This year’s American Girl is made in Minnesota — just barely.

Author Mary Casanova lives in Rainier, in Koochiching County, on the banks of Rainy Lake through which the U.S.-Canadian border runs. Casanova has a long association with these tales of girls and “that little whisper inside” that launches them toward their dreams.

“Grace” kicks off Casanova’s fourth “Girl of the Year” American Girl series of novels, joining stories about Jess, Chrissa and McKenna for the wildly popular toy brand.

“This one is very close to me since I also love to bake,” Casanova said.

The premise came from the American Girl editors, who do research into what today’s girls care about, she said. “They told me they were interested in a girl who likes to bake, combining that with some travel, and they also would really love [to] give her an entrepreneurial spirit,” Casanova said.

She added: “I have to find a way to make it my own, but once I do that, I’m fine with being handed a couple of directives.”

Not like there’s much time to think. Casanova had only a year to write three books, but she knows that when the research includes taking a baking class in Paris, no one extends much sympathy. The first book debuted this month and centers around 9-year-old Grace Thomas’ trip to Paris, where challenges abound. Given the books’ theme, American Girl has created a fundraising initiative called “For Goodness, Bake!” It encourages girls to host charity bake sales in their communities and donate proceeds to No Kid Hungry. Parents can learn more at www.americangirl.com.

Casanova (www.marycasanova.com) will tour American Girl stores this summer — there will be 23 in all, with three in Canada by then — including the store at the Mall of America. □