Standing in front of the barn at her parents home in Westminster West, Jessie Haas holds up the Saige American Girl doll with the accompanying book that
Standing in front of the barn at her parents home in Westminster West, Jessie Haas holds up the Saige American Girl doll with the accompanying book that she wrote. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Tuesday January 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The world of children's literature does not typically include protecting top secret information.

If you write mysteries, political thrillers or spy novels then maybe you are fed some pieces of information occasionally that come from the "inside" that you have to protect.

Children's author Jessie Haas, however, usually does not deal with secret sources, multi-page confidentiality agreements and privileged information that she is sworn to protect.

But over the past two years Haas has harbored a secret, and now the secret is out.

The American Girl of the Year for 2013 is Saige Copeland, a plucky girl from New Mexico who loves the arts and her horses, and the two books that anchor the Girl of the Year campaign, and all of the accessories that come with it, were written by Haas.

When Haas signed a contract with American Girl about a year-and-a-half ago she was sworn to secrecy.

No one on the planet is allowed to talk about next year's Girl of the Year until after Dec. 31, and now, with the New Year upon us and the Saige campaign under way, Haas has been able to breathe a sigh of relief and tell people about her secret.

American Girl is a company that produces 18-inch dolls based on nine to 11-year-old girls from various ethnic and historical backgrounds.

Every year there is an American Girl of the Year and the dolls come with all the necessary accessories including clothing, jewelry, horses and a series of books, and that is where Haas comes in.

The Westminster West author has written dozens of books on girls and horses over the course of her career and many of them sit on shelves in libraries and homes from Vermont to Oregon, and in every state in between.

Working for American Girl though, Haas said, was a completely new experience.

She says she got an e-mail message, out of the blue, about two years ago, asking if she would be interested in writing two books about a girl from New Mexico who rode horses and loved the arts.

"It turns out they have a research library in their building and they were familiar with my work," she said. "They said they needed a book written about a girl with a horse theme and that's what I do, so I said ‘yeah.'"

American Girl reported sales of $510.9 million in 2011, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

The company is based in Middleton, Wisc., outside of Madison.

Haas typically writes from her humble cabin in Westminster West which sits high on a ridge line and is off the grid.

She admits the American Girl payout was pretty good, but the work did come with some corporate-based requirements that Haas was not used to dealing with.

She had to submit an outline and work a little more closely with her editor that she was typically used to. And she also had to sign the confidentiality agreement which spelled out very clearly that she was expected to keep the story of Saige Copeland under wraps until the first of the year.

"There are toy spies out there and they work very hard to protect that name," Haas said. "The likelihood that someone here in Vermont would scoop a Mattel product seems small, but they don't take any chances."

The two books deal with Saige as she learns that planned cuts to her school program will eliminate music and art classes and she plans a fundraiser to save the program.

In book two, "Saige Paints the Sky," Saige takes comfort in painting and in riding her horses as she works to raise money and keep her horses from being sold.

Haas did say the editorial process and support she received was welcome.

Some American Girl books deal with tough issues like poverty, racism and war and they are recognized for the positive and empowering way they portray girls in this country.

Haas says overall the experience was good and she might work more with the company in the future.

Haas is a successful and popular author but she has never been involved in a national million dollar public relations campaign.

Haas does not like to travel but she is going to be flown to American Girls stores around the country to talk about Saige.

The Girl of the Year is only available for one year and the release kicks off a 365-day marketing campaign, which this year will even include a film which is set to star Jane Seymour.

And Haas is already receiving e-mails from attentive pre-teen girls around the country who are asking her about her horses, and who are also pointing out slight discrepancies in the books.

Haas says she was not "doll oriented" when she was growing up and while she had heard of American Girl she did not really pay close attention to the company's output.

Now she is in the middle of the corporate juggernaut and she says it is going to be an interesting year.

"It's fun to be a part of something that everyone has heard of," she said. "My name is out there, but this is on a whole different scale. It will be fun to see what it is like."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.