few minutes.. Where are the professional photos of a real doll with a real background? I suspect that what's received won't look much like those photos.

    3. Hi Heddy! I believe those are knockoffs of EuroGirl dolls (by The Doll Factory), which I reviewed waaay back in 2013. Here's an old link:
      I think they're appealing, too! Those actually look better than the doll I reviewed. Maybe I should get one so that I can inspect her more carefully? It's fascinating! I wish I knew where that old EuroGirl is for a comparison. I'll start looking...
      Thank you for the links! :D

    4. Emily, these dolls are made by NPK Doll, at I also would love to see you review one - they have sweet faces, and I wonder how the quality stacks up. They sell individually through their store on Aliexpress (site sells wholesale), but NPK's site is well worth the browsing, even if only for their English. They mention they had the help of European doll makers getting started, and they might have purchased some facemolds.

  8. Your son is a really good piano player. o_O

  9. Would you consider doing another doll repaint review? I found the one you did a while ago (Milklegs) particularly interesting. The Etsy shop AsteriDolls comes to mind, they're running a sale right now and there's a reimagined Frankie Stein that's rather intriguing.

  10. Can't wait to see how Eliza turns out!

    I know you like dolls that ride horses, so I wondered if you've seen any of the new "Spirit: Riding Free" sets. Some are made by Breyer, and Target has some made by another manufacturer. I'd love to see a comparison!

    1. You know me well! I had that exact comparison in mind. Might be a week or so, though, because I have 2 other things I'd like to do first. Spirit was a big part of my kids' childhoods!! :D

    2. Awesome! My daughter is a huge Spirit fan too (both the original movie and the new Netflix show) and these dolls are already on her Christmas list. I'll be looking forward to your review, whenever you get a chance :)

  11. Really enjoyed this review, and I too am anxious to meet Eliza and the clothes you ordered.
    I hope the create your own option does well. The price (once a person is committed to purchasing an AG) seems very reasonable when compared to a truly me with comparable accessories.

  12. Wow amazing review! I love how they brought the "create a american girl" back. I remember them having it a long time ago but you sent in a picture of yourself or something... Also i found out about a amazing mini figure line you should review! They are called Nendoroid and are inspired by the Japanise manga characters and there are even some disney themed ones like anna, elsa, and rapunzel! They are high quality and have very good articulation. You should review one! You can buy them from for mostly under $30. Thanks again for the great review!

    1. No, this is the first time AG has had something like this. You must be thinking of My Twinn.

  13. I've been playing with the create your own since it as announced. I couldn't remember my password so I couldn't save my first two, but tried again today. Still some glitches; I couldn't access the short and pixie wigs.

    Thank you so much for naming the face choices. I think they are the hardest to figure out and I want specific (classic and Josefina) for the two I'm designing.

    Keira is stunning. I like your description of Melody's face...sweet and kind. Very fitting.

  14. Why was there a "permanent underpants controversy"?

    1. OMG it had people FURIOUS, and literally swearing to NEVER again buy anything AG. It happened during the time Betsy DeVos was being put into the secretary of education position, right after she showed a horrifying lack of understanding about public education (remember when it was nearly impossible to turn on the TV, radio, or get online, without DeVos being everywhere, showing how she had no idea how public education worked or why SPED services were needed, etc.?), and all I could think was did those people who were freaking out about doll panties really have nothing else to spend that energy on?

      See, the people who were freaking out claimed that permanently-sewn-on panties were the company trying to cheapen the dolls, or cave to religious modesty standards. The same people who will drop hundreds of dollars on a supplemental playset were complaining that the dolls themselves are already just soooooooooo expensive that they deserved separate undies, or else were shrieking about Islam and Judaism and fundamental Christianity (three religions, or a sect of a religion, that don't have dedicated dolls, and aren't as likely to buy these dolls to begin with). AG actually had an understandable reason. Kids lose the panties a lot and get upset. So they were going to make them so they couldn't get lost by sewing them on. Yes, the separate little panty is adorable, but it isn't an end-of-the-world issue to throw hissy fits over. Adults even got their kids to join the protest.

      It was possibly the most absurd issue I've ever seen people get so heated about when it comes to DOLLS.

  15. Emily,
    You should check out I Am Elemental! They are a line of female action figures whose purpose is to provide girls (and boys) with action figures that mean something. Each figure stands for a virtue (creativity, honesty, etc.) that falls under a 'Core Power' (there are two out so far: Courage and Wisdom, with a third coming out soon). You can get the figures in two ways: Either 3.5" blind bag action figures with 9 points of articulation, or a Core Power figure that is 6.5" tall with 30 points of articulation (I think only the Courage series has a Core Power figure so far though). Anyway, I think that they are super neat with an amazing goal and you should check them out!


    1. These look awesome, Rett! Thank you so much for the recommendation! I'm on it.

  16. Actually, I came up with a total value of $256 because the keepsake box included is $50 if ordered separately on the website.

  17. This looks really fun!

    (But, seeing the name "Eliza" over and over again...

    and peggy)