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Archive for Monday, April 26, 2010

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Lawrence author writes latest ‘American Girl’ series

Love of outdoors inspires ‘green’-themed addition to Mattel phenomenon

Jane Kurtz, a Lawrence resident for three years, has written 30 children’s books, but they don’t compare in popularity with “Lanie” and “Lanie’s Real Adventures,” two books she released this year as part of the “American Girl” series.

Jane Kurtz, a Lawrence resident for three years, has written 30 children’s books, but they don’t compare in popularity with “Lanie” and “Lanie’s Real Adventures,” two books she released this year as part of the “American Girl” series.

April 26, 2010

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Lanie, the character Jane Kurtz penned for the American Girl series, loves the outdoors and spending time with nature.

Lanie, the character Jane Kurtz penned for the American Girl series, loves the outdoors and spending time with nature.

About American Girl

127 million: The number of “American Girl” books that have been sold since 1986.

16 million: the number of American Girl dolls that have been sold since 1986 through retail stores, Web site, and catalog.

Source: American Girl

Jane Kurtz knew a little about the popularity of the American Girl dolls. Several years back, her daughter saved up her own money to buy one of the dolls.

But Kurtz came to understand the full phenomenon this spring, when she was signing a book she wrote based on one of the American Girl dolls. In Chicago, families started lining up at 5:30 a.m. ahead of a 10 a.m. signing. In Boston, one girl and her family camped out overnight.

“I didn’t understand the scope of it,” says Kurtz, who has lived in Lawrence three years. “They’re crazy about the American Girl dolls.”

Kurtz has written 30 children’s books, but none compares in popularity to the two she released this year: “Lanie” and “Lanie’s Real Adventures.”

Both books are based on Lanie, the 2010 American Girl doll. Based on the stories, Lanie craves to be outdoors in nature even though her family prefers to be indoors. The books chronicle her struggle to spend more time outside. The 100-page books are intended for children in second through fourth grades.

This is Kurtz’s second experience writing for American Girl, a Madison, Wis.-based company that was founded in 1986 and has become a toy empire. Now owned by Mattel, the company’s magazine has nearly 600,000 subscribers — a sign of the brand’s significance.

Kurtz first wrote for American Girl in 2003, when she penned “Saba: Under the Hyena’s Foot.” The book paired with a doll from the now-discontinued Girls of Many Lands series, which featured dolls from around the world.

She was approached again for Lanie. As the daughter of Presbyterian workers, Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia, spending much of her time outdoors and without a television, making up stories. She felt these stories were a natural fit.

“I was outside all the time,” she recalls. “I was smelling, touching and sometimes tasting the earth. That was such a wonderful experience for me.”

Kurtz admits she’s more of an indoor person now than when she was a child, but she rediscovered her love for nature through writing the book. She talked with bird-watchers, read about Monarch Watch (the Kansas University-based organization that tracks and protects butterflies) and paid more attention to her surroundings.

She likes the simple message of the books and the doll: Children should spend more time outdoors.

That was the goal of the project, says Jodi Goldberg, editorial director for American Girl.

“Story and products are developed hand in hand from the very beginning,” Goldberg says. “In fact, before there’s either story or product, we begin by listening to the issues and interests that are top-of-mind for girls and moms. For Lanie, our conversations centered on getting girls outdoors and engaged with nature, and both story and product evolved from there.”

Goldberg says Kurtz’s background fit the stories perfectly.

“Jane brought her own deep-rooted love of adventure to the project, fueled by her childhood in Ethiopia, where she spent most of her life outdoors, wading by waterfalls an watching wildlife on the savannah.”

Kurtz says many of the girls she meets at book-signing events want to tell her about their own adventures in the outdoors.

“We like to see ourselves reflected in books,” she says.

Kurtz has another book due to her publisher by May 1, but she would love to write for American Girl again in the future.

“I consider myself, with 30 books out, still a student of the craft,” she says.

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