Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (movie)

Released theatrically in 2008. Rated G.


On her way home from meeting a friend of Charlie's at the newspaper--and leaving an article for the editor--Kit meets Will and his young friend Countee, hoboes looking to trade work for food. Kit brings them to the back yard, where her mother is meeting with her garden club. Many of the members are a bit scandalized by them. Mrs. Howard says that her husband (who has gone to another city to look for work and will send for them) says not to give them any food; it just encourages them to stay. But Will is younger than Charlie, and Countee younger than Kit. Mrs. Kittredge convinces the boys to take some sandwiches as an advance on some work they can do tomorrow. Kit and her friends, Ruthie Smithens and Frances and Florence Stone, go up the Kit's tree house for a club meeting. But their meeting is interrupted by the sounds of the Stone family being evicted from their house next door. They have family to stay with in California, at least, but the family is gone by the next school day.

At school, the teacher is able to figure what happened, and distracts the fight about to start between Roger and Kit and Ruthie with the announcement of their year-end project. They're going to help at a soup kitchen. Kit and Ruthie are overwhelmed by the despair etched on people's faces...especially Kit's father. Like in Meet Kit, she runs off. In her tree house, she looks at the pictures she has tacked up: her friends Frances and Florence, her father. He tries to reassure her, but she's still shocked and confused. And kids in school tease her the next day, but Ruthie and Stirling come to her aid. Kit takes some comfort in knowing she has people on her side, but that evening at home her parents unveil their plan. Kit's dad is going to Chicago to look for work, and the family will take in boarders. Mrs. and Stirling Howard move in, along with dance instructor Miss Dooley and mobile librarian Miss Bond, and magician/entertainer Mr. Berk. In addition to the boarders, Will and Countee are around many days, doing various work around the house and garden in exchange for food.

While Kit is often busy helping her mother run the boarding house, she finds time to type up proposal articles for the Cincinnati Register. She finally convinces the editor to give her a chance. To research an article, Kit goes with Will and Countee to their hobo camp (Ruthie and Stirling come along too). They teach Kit about hobo signs and riding the rails, and she interviews them about how they became hoboes. It's then Kit learns that Will's been taking care of Countee since Countee's father died of influenza when the three were riding the rails. They also learn about how just a few strokes of bad luck can land someone in such a position. (Even so, Kit initially balks at keeping chickens to sell eggs, but she knows that they need some way to generate more income). The editor doesn't accept her submission, but does encourage her to keep trying. He thinks she has potential. Charlie's friend gives her a piece of advice: stop making hoboes seem sympathetic. with all the thefts attributed to hoboes, you have to write what your audience will want.

It's not long before Ruthie's house is burglarized, and Will is a suspect. There's no probable cause to arrest him...until Mr. Berk sees Will stealing the Kittredge lockbox the next night. Even though they find some stolen items in his tent at the hobo camp, Kit doesn't believe that Will did it. She heard a witness describe the culprit as having a tattoo on his arm, and Will's arm is unmarked.

The movie then skips ahead a couple weeks. Will and Countee have disappeared. The house is month from foreclosure, even after Ruthie's father tries to help. There's no word from Kit's father, and all the money was in the lockbox. Kit feels like all hope is lost when Mr. Berk's cousin arrives to stay for a few days, recovering from being mugged by a hobo. Kit sees a red tattoo on his arm! Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling quickly deduce that they've framed Will, using their entertaining and sleight-of-hand knowledge. Kit and Ruthie sneak into the room they rent, and find some of the stolen items, plus indication that they've pulled this scheme in many cities that have been reporting hobo theft and violence. The Berks--who come back briefly and discuss their plan--are about to recover the rest of their stolen items which they've buried, and then the cousin will leave with it on a train. Kit hides in their car, and Ruthie and Stirling are able to follow shortly after with Miss Bond, who also calls the police.

But wait...the Kittredge phone has been cut off since spring. She's part of the ruse, Mr. Berk's girlfriend! The kids realize just in time, and are able to distract them long enough to get the lockbox back and escape to the hobo camp. Will is there, and he doesn't quite understand their out-of-breath, fragmented pleading, but he does help them. The Berks and Miss Bond follow and wrest the lockbox from Kit, but the hoboes come to the rescue...and so does Miss Bond! She's seen how much their theft is hurting real people, and can't stand it anymore. Will is exonerated, and he has another surprise: Countee is short for Constance--she's a girl! Like in Kit Saves the Day, he disguised the child as a boy because of how dangerous it is for girls to ride the rails. The whole hobo camp is relieved to have the police off their backs, and more than happy to take the real culprits to them. Moved by the story, some people even send money to the Kittredge family.

Everything's better...except that Kit's father is still gone, and there haven't been any letters in weeks. Thanksgiving rolls around and there's a knock at the door. One would expect Mr. Kittredge, but it's Will and Countee, and the other residents of the hobo camp. They want to express their gratitude to Kit for solving the "hobo" crime spree, so they've brought a variety of food. Mrs. Kittredge is very touched, and invites them all in for Thanksgiving, certainly ruffling Uncle Hendrick's feathers.

But that's not the right note to end the movie on. Kit sees another figure walking to the door in the moonlight: her dad. He never found work, but he may as well be unemployed in Cincinnati with his family as in Chicago without them. And that's still not a good enough ending. The newspaper editor stops by right after, with the latest edition of the paper. Kit's published! Miss Dooley even invites him in and the two singles hit it off right away. AND Countee demonstrates how she's learned to read (Stirling traded her reading lessons for learning hobo signs). The movie ends with Stirling and Countee being inducted into Kit's tree house club, with Kit confident that she can take whatever life throws at her.


I briefly read the opening credit "HBO Films" as "Hobo Films." Fitting!

The movie starts May 2, 1934, while Meet Kit opens in 1932. Charlie is already away working with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Kit turns ten offscreen.

Here, Grace came with her name written on the cardboard note about not being able to feed the dog anymore. Kit finds her on a walk with her mother before her father loses his job. Kit convinces her to let the dog stay for "one night" and you can guess how that goes. The dog playing her looks old, with that grey-white marking on the face older dogs get.

Uncle Hendrick's characterization is pretty good, but I don't see why a miser would scoff at saving leftovers. It's good fiscal sense.

You know that zoom effect made so famous in Jaws, when Chief Brody realizes he's watching a shark attack? It's called a dolly zoom or vertigo shot. This movie uses it when Kit's teacher comes upon some kids verbally sparring. Because it's the same level of emotion, I guess?

Kit's paternal grandfather died later in her dad's childhood, or he refers to his adopted father as his dad, judging by a story he tells about a car. Aunt Millie is mentioned in the movie, but not seen onscreen.

Kit's dad rides a Trailways bus. That's the same company featured in The Shawshank Redemption, my favorite movie.

Wallace Shawn is NOT how I pictured the newspaper editor from the books, but he does a good job. 

During an magic show, Mr. Berk says that he's "levitated" a dancer instructor in the past, in a if-you-know-what-I-mean way.

The interactions with the Berk brothers reminds me of scenes in A Fish Called Wanda.

When Stirling sends a letter "from" his father in the movie, he has $40 to attach instead of $20. He sends the letter after her mother takes off her wedding and engagement rings when boarders decide to give Mrs. Kittredge their valuable to lock up.

I still think my uncle's Thanksgiving homecoming is the best. I wrote about it  Changes for Molly.

During the Thanksgiving party, Stirling talks to a hobo who had mentioned that he left his wife and three children, including a son Stirling's age, back home while he looked for work. He asks the man to write to his son, and the man seems very moved by the request. My grandmother has a Christmas tradition of buying sweaters and coats for men in a homeless shelter, and she always includes a pen, a stamped envelope, and some paper, with instructions for the men to write their mothers or someone else to let them know where they are and what's happening in their lives.

