by Pamela J. Haggerty

SUBJECT AREA: Creative Arts/Language Arts/American History

PUBLISHER: The Learning Company


COST: $34.99

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Girls ages 7-12


Mac: Double-speed CD-ROM drive, LCIII or higher, System 7.1 or higher, 8mb RAM.

Win: 486 or higher, Windows 3.1 or higher.

Both: 256-color display (13" or larger monitor), optional printer, microphone ­ optional but highly recommended.

EDUCATIONAL GOALS: To explore theater, writing and U.S. history.

DESCRIPTION: The American Girls Premiere software is part of the American Girls Collection which includes books, dolls and accessories based on five young female characters from five different periods of U.S. history: Felicity, Colonial America; Kirsten, Pioneer America; Addy, Civil War America; Samantha, America's New Century, and Molly, World War II. In addition to the five main characters, there are 45 historical costumes, 55 co-stars, 16 actions and emotions per character, 60 scenes, 125 historical props, 250 musical selections and over 250 lighting and sound effects.

Students can create, direct and perform plays centered on each of the five main characters. They can choose the main characters, minor characters, sets, props, sound effects, and lighting, and they can write dialog and direct their characters' movements. Students can either recreate their favorite American Girls stories or create stories from their own imagination.

STRENGTHS: The American Girls Premiere provides a fun and interesting way to practice the writing skills learned in school, such as grammar, word choice, story sequence and story structure. Students who enjoy reading the books and playing with the dolls from the American Girls Collection should find this program fun and interesting because they can recreate, expand or change the plots from the books.

The many choices that are available will spark interest and creativity. The graphics and sound effects are of high quality. Two exciting features are that students can record their own voices (if their computer is equipped with a microphone) and can print out scripts and playbills.

For students who are having trouble coming up with ideas for plays, there are 21 text-based play starters in the User's Manual.

A Director's Guide on Disk 1 provides students with interesting facts and background information regarding theater and U.S. history. The "Behind the Scenes" section gives a first-hand view of the making of The American Girls Premiere, starting from what it was like to be an actor playing an American Girl to the processes the artist used to create the sets and props. The Director's Tips section gives professional advice on creating plays, and the glossary defines words related to the theater. In the Director's Guide, students can also find out more information about each American Girl. Finally, on Disk 1 there are beginning and advanced tutorials that provide answers to almost any question about the program.

WEAKNESSES: Although the many choices offered will be fun and interesting to many children, it might be daunting for younger children and those with learning disabilities. The reading level of the Director's Guide is geared towards upper elementary school children. In order to master the program, students must be willing to spend the time to learn and practice the features. For example, one 12-year-old girl became frustrated when she could not coordinate a character's actions and lines the first few times she tried. After several attempts, she succeeded.

SUMMARY: The American Girls Collection is very popular among girls ages 7 to 12. The American Girls Premiere should certainly inspire interest and excitement among girls already fascinated by the collection. The many features of the program will hold the interest of students and keep them challenged for a long time. Although the program has many sophisticated features, younger students and students with learning disabilities could still enjoy the program on a smaller scale. They could start off by selecting different characters, scenes and props. Character dialogue and actions could come later. This program will also be helpful for students with learning disabilities who have difficulty visualizing history.

Pamela Haggerty is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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