An American Girl Story -- Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
An American Girl Story -- Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance TV Poster Image
Chinese-American tween embraces heritage in sweet story.

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Educational Value

The story introduces viewers to hallmarks of Chinese culture including language, customs, holidays, and food. To a lesser degree, its setting in the mid-1970s lets viewers see some of the sights of a different time in urban America.

Positive Messages

Ivy's struggle to find her identity will resonate with tweens. The importance of family and embracing heritage is a prominent theme, and Ivy eventually learns the value of hers while her parents discover the joys of creating better balance for their kids. Friendship, honesty, and communication are vital. Some mild rebellion as Ivy defies her parents' rules. The matter of divorce is presented gently from a tween's point of view, reflecting its impact on the entire family. The story casts a hopeful and inspiring impression of immigration even as some characters describe feelings of isolation immediately after leaving their home countries to settle in America.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ivy is surrounded by people who love her, from her hardworking parents and grandparents to her supportive best friend, Julie. She doesn't always appreciate their influence, especially because the generational divide makes her see things from a different perspective from theirs. Ultimately, though, all parties yield some to reach a mutual understanding that illustrates for Ivy the importance of appreciating family. Ivy's mother represents a new generation of women charting career courses in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

The movie is inspired by American Girl stories and the dolls Julie and Ivy.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that An American Girl Story -- Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance is an American Girl production inspired by two of its characters and their accompanying chapter books. Ivy is a second-generation American of Chinese heritage who wrestles with her unique place between two seemingly disparate cultures until she learns to embrace both as positive influences. The process puts her at odds with her parents and grandparents and causes her to rebel, but, through honest communication and forgiveness, everyone reaches a new understanding. The story incorporates many aspects of Chinese culture including holiday celebrations, language, and food and makes mention of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the time. Ivy's relationship with Julie is a heartwarming example of how friendship overcomes differences of race and culture.

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What's the story?

In AN AMERICAN GIRL STORY -- IVY & JULIE 1976: A HAPPY BALANCE, 10-year-old Ivy Ling (Nina Lu) is an aspiring gymnast with her sights set on a perfect performance at the upcoming city championships, so when it comes to light that the competition falls on the same day as her family's Chinese New Year celebration, her loyalties are torn and she's frustrated anew at the expectations that accompany her cultural heritage. Often she wishes she were more like her best friend, Julie Albright (Hannah Nordberg), an all-American kid with no need for Chinese school and forced family get-togethers for traditional holidays. As Ivy wrestles with a tough decision, this second-generation American gains new perspective on her family's adherence to tradition and eventually finds a better balance between her Chinese and American cultures.

Is it any good?

This thoughtful movie brings the timely matter of immigration into new focus that's refreshing, nonjudgmental, and perfect for families. Ivy struggles to reconcile her American identity with her Chinese heritage, and in so doing she's an honest example of assimilation as it's experienced by the children of immigrants. The story does an excellent job presenting different sides of the issue, from Ivy's heartfelt conversation with her grandparents about their immigrant experience to her parents' ties to their Chinese heritage in American society. And then there's Julie, who reminds Ivy that even without cultural complications, there's no such thing as the "perfect" American existence.

As an American Girl production, Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance has considerable commercial tie-ins that will appeal mostly to girls already aware of the brand in general and these characters in particular, but nothing in the movie raises the connection on its own. What it does offer is affirming family entertainment that can inspire conversations about growing up, making priorities, and following your dreams, as well as the importance of family.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the commonalities and differences they notice between Ivy's family's culture and the general American one. Why is it so important to the characters in An American Girl Story -- Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance that they not lose touch with their Chinese heritage? Does your family incorporate touches of your heritage in your home or celebrations? What is the value of diversity in our society?

  • How does Ivy's situation complicate her coming of age? On the other hand, how does she discover it helps her better identify herself? What qualities or interests help define you?

  • What role models does Ivy have in her life? How does her mom's dedication to following her career goals inspire Ivy to follow her own dreams? What dreams do you have for your future?

  • How does your family keep the lines of communication open? Why is this important among people who care about each other? What other character strengths are important?

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