Kit Kittredge - Abigail Breslin
Mrs. Kittredge - Julie Ormond
Mr. Kittredge - Chris O'Donnell
Miss Dooley - Jane Krakowski
Mr. Gibson - Wallace Shawn
Will Shepard - Max Thieriot
Countee - Willow Smith
Mrs. Howard - Glenne Headly
Stirling Howard - Zach Mills
Uncle Kendrick - Kenneth Walsh
Ruthie Smithens - Madison Davenport
Miss Bond - Joan Cusack
Jefferson Berk - Stanley Tucci
Fredrich Berk - Dylan Smith
Billy - Douglas Nyback
Reporter - Dylan Roberts
Teacher - Martin Doyle
Mr. Pennington - Colin Mochrie
Hobo Doctor - Martin Roach
Roger - Austin Macdonald
Frances Stone - Brieanne Jansen
Florence Stone - Erin Hilgartner
Sheriff - Peter Macneill
Garden Club Ladies - Erin McMurty and Joanna Swan
Blonde Bully - Eddie Max Huband
Wallet Man - Frank McAnulty
Soup Kitchen Woman -  Anna Louise Richardson
Neighbor - David Talbot
Deputy - Darryn Lucio
Mr. Stone - John Healy
Mrs. Stone - Colette Kendall
Newsboy - Quincy Bullen
Classmates - Elizabeth Perez and Jordan Rackley
Sax-Playing Hobo - Eddie Graf
Hobo Boy - Liam Powley-Webster


A Thief in the Theater

Published in 2008; author Sarah Masters Buckley; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Summer's winding down. Kit has one more column to write for the paper, and decides to do it on the play Mr. Bell (the long-time boarder) is in, A Midsummer Night's Dream. She changes her mind to writing about how a play is made when the director announces this night's performance is the last one; they're doing Macbeth next. Going against theater superstition, she says the name of the play aloud in the theater instead of calling it The Scottish Play or The Play. She doesn't believe that it brings bad luck, but many of the actors, including Mr. Bell, are uneasy hearing the name. While Kit finds it baffling that adults are matter-of-factly discussing the remedy of repeating "Macbeth" thrice outside then spitting on the ground, she has to admit it's a pretty big coincidence that a huge piece of scenery collapses right after the announcement, and that the cash from the ticket sales is stolen the same evening.

The theater's not the only place beset with thieves. Stirling and a fellow newspaper boy have been accosted by a group of brothers who demand "protection money" and steal from them. They were around the theater the night of the theft, too...though Mr. Bell thought he saw a tall, thin man running off with the money. And there's the fact that one of the theater employees has spent time in jail, but it was for assault, not burglary (he says it was a fight, not an attack). But Mr. Bell's wallet is also oddly full, and when he gives Kit a dollar so she can get some ice (Stirling got beat up by the other boys) she recognizes it as the one she paid her admission with, due to the pink staining from when she hid it in her shoe. Plus he suddenly has extra money. And little accidents keep happening.

But as opening night approaches, things come to light. The employee who'd done jail time staged all the accidents, following what the former manager used to do (he died recently; now his daughter is manages the theater). Mr. Bell got money by selling his late wife's violin to another boarder, and by doing errands for one of the actresses. Now, that actress...she's sort of a prima donna. And has a ready supply of cash. That stained bill...and don't actors sometimes play genders opposite their own? Kit puts the pieces together and realizes she must be the thief. She, Stirling, and the manager go to confront her but her dressing room is empty save for a note about leaving the "unprofessional" production, and a train schedule in an overflowing waste basket. Stirling concludes that she's about to skip town. The manager is able to apprehend her in time and she gives back the money. Her understudy can play her part in the play (Lady Macbeth).

The problem with the bullies gets taken care of too. Stirling and the other newspaper boy they pick on defiantly sell papers without paying protection money, and Kit tells them about the pictures she happened to take of them threatening Stirling while she was getting her article ready (she doesn't mention that they're blurry). She says she'll make copies and send them to the police AND their mother. At least one of the threats sinks in, and the boys slink away.

The play opens to a packed theater. Even Uncle Hendrick attends, justifying the frivolity of a play with the slashed ticket prices. Kit and Stirling are given six free tickets for their help, and take Kit's parents, Stirling's mother, and Aunt Millie.

Looking Back

While Americans wanted and needed distractions from the strain of their day-to-day lives during the Great Depression, they often had trouble affording such luxuries as seeing movies or live plays, especially when there were exciting radio programs to listen free. Theaters offered special promotions like discounted tickets and prize drawings, but even then live theater struggled to stay afloat. The Federal Theatre (yes, officially "re" not "er") Project of 1935 endeavored to save live theater. It led to such memorable performances as the Orson Wells-directed version of Macbeth set in Haiti and performed entirely by African-Americans.


This book is dedicated to Alice Boyle.

Ruthie's not in this book; she's on vacation and Kit takes care of her fish while she's away.

Stirling gets a great line off on the bullies. As they leave, he yells after them for all to hear that if they want money, they should earn it like everyone else has to.

Mr. and Mrs. Bell were a married couple who rented a room in Really Truly Ruthie. Now it's just Mr. Bell selling his late wife's things. I don't recall reading about a death of one of the boarders.

This is the last Kit book. We never find out where Stirling's father went or what became of him.

Speaking of bad luck superstitions, this book has thirteen chapters.


Missing Grace

Published in 2010; author Elizabeth McDavid Jones; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


As the hot summer drones on, Kit finds another exciting story for her column: one night, a fire broke out in her family's home. Her basset hound Grace alerted everyone, saving them and the house from being damaged too much. The column has been so well-read that people take time out their days to stop by and the hero dog. Grace loves the attention, which makes it that much harder for Kit to make Grace sleep outside when a finicky boarder insists she can't stay with a dog in the house. Her family needs the money, so Kit fixes up a bed on the screened-in porch for Grace, and sadly makes the dog stay there.
But in the morning, Grace has disappeared. Someone broke part of the screen and opened the door. Was it Kit's bully of a classmate, Roger, or his friend Butch? They were mocking Grace the day before; maybe they took her as a prank, and Butch is often lonely at home--his mother is dead and his father travels on business, leaving his son in the care of a housekeeper. A search of the surrounding neighborhoods provides no dog, but some potential clues. A young boy was seen leading a basset hound on a rope, and a family brought a newly-acquired basset hound into a pet to get supplies for it, despite not appearing to have much money at all (worn clothes, the wife very pregnant and possibly sick). Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling are able to determine that the family has been living at the hobo camp and visiting the soup kitchen, but lately no one's seen them. A trip to the hobo camp reveals that the family got a job shortly before the baby was born. The trio is able to track them down, but they explain they wouldn't think of getting a dog; their young son (not the baby) is allergic. But just after they hurry Kit away, a Cadillac pulls up and a man in fancy suit enters. Wait...didn't a Cadillac like that drive past Kit's house the day before Grace disappeared? And doesn't Butch's father own a Cadillac? Are all three cars the same one?
Whatever's going on, Grace isn't the only basset hound to go missing. Four others, all show-dog quality, have disappeared from the area in the past week. With the help of Ruthie's aunt's policeman fiance, Kit finds out that the Cadillac that went to the poor family's home belongs to show dog kennel out in the country. Was the family hired to steal dogs for the kennel? Ruthie's aunt offers to take Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling to the kennel. There they learn that the owner is selling one last litter of pedigreed puppies before shuttering the place. Between the hardships of the Great Depression and losing his wife, he doesn't have the heart to keep it up anymore. They also learn that a former employee named Flint was planning to start his own kennel in Canada. Kit starts to understand: Flint is stealing the dogs born to the old kennel's winningest basset hound to start his own kennel in another country. But why Grace?
Kit rushes back to the family that acted so evasive before. She's able to convince the son to talk with her, and he reveals that Flint offered his family a job and paid them upfront. Then he made them steal dogs under the threat of going to the police about the money. He had specifically looked for a desperate family who would spend the cash advance quickly, and then be trapped. Kit looks up Flint in the phone book, and the boy goes with her to his house. There, they find false registration papers partially filled out. He's going to pose as the stolen dog's owners and sell them for hundreds of dollars to fund the starting of his new kennel. There's also a newspaper clipping with a picture of Grace on which he's written a note indicating he believes Kit's rescue dog might be the missing puppy the old kennel believed to have been abandoned.
With the help of the boy's father, the police set up a sting operation to take place during a dog show, the next planned theft. Kit and Ruthie go too, and see Flint with Grace, getting ready to sell her. They try to intervene, but it's the word of a respected dog breeder against a couple of kids. Unwilling to give up, Kit calls for Grace to come, and the dog breaks free of Flint's grasp and bounds to her. The next few moments are a blur of wagging tails, barking, sirens, and chasing. The police catch Flint red-handed, knowing Grace to be stolen, and the fake registrations are in his car. The dogs will be back in their own homes.

