American Girl dolls 8/8/11

Cécile Rey, left, and Marie-Grace Gardner are American Girl's two new dolls. Their story is set in New Orleans in 1853.

American Girl

Middleton-based American Girl is introducing not one historic character doll but two, with a connected story line.

According to the storyline, Cécile Rey, who is African American, and Marie-Grace Gardner, who is Causasian, are friends in New Orleans in 1853 when a yellow fever epidemic hits the city. 

Since American Girl began 25 years ago, the company has released a historic character doll one at a time, but this is the first time there are two.

"With their interweaving storylines, we could really illustrate the diversity of New Orleans that was fairly unique to that time," spokeswoman Julie Parks said. 

Each 18-inch doll comes with an outfit and a book that tells her story. The price is $100, up from $95 last year for the 18-inch American Girl dolls.

Asked if consumers might be upset at the prospect of buying two expensive dolls at a time when the economy is still struggling and the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, Parks said, "We're not anticipating that everybody is going to buy one of each doll."

Most of the time, Parks said, girls want a doll they can relate to or one that looks the most like them.

This year's release of the dolls, each of which has her story told in three books, comes with an original song, "A Lot Like Me," whose proceeds will go to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans. Available on iTunes for $1.29 per download, the song was written by musician and actor Harry Connick Jr., a New Orleans native, and sung by his 13-year-old daughter, Kate.

The Ellis Marsalis Center is scheduled to open Aug. 25. It is the focal point of Musicians' Village, a community of homes built with help of Habitat for Humanity, for New Orleans musicians whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The center will also provide music and dance lessons for children whose families were devastated by the hurricane.

American Girl, owned by Mattel, opened retail stores in Seattle and in Washington, D.C., this summer and now has 11 of the shops selling dolls, clothing, books and accessories in addition to its online and telephone sales.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated. American Girl doesn't always release a new historic character doll every year.]