Doll with a Past

A pink plastic bucket overflowing with Barbies, many half naked, with limbs askew, sits untouched these days on the bedroom floor. They haven't stood a chance since their owner, Allison Powers, a fifth-grader in Woodridge, Ill., discovered Addy and Samantha. "They're more realistic than Barbie," Allison says, "and they look cooler."

This year's must-have dolls are those of the American Girls Collection, drawn from evocative periods of U.S. history. They include daring slave girl Addy and plucky Victorian orphan Samantha. Each of the six chubby-cheeked dolls comes with a book that tells her story. Though they cost a pocket-puckering $82 apiece,...

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