Looking Back

During the Great Depression, many people had such a hard time feeding their families that they couldn't take care of pets. A great number of companion animals were abandoned when people had to make the heart-wrenching choice between a pet and a person. Those who could keep pets were grateful for the companionship, and for useful things a pet might do, like a dog guarding a home or a cat catching vermin. Some people entered their dogs in competitions, ranging from small neighborhood affairs that offered momentary distractions to high class events like the Westminster Dog Show. Of course, a pedigreed show dog is a lot of work, and one had to have disposable income for that.


This book is dedicated to "my husband Rick--life partner, friend, father of my children. Without his support and long hours of childcare, this book could not have been written."

When Grace has to sleep outside, it's described as the first night she and Kit haven't been side-by-side. Must be the first night in Kit's house, because she's spent the night at other places since finding Grace: her great-uncle's, his neighbor's, Aunt Millie's...

I have to say, the way the kennel owner talks about the dogs sounds like he's an excellent breeder. He's kept tabs on all the puppies sold, he cares about each animal, he made sure sure all the dogs were healthy. That's the sort of person you want to look for if you want a purebred dog. (There are also breed-specific rescues around, but of course it would be hard to get a show dog that way)


Danger at the Zoo

Published in 2005; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Kit just landed the perfect summer job: she'll be earning a dollar a week (about $15-16 today) to write a 250-word column in the newspaper! She's going to cover light topics, like events at the Cincinnati Zoo. The editor wants to keep interest in the paper, and he figures getting a child involved writing something for other children is the way to go. Kit is on cloud nine. She can interview Ruthie after her friend returns from the Grand Canyon, she can accompany Stirling on one of the guided tours he gives with his Boy Scout troop...she can hardly wait to start. Plus, she figures she can turn in the fluff pieces along with real stories. Maybe she'll get two dollars a week!

When she returns home with her good news, she's pleasantly surprised to see Will, her hobo friend. He's passing through on his way to farms in the Southeast, looking for a paying job to help his family, especially now that his mother's ill. Acting on a tip from Stirling, Will's able to get a job at the zoo. He's going to be around the Kittredge house for a bit still, as his first paycheck is still two weeks away. He'll help out with some chores in exchange for meals (they offer him Charlie's bed, since Charlie's back in Montana working but he declines in favor of sleeping outside). Kit sees him working there when Stirling takes her on a tour. She also sees some people striking for better pay, and wonders if that might her real story. Or maybe she can write a column encouraging the zoo to have one free day a month so people who are destitute can take their minds off their troubles. Or maybe something exciting at the zoo: the superintendent informs Will that he left a cage door in the monkey house unlocked, despite Will's protests that he secured it. Both Will and the superintendent are so sure of themselves. Did someone else unlock the door? The same thing happens again a few days later. Kit also overhears a gruff zoo janitor complaining about the cost of the improved zoo exhibits when his pay isn't that great. Maybe he had something to do with the lock. Kit's sure there's a big story hiding the zoo.
Strange things are happening at home too. Food starts disappearing, just a few peaches here and a loaf of bread there, but the food budget is strained enough already. Since Grace hasn't barked a warning or hello to anyone, whoever's taking the food must be someone she knows, someone in the house. Stirling gingerly points out that Will is a likely suspect. Kit doesn't want to admit that; she likes Will too much. Stirling also hopes Will is innocent, but says they can't rule him out. Late one night, Kit sees a man in a fedora scurry through the backyard. Will doesn't have a fedora...this must prove he's above-board! But she's reluctant to tell her parents, fearing they'll still blame Will for bringing riff-raff around, especially the next morning when her dad discovers his suit is missing.

Kit gets so focused on the mysterious happenings that she slacks with her newspaper stories, and they're both rejected. Ashamed, she resolves to focus on delivering what the editor asked her for, and one of the new boarders even helps her with the piece. But can't completely ignore the rest of what's going on, especially when she and Stirling realizes that someone might be planning to steal an animal from the zoo (maybe the baby rhesus monkey?) and the theft will almost certainly happen during the Fourth of July celebration. Their families will be attending anyway, so they just have to slip away from them and guard the monkeys. After some confusing bit of plot, it all comes out that a homeless man who's been hanging out around the zoo used to work for a circus, and had raised the new chimpanzee from infancy. He's Hungarian and only speaks a little bit of English, so he wasn't able to tell the zookeepers, except for one who knew the animal's background and was planning to reunite the pair (he feared the chimpanzee would die of loneliness; his old keeper worried the zoo would go broke and be forced to sell the animals). The keeper is reprimanded for not bringing this to the attention of the superintendent sooner--of course he would have done what was best for the animal!--and the Hungarian man is offered a position at the zoo until he and the chimpanzee are settled. Will is exonerated! Kit is inspired and again turns in two newspaper articles, the one asked for and one about the Hungarian man. Both are accepted.

The other mystery is soon out in the open too: one of the new boarders is hiding the fact that she's married. She's a teacher, and married teachers are in danger of losing their jobs so single women can have them, as it's assumed a married woman will have a husband to provide for her. But her husband is unemployed himself, so she's been the sole provider. He'd been living in the hobo camp, and borrowed the suit for some interviews, thinking he could return it before anyone noticed. Everyone agrees to keep things quiet, happy to finally know what's going on. The other new boarder, who had been grating on Mrs. Kittredge's nerves, also has a surprise. She's made a beautiful quilt for Mrs. Kittredge, to thank her for opening her home to so many people.

Looking Back

The Cincinnati zoo has been around for decades, and during the Great Depression twenty-five cent visits and stories about it in the newspaper offered people a chance to unwind from their stress. The building which held apes and monkeys in Kit's time (reptiles today) is America's oldest zoo building still in operation. Its long-time superintendent, Sol Stephan, was a pioneer in making realistic habitats for animals, instead of just bars and concrete. He started doing that in the 1910s. Today, his vision is the norm for zoo exhibits.


This book is dedicated to "every girl who dreams of being a writer."

I guess it's 1932 again, since the newspaper editor says June 20 is a Monday. Even though Kit's done with fifth grade now.

And then a few pages later the text specifically points out that 1933 was two years ago.

There are two new boarders, a widow who quilts and a younger woman who teaches high school English. Mr. West from the last book is nowhere to be found. Mr. Peck is still there, and of course Stirling and his mother.

Monkeys and apes aren't the same thing. Zookeepers should know that.

Kit reflects that it's too bad money is so tight that her mother worries about someone stealing just one loaf of bread. I bake bread a lot, and I'd be mad not only because of the money issue, but because bread takes forever to make. (I don't use a bread machine; two of my three main recipes wouldn't work in one)

When my mother was very young, a zoo lion in cage peed on her through the bars.  Last year, a tapir at the Woodland Park Zoo (awesome zoo: www.zoo.org) would have done the same to me had it not been behind glass in an exhibit with lots of plants and space to run around.


Intruders at Rivermead Manor

Published in 2014; author Kathryn Reiss; illustrator Sergio Giovine


As autumn arrives, Kit's great-grandfather hires her to do errands and chores again. The cold weather is causing his arthritis to act up. One day she happens to hear a faint cry coming from next door, and finds an elderly neighbor of his, Miss Mundis, in her front yard, having twisted her ankle. Kit helps her inside and fixes her some food. The woman declines Kit's offer to get a doctor, but instead hires Kit to do some chores for her after she finishes at her great-uncle's (provided her parents don't mind). She promises to pay better than cheap Uncle Hendrick. After talking with Uncle Hendrick--and seeing him turn away a distraught woman named Mrs. Addison who's desperate for work so she can provide for her five children after being abandoned by her husband--Kit learns that working Miss Mundis at Rivermead Manor would be relaxing and intriguing. Apparently Miss Mundis is very into science fiction, and Uncle Hendrick thinks she might actually believe the stories she reads. Plus, she learns at a school assembly that Rivermead Manor might have been part of the Underground Railroad! While she's excited, Kit resolves to keep an eye out for Mrs. Addison. She could use the work more than Kit could.

