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Meanwhile, on the Internet
Tribune Reporters
'Meanwhile' is a collaborative blog about all the crazy stuff on the Internet. Here, reporters from various Tribune desks tell you what you (almost) need to know about topics ranging from technology to YouTube sensations. Contributors: Jim Dalrymple, Vince Horiuchi, Michael McFall, Dave Newlin, Matt Piper, Brennan Smith, Erin Alberty. Edited by Sheena McFarland.

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An American Girl doll with a disability?

This kind of thing could get me back on board with American Girl dolls.

A 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl is petitioning Mattel to create a doll with a disability for its next "Girl of the Year."

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On a Change.org petition and accompanying video plea, Melissa Shang rightly notes that Girls of the Year dolls are special. They are the mega-stars in a doll world that draws shrieking throngs of little girls to multi-level stores and drives their parents to drop $100-plus on a single 18-inch doll and then untold hundreds on wardrobes, accessories, matching child-sized clothes, storybooks and DVDs. The 2013 Girl of the Year, Saige, is sold out on Americangirl.com.

Shang says her beloved Girls of the Year have taught her what it’s like to ride horses and do gymnastics — remarkable, as Shang has muscular dystrophy and uses leg braces and a walker.

Now she wants an American Girl with a story like hers.

"For once, I don’t want to be invisible or a side character that the main American Girl has to help," Shang writes.

Shang’s petition, drafted and posted with the help of her older sister Ying Ying, had gathered more than 7,000 signatures as of Monday night.

I, too, was in love with American Girl as a child. Back then, in the late ’80s, the dolls and clothes were designed to bring the past to life. There were four Girls, each from a different time in American history. I read every book and poured over the catalogs. I never owned a doll (I only wanted the kid-sized historical outfits anyway) but instead was propelled to an obsession with period literature about children — Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, Wilson Rawls. Lord, I must have read The Secret Garden at least 25 times. Oh, the part where the boy gets out of his wheelchair and walks to his father! *tears*

American Girl still has historical dolls, but the big push now is its contemporary doll line. In addition to Girl of the Year, children can pick out dolls with coloring and hair to match their own, and now only matching contemporary clothing is available.

I could get worked up about the rise of narcissism, blah blah blah, but the big bummer is that the popular contemporary characters don’t have the gripping stories my generation adored. According to the website, Saige’s big issue is that she doesn’t get art class in fourth grade.

Yes, low funding for arts eduction sucks. But one of the historical American Girls is an escaped slave.

Enter Melissa Shang, potential American Girl of the Year. The idea of all these kids reading about a strong girl who tries to figure out life in Pennsylvania with her own style of mobility, and better identifying with other kids with disabilities — it seriously makes me so happy.

And the idea of a girl like Melissa opening a box with a mega-star doll that represents her?

*tears*

—Erin Alberty



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