Clark County libraries’ American Girl dolls teach history

As Alexa and her sister Olivia shyly played among peers at Windmill Library on a recent Thursday, they clung tightly to two American Girl dolls clothed in garments from bygone eras.

“This made their day,” their mother, Meghan Plackemeier, said. “We didn’t know this program existed. We were here for story time for my youngest daughter and we saw a doll on the shelf. She already knew her name. They have an Amazon Prime series where they make movies out of these dolls. They’re so excited.”

The dolls are part of a toy-lending program created by the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District to offer an alternative way to learn — through play. The district purchased about 200 American Girl dolls for distribution at 19 branches. Branches carry dolls for on-site play while offering a checkout system so kids can enjoy them at home.

“Anyone with a library card in good standing can come and ask at their young people’s library desk if they have dolls available,” said Rebecca Colbert, head of collections and bibliographic services for the library district. “When you check it out, you get it for three weeks at a time and you get the chance to renew once.”

The dolls cover a wide range of cultural and historical backgrounds, each with its own personality profile. Each loaned doll comes with a book detailing its story and the era it represents, along with a backpack carrier in which it can be transported.

“If you hand a kid a book and say, ‘Here’s the story of Addie and she lived in the Civil War,’ they don’t care,” Colbert said. “But if you hand them a doll with the book, they want to know more. They want to know about Addie’s life.”

The program is aimed at educating children about diverse cultural backgrounds, Colbert said.

Each doll is new, costing about $150, she said. Some branches are working on additional programs involving the dolls, including a “come read to your doll” day.

Shana Harrington, youth services manager at the library district, said she’d like to see the program move beyond toys and dolls at all branches to items that can help parents engage and teach their children.

“When children are encouraged to read aloud in a nonjudgmental environment, they gain confidence,” she said. “Confidence turns into better reading skills. We have a similar program called Reading Buddies, where kids read to a trained teen volunteer. They experience an environment that is safe.”

Contact Mia Sims at Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.

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