As anticipated, Miss Mundis is full of odd notions. She thinks time travelers are living in her home, passing through a time portal in a hidden room that once helped slaves escape north to Canada. Kit isn't sure what to think of Miss Mundis. She's nice, but time travelers? Uncle Hendrick says that growing up, Miss Mundis's family was "too grand" for him to associate much with her, but that she's pleasant and certainly not dangerous. When Miss Mundis asks Kit to stay the night on a weekend so she can help out more, he sees no issue with the suggestion. Neither do Kit's parents. 

Before she heads to spend the night at Rivermead Manor, Kit accompanies Stirling to Ruthie's house. She's invited them over to look through the Smithens' things for props they can use in the skit they're performing about the Underground Railroad. Kit finds an old diary written by an escaped slave and starts poring over it. Oddly, Ruthie hurries Kit and Stirling out soon after it's found. Back at Kit's, she and Stirling get a closer look at the book. The girl who wrote it was from West Virginia? And knew how to write? And is that coffee on the pages, making them look older than they really are? Kit is furious. Ruthie made the stupid diary and planted it, just to make a fool of her. She confronts Ruthie and upbraids her, storming out of Ruthie's house before her ex-friend can react.

At Miss Mundis's house, things get strange. The woman is still convinced that time travelers are around. For evidence, she notes that a spill in the cellar is cleaned up and her store of lightbulbs is replenished. Kit isn't on board with things at first, but by morning she's baffled. She saw children's footprints in the dust and a Civil War era bonnet in the attic. Then she spent part of the night reading Miss Mundis's  science fiction stories, and some of the predictions, like airplanes, have come true. Later in the night, she heard voices and footsteps in the cellar, but couldn't find their source--just a cryptic note about being desperate. Miss Mundis is now more convinced than ever about her supernatural visitors. She thinks they're traveling from the 1860s, escaping slavery through a time portal in her house (Addy?). See, a jug of milk is missing, and in return the time travelers left a bouquet of asters. Kit almost has a solution when her family's new boarder, Mr. West, stops by to try to cajole Miss Mundis into making her home a boarding house. He's been by several times, trying guilt, bullying (he also berated Ruthie when he found out her father works at the bank that foreclosed on him), and now bribery. He's brought chocolates, maybe he also brought the flowers? But he denies it, and Kit can see how he would have gotten in.

But she does see a young girl darting into the bushes behind Miss Mundis's house. An African-American girl. For a wild moment she wonders if Miss Mundis is right, then she remembers her friend Jessamine, who she used to play with but has moved away after her father lost his job (at Kit's father's car dealership). Has Jessamine's family or another fallen on hard times, and is now hiding out in Miss Mundis's house? She happens to see Jessamine leaving her school on Monday, and tails her to an orphanage. There, Jessamine introduces Kit to two young children she visits. They lived near Jessamine until their mother died and their father left to find work. He must be having trouble, because he hasn't sent money in a while. It's not a very orphanage; the children work most of the day, are fed little, punished harshly for minor infractions, and hardly have any free time. Jessamine sneaks them books and food when she can. But Jessamine clams up when Kit asks for Jessamine's address to bring some more books, and takes off. Kit's more confused now than before.

At least when she returns home, Ruthie is there for her. Kit now understands that Ruthie meant for Kit to have an adventure and be caught up in the excitement for a moment, not to deceive her or make a fool of her. Now made up, Kit and Ruthie go to Miss Mundis's with Stirling. Kit's friends visit with Miss Mundis while Kit does her chores at Rivermead Manor and Uncle Hendrick's. She discovers that the clothes her great-uncle had so carefully set in the attic have been picked through. And then she realizes that the handwriting of the note she found earlier matches Uncle Hendrick's. But that note was (actually) old. What's going on?

Before she has time to process anything, she and her friends see Jessamine again. They follow her back to the orphanage, where she's meeting her two friends again. But only the sister shows up; her brother's been locked away somewhere all day as punishment for reading during chore time. The five children surreptitiously search the area, and find him in a dark closet in the barn. Jessamine helps the siblings escape after they tell her literally anything is better than living at the orphanage. They'll go to the hobo camp for a while, then ride the rails to Cleveland where their uncle lives. They imply that Jessamine's helped others before, but again Jessamine won't tell Kit what they mean, or where she's living now.

Kit soon finds out what they mean. Mrs. Addison's five children had been at the orphanage, and Jessamine helped them escape. Their toddler sister was separated from the rest, and they couldn't bear being kept apart in such terrible conditions. They've been hiding in an old passage that connect Miss Mundis's house with Uncle Hendrick's. In fact, the two were once in love. Uncle Hendrick proposed, but Miss Mundis turned him down because she know her parents wouldn't approve. The scrap of paper Kit found in the cellar were old love notes from Uncle Hendrick, and he's the one who's been sneaking in to do repairs (the children did take the milk, out of desperation; Jessamine brought them food whenever she could). Miss Mundis insists the Addisons live with her. Their mother can work as a maid, and the older children can also help out. With the extra help, she can take in some boarders and make her home feel alive again. And she'll be sure to keep up with Uncle Hendrick, too. The spark is gone, but they still care for one another.

Uncle Hendrick starts up his car to give Kit and her friends rides home. It's then that Kit finally learns where Jessamine lives. Her parents are employed at the school, as a mechanic and a janitor. They live in a storage shed, without permission. Kit promises not to tell.

At home, Kit sets up her typewriter. She's going to tell the world about the abuse at the orphanage, and find a way to fix things there.

Looking Back

The historical section talks briefly about the Underground Railroad, which likely had routes through Cincinnati, as the city was so close to the Mason-Dixon line (nothing's been confirmed, but there are some very suggestive tunnels). It goes on to discuss how it was incredibly difficult for minorities to find work during the Great Depression. Some soup kitchens wouldn't even allow non-whites in. In desperation, some families sent their children to orphanages, where they would at least have their most basic needs met. Then as now, there were many dedicated people working in orphanages, but some orphanages were harsh places to live. Children often had to work for their keep (like Nellie in Changes for Samantha), and sometimes living parents were charged for their children's expenses. If they couldn't pay, the children would be eligible to be placed for adoption. With all the stress of the Depression, people turned to far-out fantasy and science fiction stories as escapism.


This book is dedicated "with love to our two youngest children, Dolores and Raymond--brave adventurers both. And special thanks to Louise Reiss for the yummy description of Cincinnati chili." Special thanks is also given to Judy Woodburn on the publication page.

Okay, Uncle Hendrick does have arthritis. Now it makes sense for the penny-pincher to have someone else shine his shoes. (Not to say every able-bodied person shouldn't, just that it seems like a strange expense for a miser.)

I was hoping for more resolution with Mr. West. Yes, it would be nice for people with large houses to let out rooms, but it seemed a bit unreasonable to expect an elderly, practically feeble woman to take on such a task.


Midnight in Lonesome Hollow

Published in 2007; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


Kit's spending some of her summer break with Aunt Millie in the hills of Kentucky. One thing they do often is visit Aunt Millie's former students in Lonesome Hollow and deliver books for them to borrow. Kit has grown attached to one girl in particular, Fern, who lives with her grandmother and older and younger brothers. Fern and her younger brother are welcoming, but their older brother is brooding and terse. Rumor has it that he gave up a paying job at a mine far away, and now he seems to just go wandering through the woods or stay at home resting. Kit's confused by this, but doesn't want to pry. Plus there's worse news: some people from the government are concerned about the welfare of Fern and her younger brother, and might force them to go to an orphanage (the older brother is 17; the parents and grandfather are deceased). Apparently Fern's brother has a plan to earn some money before that would happen, but he won't tell anyone what it is. Fern is worried that it might be illegal or dangerous, and explain why he goes wandering off. Again is worried but doesn't want to pry.

The evening after she's learned about Fern's troubles, Kit and Aunt Millie head to the shuttered schoolhouse for a meeting with the people of the town. They're discussing whether it's feasible to open the school again. The students would love it, and the parents know the education would be wonderful, but they don't know if they can spare their children for even a little bit, as they all are pitching in to help make ends meet. Even if the children could attend, where would they get the money for school supplies like pencils and paper? No one dismisses the idea outright, but it's clear that they need to come up with a solid plan before moving forward.

