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The latest 'Girl of the Year' from dollmaker American Girl is making history

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Makers of American Girl dolls have made their latest move in racial representation. It's a fraught topic for toy companies who've struggled for years with criticism of the messages their products send. For example, is Barbie too thin or too blond?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And do dolls look like the kids who play with them? Years ago, the American Girl line included a Chinese American doll who ended up in my house. She was discontinued, drawing protests. Now the company is promoting a new Chinese American character, who was labeled the company's Girl of the Year. And her fans include Mina Fedor.

MINA FEDOR: Growing up, I actually didn't have many dolls that looked like me. Yeah. I would have loved to have this kind of doll when I was growing up.

MARTINEZ: Mina is 13. She's an eighth grader from Piedmont, Calif. She comes into the story because Mattel, the company that owns the American Girl franchise, sent money to a group she's part of. The company is donating $25,000 to a student-led nonprofit. The group wants schools to teach one day a year of Asian American history.

FEDOR: So important to celebrate our stories. We feel like that sort of funding could definitely help with some of our campaigns and pursuits in education.

INSKEEP: Now, what's all this have to do with a doll? Corinne Tan, the new AG character, is depicted facing some realistic issues in daily life. The dolls come with books that tell their stories. And in one, a boy in mid-pandemic tells Corinne she has kung flu.

FEDOR: She actually stands up to xenophobia during her story. And Girl of the Year dolls have often highlighted social issues.

INSKEEP: Like any well-rounded doll, Corinne also has stories of skiing and a rescue puppy, which of course lead to doll accessories that AG would like you to buy. But along with those accessories, the company is selling social awareness. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.