Title: Meet Marie Grace
Series: American Girl Cecile and Marie Grace, book 1
Author: Sarah Masters Buckey
Illustrator: Christine Kornacki
ISBN: 9781593696511
Pages: 105 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, Inc., c2011.







Title: Meet Cecile
Series: American Girl Cecile and Marie Grace, book 2
Author: Denise Lewis Patrick
Illustrator: Christine Kornacki
ISBN: 9781593696603
Pages: 109 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, Inc., c2011.

Marie-Grace Gardner has just returned to New Orleans, the place of her birth, after moving around for several years with her doctor father after the death of her mother and baby brother from disease. New Orleans is different from everywhere else she has lived, and the sights, sounds, tastes and smells are overwhelming. Some residents even speak French, a different language that shy Marie-Grace struggles to understand. She slowly becomes friends with Cecile Rey, an outspoken African-American girl who has lived in New Orleans her entire life. Cecile longs for her brother to return from studying overseas, but stays busy taking music lessons from Mademoiselle Oceane, who also teaches Marie-Grace. The two girls become fast friends, and an unexpected adventure during Mardi Gras brings them closer together as they share a secret that could get them in trouble.

Honestly, I was severely disappointed with the series after reading these first two books. I think the American Girl Company wasted an opportunity here, because the two books tell almost the exact same story, even though one is from Marie-Grace’s perspective and one is from Cecil’s point of view. Entire portions of dialogue are copied and pasted from the first book to the second, and very little happens as we “meet” the two girls. I remember reading the American Girl series when I was younger and being thrilled with the little glimpses into history and the different adventures that the girls got into. I know of school groups that base their monthly meetings around a different girl. But this just felt like a marketing ploy to me, like they somehow ran out of things the girls could do. The descriptions of the other books leave the impression that there will be more, and obviously people are going to buy the set as opposed to leaving one out. The other thing that really bugs me is that it’s only a year after Kristen’s books take place, which breaks the pattern that they have set for themself of having at least a decade between the girls. It could have been done intentionally for comparison purposes, but I am just surprised in this change.

WHEW! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I did like the fact that we have some bilingual characters in the mix of American Girl options. I also appreciated the fresh perspective of wealthy and well-to-do African-Americans who were never slaves, since all too frequently we only view the slave perspective in pre-Civil War books about African-Americans. Cecile’s well-educated family, who actually employs servants and owns their own successful business, introduces readers to a whole new world. And as always, the last couple pages make up the “Looking Back” insert, separating fact from fiction. The pronunciation guide included in the back is much appreciated for non-French speakers. Bravo for the overall concept that begins with a rather rocky start. Hopefully they’ll redeem themselves in future books.