Kit's nonetheless excited. She received a package from her friends in Cincinnati, and is sure it contains the books she asked them to donate to Aunt Millie's "traveling library." It does, but the books and magazines have been torn and defaced. Kit is almost certain she saw Fern's older brother skulking about during the school meeting...could he have destroyed the books? He heard Kit telling Fern about them.

Kit doesn't have time to ponder the mystery long. A college professor, Miss Lucy, is visiting to record information about basket weaving, which she fears is a dying art. Many of the people in town are skeptical of her, thinking she'll make them out to be ignorant hillbillies, but with Kit's help she's able to interview a few people and gain some trust. One woman even agrees to let Miss Lucy hire her son to drive them from house to house in a wagon (the roads aren't really roads so much as stretches of woods between houses, and Miss Lucy's camera equipment is heavy). She and Kit take detailed notes, and Miss Lucy also expertly sketches and photographs the baskets. One house they visit is a mile up a steep path, too unsteady to take the camera. But they get wonderful notes and sketches there, after a bit of awkwardness between a young women there and Fern's brother, who seems taken with the young woman. Unfortunately, when they get back to the wagon they'd ridden on the trail head, they find the camera damaged and the glass plates holding the negatives smashed, and Kit had slipped on the path and gotten much of their work wet. Kit is more convinced than ever that Fern's brother is causing trouble, seeing as he stormed away before Kit and Miss Lucy left. But why would he do that?

The next night, Kit gets to spend the night at Fern's. She discloses some of her suspicions to her friend, but only vaguely. They hear her brother sneak out when it's dark, and follow him. They're not as good at being stealthy as they think, and he soon catches on to them. The truth comes out, but not the one Kit was expecting. He's been sneaking out to guard a valuable ginseng crop and to learn to how to read from Aunt Millie, because an honest logging company is making its way to Lonesome Hollow, and if he can read and write he can get a job managing some of the land and also make sure it's properly taken care of. He didn't destroy anything of Kit's or Miss Lucy's. The only reason he's been standoffish is that he's upset someone stole the ginseng and he resents feeling like a charming exhibit or a laughingstock because of the cultural differences between his people in Appalachia and those in the rest of America. Kit reassures him that she and Miss Lucy are genuinely interested because they care about the people in Lonesome Hollow and want to get to know them, not because they want to mock them. She apologizes for misjudging him and for any time she might have acted as if she were better than they, whether she meant to or not. But Kit still doesn't know what happened to the books and the camera's glass plates.

The next day another package of books arrives for Kit, and she opens it immediately so that whoever ripped and wrote on the last set can't get to this one. But she realizes that no one broke into the package. People aren't sending the books and magazines they don't read anymore, they're sending books so worn out they can hardly be called books. There's also a letter in the package, praising Kit for helping the "unfortunates" and hoping the "mountaineers" can use the cast-offs. Kit finds the letter and the state of the books insulting, but Aunt Millie encourages Kit to find a silver lining: some of the books are useable, and the people meant well. She and Kit sort the books into ones that are salvageable and ones that are beyond repair. There's a party in town that evening, something to liven the town's sagging spirits. The children, all Aunt Millie's former students, help repair the books and cut pictures from the badly damaged ones to paste into blank journals and make their own stories. Their parents are thrilled to see their children learning again, and agree that meeting in the evening, after chores, is something their families could manage from time to time. Miss Lucy's brother, a musician who works with a radio station, is in town for the party, and is very excited to hear the bluegrass and country music the people Lonesome Hollow play. He's brought a recording machine to capture the music, which could lead to paying jobs with the radio station.

Suddenly, Kit has a flash of insight. She knows who destroyed the glass plates, and he might smash the camera itself and the recorder too. Without stopping to explain, she runs to where the equipment is hidden, and sure enough, finds the boy who'd been driving the wagon standing over them with a hammer. His father died after a long illness that came upon him when he had to debase himself to find work, and the boy can't help feeling vengeful toward outsiders, especially outsiders who took him from his work tending his father's farm. But he couldn't bring himself to smash the machines. Kit is relieved that they've found the culprit and a remorseful one at that, especially since she wants Miss Lucy's brother to record Fern's beautiful singing voice.

As Kit thought, Miss Lucy's brother is stunned at Fern's singing. He takes the recording back to his radio station in Chicago, and Fern gets offered a record contract! The company even sends advance money, enough to keep the government from taking the children without Fern's brother having to go back to the back- and spirit-breaking mining labor. The boy who broke the glass plates has worked off his debt and made things right with Miss Lucy, the young woman Fern's brother was seeing is talking about marriage, Aunt Millie's former students have opportunities to learn, and Fern's family won't get split up any more than it already has. Mystery--and a whole lot of other things--solved.

Looking Back

Because the people in Appalachia had long been geographically isolated in the hilly region stretching from New York to northern Mississippi and Alabama, many modern technologies didn't catch on. People didn't see the need for them as long as their traditional ways worked, and since little of their towns modernized, the traditional ways seemed better. When railroads finally gave Appalachia easy access to the surrounding areas, they were often seen as quaint or even backward. Journalists soon began documenting their lifestyle, some with the intention of recording it for posterity but others seeking to exploit them, even asking people to pose with technology outdated for Appalachia and exaggerating reports of "clan" feuds. Coal mines and logging companies bought up huge tracts of land and employed the Appalachian people, but the work was dangerous and paid poorly. When the Depression hit, the companies shut down, and many found it difficult to farm in the gutted landscape, and came to distrust "outsiders" after their experiences with the dishonest journalists and unethical businesses. The Depression was especially hard there. Appalachia stills has high levels of poverty today, but its cultural contributions and people ensure that it remains an important part of the United States.


This book is dedicated to "Scott, patron of the arts."

When Fern's brother was described as acting tired a lot, I thought he had black lung or something from working in the coal mines.


Kit and Millie Ride Again

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Rane, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Kit is visiting Aunt Millie in Lonesome Hollow, where she lives with her friend Myrtle. One day Kit and Aunt Millie ride Myrtle's mule to Aunt Millie's schoolhouse, no longer in use. They clean it up anyway, dusting the books and making sure everything's in good shape, in hopes that it will be used again soon. Kit and Myrtle share Aunt Millie's displeasure that her former students have no way to get new books to keep their minds sharp; they're all so busy working their farms, especially with so many of their fathers at jobs far away. They're grateful for the jobs of course, but the men have to leave home for weeks or months at a time. That evening, as Kit watches a dewdrop snake its way from thread to thread on a spiderweb, she gets an idea. She and Aunt Millie can ride the mule around to different homes, snaking their way through the trails like the dewdrop, and deliver books to the children. They'll be like a traveling library. Aunt Millie and Myrtle love the idea too, and in the morning Kit and Aunt Millie set out.

But no one wants to borrow the books. They all politely refuse, saying there's no time to read them with all the chores or that they're concerned about outside influences. Confused and discouraged, the pair returns home. They tell Myrtle that everyone was friendly, offering them something to drink or eat or just a visit, but no one took any books. Myrtle immediately knows what went wrong: they turned down all the offers. Just like Kit didn't want to accept Ruthie's old Christmas dress as charity, the families don't want to borrow the books for nothing.

The next day they set out again, armed with knowledge about the town's culture. Kit asks for contributions to her Waste-Not Want-Not Almanac ranging from quilt patterns to soap recipes and they accept offers of food and drinks, and by the ends of their visits everyone accepts books. The Almanac is bursting with new entries and Aunt Millie's students can continue their studies. It's a success all around!

Looking Back

The Great Depression hit people in Appalachia hard. These sparsely-populated communities were already geographically isolated and often had very little money. While the people who lived there were proud of their traditional lifestyle, they were, like anyone else, eager to learn. One of the Works Progress Administration programs was to fund the delivery of library books by horseback. Other areas provided delivery with wagons or trucks, but the narrow trails and hills of Kentucky were inaccessible them. Most people were thrilled to have access to books, especially those confined to their homes because of illness (a few were concerned that the books might be bad influences, though). Because some people felt awkward taking the books without paying for them, they might offer recipes or quilt patterns in exchange.


It seems very convenient for the plot that Aunt Millie wouldn't understand that she and Kit shouldn't have refused the offers of food.


Changes for Kit

Published in 2001; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


It's the coldest winter Cincinnati has seen in almost three decades. Kit is painfully aware of the freezing temperatures when she gives away her old coat to a young homeless girl (her family made a "new" one out of a coat of her father's), and wishes she could do more to help the great number of people suffering. Suddenly, she's jerked out of her thoughts with the news that her great-uncle has fallen and badly broken his ankle and wrist. He'll need to stay with Kit's family until he heals. There's room for him; Aunt Millie and a pair of boarders have moved out...but he's so hateful! It's going to be hard to get along with him in the house.

Kit ends up doing most of the work taking care of Uncle Hendrick. Her father has a part-time job at an airport, and her mother is always busy with housework. He's as cantankerous as ever, and even Kit's friendly dog Grace doesn't like him or his nasty Scottie dog. A common chore he has for Kit is writing letters. He broke the wrist on his dominant hand, and dictates letters to the newspaper for her copy down. His letters are full of ire for the President's work programs (and in all fairness, one was declared unconstitutional and some were failures, though many worked well). Kit finds herself biting her tongue to avoid arguing with the man. Arguing will mean spending more time with him. Instead, she writes her own letter to the editor. After all, her great-uncle's letters are often printed, so she knows exactly what the editor is looking for. She writes about the plight of homeless children, hoping to inspire people to help them. She knows her great-uncle wouldn't approve, considering such charity just throwing good money after bad.

On the way to deliver her own letter and her great-uncle's to the newspaper, Kit accompanies Stirling and Ruthie to a soup kitchen, where they donate some of Ruthie's clothes, outgrown but still in good repair. Kit has with her the camera her brother fixed up for her, and gets a brainstorm. With the permission of the soup kitchen director, parents, and children, she takes pictures of the homeless children, showing their poverty. She delivers her letter with the roll of film, hoping that the newspaper will print both and people will help the children.

The next day Kit's letter and some pictures are in the paper! Her great-uncle is at first indignant that a mere child would have such audacity, but Kit politely reminds him that she learned how to write to the editor from him. He stalks off, but there might have been a flash of respect on his face. The next week at school, Kit's classmates bring in armloads of coats and shoes. People that Kit and Stirling sold eggs to bring donations as well. Kit, Stirling, and Ruthie lug a wagonload of clothing to the soup kitchen, where the director tells them ever since the letter was printed, they've been inundated with donations for the children. Later, Kit delivers another missive of her great-uncle's to the newspaper. The editor sees her and asks if the letter is "one of his or one of yours." When he learns it's from her great-uncle he tells her wearily to drop it in his inbox...but that if Kit writes anything else, to bring it directly to him. She has the makings of a great journalist.

Looking Back

The historical section is about the efforts made to end the Great Depression. President Roosevelt and his cabinet made the New Deal, a series of programs designed to keep businesses like banks from failing (and insuring the money in them, preventing runs on banks) and to create jobs. Some jobs only lasted for a few months, and they were better than nothing. Drought gripped much of the South and Midwest, making things even worse. But gradually the economy improved. One final push out of the Depression came in the form of World War II. Factories opened to manufacture supplies for America's allies, and eventually for American troops themselves, after the US entered the war. Many young men were drafted into the war effort, and women joined the workforce in their place, in far greater numbers than before. When World War II ended, so did many of the women's jobs, but families had earned enough money to get themselves out of the financial straits of the Great Depression, and the veterans returned home to plenty of jobs.


This book is dedicated to "my mother Kathleen Martin Tripp, who inspired both Kit and me, with love and thanks."

I can sort of see but not quite the point Uncle Hendrick is making, that if too many people rely on charity, eventually the charity will run out of money and then even more people will be destitute. But even though some charity might be a crutch, people sometimes need crutches if they break their legs (ideally they also heal and can get along without the crutch later on). And I prefer that charities be privately-run rather than government-run, but this is an imperfect world, and people, especially children, can't always wait for non-government help.

At first I thought it was way too unrealistic for Kit's photographs to be developed so quickly, but as long as the newspaper had someone with a free hour or so, it's not that unreasonable. Developing one roll of black and white film doesn't take too long.


Kit's Tree House

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Rane, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Kit's mother is using some old curtain to reupholster some of the furniture, and a neighbor is helping her. The neighbor has twin toddlers and a baby, who Kit watches while the women work. The children are difficult, as kids those ages can be. To show their gratitude, her dad and Stirling use some newspaper pallets to build Kit the tree house she's been wanting since before the Depression cost her father his job. Kit's grateful for their effort...but the tree house is hideous and poorly constructed. Stirling isn't fooled, and later that night he and Kit meet in the tree house. He has the plans they once sketched, and points out that Kit can make the tree house an ongoing project, and make the improvements as time and materials allow. Kit agrees, and acknowledges that while isn't anywhere near the tree house she dreamed of, it was made with love. The next day, she invites her father and friends up the tree house: she's used the old material from the reupholstered furniture to decorate a bit. She's going to make the tree house her own.

Looking Back

As more and more people found their funds running out, houses got more crowded, and privacy was a luxury many longed for. Families who couldn't afford rent or a mortgage might move in with other family members or friends, or rent rooms from boarding houses. Some people had no options, and created makeshift homes out of whatever materials they could find. Homeless camps popped up in many cities, often called "Hoovervilles" by those who blamed President Hebert Hoover for prolonging the Great Depression.


Mrs. Pew is insane. You can't keep a house with two three-year-olds spotless. You can keep it clean (for example no drinks but water over the carpets, no eating outside of the kitchen/dining room), but kids are going to cause some messes unless you just stick them outside in a dog run or something.

I bet Kit was more than a little disappointed she didn't have the fun of working on the tree house. Isn't that half the point of having a tree house, getting to build it?


Kit Saves the Day

Published in 2001; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


It's now a year since Kit's father lost his job, and Kit feels stagnated. Her brother is working in Montana at Glacier National Park, with the Civilian Conservation Corps, but she's stuck at home doing the same boring chores. She gets some excitement when a young hobo named Will helps harvest the family's suburban garden in exchange for food. He enthralls Kit with stories about life on the rails. Will stays with the family briefly, helping them make preserves and teaching Kit and Stirling a bit about hobo life before he heads to a hobo camp, intent on catching the next train. Kit and Stirling are a little uncomfortable when he talks about faking illnesses to gain sympathy or taking what should be his fair share if he's shortchanged for this labor (his example is if he spends all day harvesting potatoes only to get two wormy ones as payment, he might slip two good ones in his pocket). The ten-year-olds aren't sure it's right for him to do that, but Will says essentially that desperate times call for desperate measures; that's why at 15 he's run away from his impoverished family so they can stretch their little money a bit further.

Soon after Will leaves, Kit realizes they didn't send him away with any food to share. Aunt Millie packs some of the harvest for Kit and Stirling to take to the hobo camp. Kit's excited to see where the adventurous hoboes live, but when she arrives, she sees how utterly destitute they are. She also notes that there are children, even babies, living there. They didn't jump on a train for the experience, they did it out of desperation. Seeing the conditions the hoboes live in makes Kit grateful for what she has. Maybe her clothes are too tight and there isn't quite enough food, but she has a home.

Another hobo, Lex, wanders over and starts trash-talking Will. He says he's the best freight jumper there is, and tells Kit and Stirling he can teach them how to do it. Will tries to discourage Kit, but Lex goads her into trying anyway. Stirling and Will come too, and it's a good thing, because the train leads them further from town, not closer as Lex said it would, and they get thrown off the train by railroad bulls (men hired to keep hoboes and tramps from riding the trains illegally)...and tossed in jail for a night. Will is able to give Kit his hat to disguise the fact that she's a girl, so the three won't be separated (Lex bailed as soon as the train stopped). It's not long before the sheriff has Kit remove the hat though, and he takes her to a different cell. As she's being dragged away, Will shows her one of the hobo symbols he taught her and Stirling: pretend to be sick. It doesn't take much pretending; the dinner was made partly of spoiled food (probably all the jail could afford). The sheriff lets her use the bathroom, and she's able to slip out a small window. She has to get back home to tell her family that Stirling's in jail!

It's a long way back home. Kit has to cross a high bridge and cling to the narrow edge when a train rushes by. She almost can't muster the energy to make it home, but the thought of Stirling and Will crammed in a jail cell overnight spurs her on. She finally makes it, and her parents borrow a boarder's car to rescue the boys. Kit takes the opportunity to tell the sheriff that should treat the hoboes with dignity, but he brushes her off. As Will leaves for Oregon to harvest apples--promising to try to stop in Montana to say hi to Charlie--Kit reflects that while she and Stirling are safe at home, the hoboes she met have no home. Someone should tell their story and help them. Maybe a young budding journalist.

Looking Back

Some areas of the country were hit harder by the Depression than others. Because of this, people sometimes traveled to find work, sometimes with no destination in mind. Hoboes would hitch illegal and dangerous rides by jumping on passing trains, hopeful that in a few stops, they'd be somewhere they could find work. Large groups of these travelers would congregate in make-shift camps, where they could bring any food or whatever they earned to share it with the other residents of the "jungles." Though homeless and without real employment, hoboes often had a sense of pride, because they did everything they could to earn what was given to them (one hobo was quoted describing the difference between hoboes, tramps, and bums: a hobo will travel and work, a tramp will travel but not work, and a bum will neither travel nor work). President Roosevelt's job programs offered opportunities for hoboes and others to have long-term employment. One especially popular program was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put people to work restoring and building parks. You can still find many parks today with CCC markers.


This book is dedicated to "Walter Rane, Ingrid Slamer, and Caitlin Waite, who brought Kit to life so artfully, with thanks."

It's sort of fitting that FDR would put people to work maintaining national parks, when his cousin Teddy Roosevelt was such a huge advocate of them.


Kit's Winning Ways

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Rane, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Ruthie's mother has entered her in a tennis tournament, but Ruthie knows she's not as good as her mother thinks she is, so she asks Kit to be her doubles partner. While Kit does enjoy tennis, she knows that playing with Ruthie will mean going to the country club. Her family used to be members, but can't afford it anymore. Kit doesn't want to be embarrassed and tries to decline, but Aunt Millie refutes all her excuses (she can sew Kit tennis whites from old sheets, she can help with Kit's chores, etc). So Kit agrees. There are a few awkward moments at the club, but Kit's able to have fun playing tennis. That is, until Roger the classroom bully shows up. He taunts Kit, saying she's a loser from a long line of losers: her dad lost his job, her brother lost out on going to college, her family lost its money. His teasing gets to Kit so much that it throws off her game. Charlie makes some time to practice with her though, and she gets her confidence back.

Even then, another visit from Roger destroys the progress she's made. Charlie is there to help again though: he says to use the energy she has from her anger toward Roger as fuel for the tournament. She follows his advice, and the extra energy hones her focus. She and Ruthie return serve after serve, and she's so focused that when she and Ruthie win the final game, she almost doesn't realize that they've won the tournament. And to think, Roger inadvertently helped!

Looking Back

Tennis was yet another way people could pass the time during the Depression: it was cheap, good exercise, and there were lots of open areas to play it. As people's periods of unemployment stretched longer and longer, tennis courts often fell into disrepair. The 1935 Works Progress Administration put Americans to work fixing up public areas like parks, and tennis courts were high on the priority list. Whether they played tennis themselves or not, most people enjoyed watching the sport or reading about in the paper. One popular sports hero was Helen Wills, who started winning tournaments in her teens. She popularized what we now think of as a tennis outfit: a short-sleeved polo shirt, an above-the-knee skirt (practically scandalous when she first wore one in the 1920s), and a visor. She retired from professional tennis in 1937 in her mid-thirties to pursue other interests, like writing and art. When Wills started playing tennis as a teenager, it was widely believed that tennis was too strenuous for girls and women, but her father, a doctor, thought otherwise. His confidence and her talent and dedication paid off: in 1924, Wills became the first woman to win the gold medal in Olympic tennis.


I wouldn't be surprised if Ruthie's "dilemma" about the tournament was partly a ruse to help Kit have some fun without making her feel like a scrounge.


Kit's Home Run

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Rane, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Kit and Stirling are playing catch in the yard, talking about their favorite baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds. While going for a wild throw, Kit crashes into Mrs. Howard's rose trellis, crushing the plants. Mrs. Howard is upset, and scolds the children for playing such a rambunctious game. Don't they know that Stirling is delicate, and that girls shouldn't do such unladylike things? Kit's genuinely sorry about the rose bushes, but things Mrs. Howard is exaggerating about baseball being bad. Stirling's health isn't as bad as she thinks it is, and baseball is fun plus good exercise. Kit uncharitably thinks to herself that all Mrs. Howard does around the house is clean her room and tend the rosebushes. She doesn't do any other chores, now that Aunt Millie does them. Stirling himself has a job selling newspapers: he's more useful than his mother.

A short time later, Kit and some of her friends play a pick-up game of baseball. Kit hits a home run with the bases loaded: a grand slam! But in diving for home, she ends up with a black eye and a cut lip. Her dress is covered in dirt and blood, but her wounds are fairly superficial at least. She heads home, but once there remembers that the only person home is Mrs. Howard. How is she supposed to help Kit? But Mrs. Howard, who volunteers at the hospital, quickly gets Kit cleaned up and inspects her injuries, gently comforting her as she does so. Kit's split lip needs stitches, and walks her to the hospital (no money for a cab). Kit's grateful for Mrs. Howard's fussiness now; it's nice to be taken care of when not feeling well. Mrs. Howard admits that it's nice to feel useful again. While they're waiting for a doctor, Mrs. Howard rinses out the washcloth Kit's been holding on her lip using the sink in the back of the gift shop. She and Kit chat a bit with the owner, who mentions that his wife is home with their two-week-old baby, and the plants in the gift shop have been suffering for it. Kit points out that Mrs. Howard is an avid gardener, and ends up getting her a job at the gift shop. Mrs. Howard doesn't mind baseball so much now!

To thank Kit, Mrs. Howard saves up some of her money and takes her and Stirling to a Cincinnati Reds game. Kit's favorite player hits a grand slam, and Kit explains to Mrs. Howard that his one run allowed three other players to score. She's not sure that Mrs. Howard understands, until on the way home Mrs. Howard comments that because of Kit's home run earlier, four good things happened: she got a job, she doesn't fuss over Stirling so much, Kit's parents have more rent money coming in, and Kit got to see a baseball game. Her grand slam really was grand.

Looking Back

Baseball has long been America's national pastime. During the Great Depression, people were still interested in the sport, but many couldn't afford tickets. Because of the lost revenue, some teams went bankrupt. The owner of the Cincinnati Reds was struggling to make ends meet, and didn't want to trade his better players because the team already had a poor record. He started scheduling the games for the evening, which allowed more people to attend after they finished their work day (here in Seattle, the Mariners usually start at 7:10 on weekdays; the team was formed in the 1970s). That was a huge success, and the stadium was often sold out. Baseball stayed popular even during World War II when many players were off fighting in the war. A women's league was formed and people gathered to watch them play. Kit would have been old enough to try out.


"Kit's split lip." Say that five times fast!

The player who hits the grand slam, Ernie Lombardi, was a real player. He had a great batting average (.306, best ever is Ty Cobb's .366; Lombardi ranks #123 of all time to date) and hit 190 home runs in his career, six of them grand slams.


Happy Birthday, Kit!

Published in 2001; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


Kit's collecting laundry, preparing for a boring day, when her Aunt Millie arrives from Kentucky for a surprise visit. The school she taught at shut down, and a friend has been wanting Aunt Millie to move in with her for a while, so before she takes the friend up on the offer, Aunt Millie's visiting her family. Her good humor and penchant for quoting Shakespeare infect the Kittredge home with laughter. She's also full of ideas for stretching and saving money: she brought seeds to plant, she shows Kit how to make sheets and clothes last longer with tricks like ripping a worn sheet in half and sewing the edges together, how to darn socks, how to cover stains and rips with embroidery, when to get the best deals on groceries, how being friendly can help with bartering, and all sorts of useful tricks. Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling don't want to forget any of it, and start writing up a book: Aunt Millie's Waste-Not, Want-Not Almanac.

Aunt Millie has an even more interesting idea coming up: she buys live chickens. Kit and Stirling can sell the eggs door-to-door. Kit's excited about the animals, and happy they won't be eating them. (Well, yet. I'm sure Aunt Millie wouldn't waste a chicken that's past its laying days) Her mother is a bit put off, and has seemed almost defensive about the changes Aunt Millie's making. But Kit's ready to give it a try, and enjoys taking care of the chickens. Soon there are eggs to sell, and Kit and Stirling set out. But at the first house, Kit feels embarrassed, because she knows her neighbor is thinking about how poor Kit's family has become. Stirling pipes up with how fresh the eggs are, and the neighbor buys a dozen, but Kit doesn't want to sell in the neighborhood anymore, and they walk a few streets over. They sell the eggs quickly to eager buyers and head home.

On the way, they find an abandoned, starving dog. There's a note on the collar: "Can't feed her anymore." Kit and Stirling load the dog on the now egg-free wagon they've been pulling and bring her to Aunt Millie, who will surely know what to do. Aunt Millie declares that they can get the dog well, and she'll be a good guard dog. But after getting some energy from the table scraps Aunt Millie feeds her, the dog sees the chickens and chases them...into the house and through the first meeting of Kit's mother's garden party in several months. When Kit explains what happened, her mother exasperatedly exclaims that she's grateful for Aunt Millie, but feels like her house isn't her own anymore. She stops herself from criticizing Aunt Millie in front of Kit further, and says to the dog that it seems she's here to stay. After Kit and Aunt Millie clean up the party mess and the dog, Kit confides that she was hoping for some small celebration for her upcoming birthday, but now there's no chance of anything, let alone the elaborate Robin Hood theme she'd fantasized about. Aunt Millie tells her not to give up hope. After all, a few hours ago the dog was a starving mess, and now she's clean and fed and resting happily in Kit's attic room. Kit wonders what to name the dog, and Aunt Millie says there's only one name for a dog so clumsy: Grace.

Grace soon starts earning her keep, spending most of her time guarding the chicken coop. Aunt Millie also plans something for Kit's birthday, and...comes to Kit's class to announce a Penny Pincher Party and invite everyone. The class starts laughing at Kit and Aunt Millie, and Kit feels more and more embarrassed and singled out. When Aunt Millie is done, Kit walks her to the school entrance, and bursts out about how humiliated she feels, and that she wishes Aunt Millie had never come. So Aunt Millie does the adult thing and leaves without saying goodbye. Kit and her parents are able to catch her at the train station, where Kit apologizes/grovels and shows her the Almanac, and asks if she can still help with the birthday party. Kit's parents also assure Aunt Millie that they appreciate the help she's been offering (as Aunt Millie fishes for compliments). She agrees to come back home with them. Kit's classmates love the party, and she realizes that at least most of them weren't laughing to be mean but were genuinely amused. She, Ruthie, and Stirling start talking about adding a chapter to their Almanac, about how to throw a great party.

Looking Back

Many children in Kit's time were born at home, often with the help of a doctor. But during the Depression, people had fewer children. Not as many people married, because young adults were staying home to work and contribute money to their households, and those that were married often didn't feel right bringing a child into such an uncertain world. Other married couples were separated, with the husband off trying to find work. Some husbands straight left, like Stirling's father, either out of embarrassment because of being unemployed or in the hopes that a single mother could more easily receive government assistance. People in rural areas were better off in some ways, provided they had farms that could produce. They might not be able to afford electricity or running water, but they could grow their own food and trade the extra for other things like clothing (or if they had sheep or cotton, make their own clothing). People got creative with how to make ends meet. Goods such as flour were sold in cloth bags, and the bags were repurposed as cloth for all sort of clothing, from diapers to dresses.


This book is dedicated to "Tamara England, Sally Wood, and Judy Woodburn, with thanks."

Again, the later three books were published the year after the first three. I wonder if all of them will be like that now.

Millie is actually the adoptive mother of Kit's father. She and her late husband Birch took him in as a boy after his parents died, and Aunt Millie is how she's always been addressed by Kit's father and his family (except Kit's mother, who thinks it's more appropriate to call her Miss Millie because apparently people can't decide what they'd like to be called).

Really? A fourth grader lets off steam and you leave without saying goodbye or giving her a chance to apologize? I understand that Aunt Millie's feelings were hurt, but what a martyr.

One my grandmothers was born around this time, at home. And big surprise for everyone: so was her twin sister. They were both small, as twins often are. The doctor instructed their parents to keep the oven warm and leave its door open, and put the girls in a basket on the open door to keep them from getting dangerously cold, and that he'd be back in the morning to see if they survived the night. They're both still here!


Kit Uses Her Head

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Rane, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling are talking about ideas for the school newspaper when the nurses boarding at the Kittredge house notice Ruthie's "poison ivy" rash. They inspect all three children and confirm their suspicions: it's scarlet fever. They call a county nurse who imposes a quarantine on the trio. They still want to submit a column to the newspaper and Kit manages to type up an article about advice for President Roosevelt before the illness really hits her, but the nurse burns it, not wanting to spread the illness further. The next week or so is pretty miserable for them three kids, but they soon feel well enough to be bored. They're still contagious, though, so they can't leave their quarantine room yet. Because they're finally feeling better, they get pretty rambunctious, and the nurse is constantly admonishing them on her visits, telling them to "use your heads" to avoid spreading the disease to others or causing relapses in themselves. Kit's mother agrees, for their health and out of consideration for the other residents of the house.

Just in time, a batch of letters from their classmates arrives. The trio now passes the time typing up responses and offering advice for the different problems, like the student who's having trouble remembering the names of the Great Lakes or the other who can't decide on a book for his book report. Even though they know the nurse is collecting their papers to burn, they have so much fun they keep doing it.

When the quarantine is finally lifted and Kit, Stirling, and Ruthie return to school, they're shocked to find their advice printed in the school paper. They happen to see the nurse driving around later on, and flag her down to ask her about it. It turns out that she hated to see all their hard work going to waste, especially since they were keeping quiet like she asked and their advice was so funny and creative. She traced all of Stirling's drawings and retyped the letters before she burned them, and then delivered them to their teacher.

Looking Back

In the 1930s, there was no treatment for scarlet fever, and while most people recovered fine and few adults caught it, it can cause some serious complications like heart or liver damage and even death. It also opens the door to other illnesses like meningitis, which itself can cause blindness, deafness, paralysis, amputation, and death. People with scarlet fever were kept under quarantine for six weeks to avoid causing an epidemic of the disease. When the quarantine was lifted, everything the sick person had used was disinfected of burned (like the Velveteen Rabbit). After penicillin started being used medicinally during World War II, scarlet fever and related illnesses like strep throat became minor annoyances for most people instead of serious issues.


Wouldn't it have made a ton more sense to quarantine the children at Ruthie's house? No boarders there, bigger house...

When you're prescribed antibiotics, take all the doses, even after you feel better (unless you have an allergic reaction, of course). You need to kill all the bacteria, and not leave the strong ones hanging on to propagate; that's how we get antibiotic-resistant strains. Vaccines are a good way to head off diseases before they start, but there's no vaccine for scarlet fever.

The Looking Back section mentions Mary Ingalls, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in By the Shores of Silver Lake that her blindness was caused by scarlet fever. Scarlet fever doesn't cause blindness, though. It's now believed that she either had a stroke or meningoencephalitis which caused her to loose her vision.

So, this whole blog is basically a big collection of book reports, huh?


Really Truly Ruthie

Published in 2008; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


After Kit and Ruthie enjoy their modified day-after Christmas outing with their mothers (window shopping, a picnic lunch: all free), Ruthie and her mom pick up her dad at work. While there, Ruthie notices a file on her father's desk with a note that the Kittredge family will be evicted if they don't come up with $200 (more than $2500 today) by December 28. Ruthie knows that they think they have until January 2: "after the holidays." Kit's father is gone for about a week for a short job, and while he's going to bring pay back with him, he's going to be too late.

Ruthie rushes to tell Kit, and tries to offer her a little money, but Kit politely turns her down as Ruthie's ten dollars won't come close. Uncle Hendrick has already refused to help. Thinking quickly, Ruthie asks about Aunt Millie, who raised Kit's father. Kit agrees that she'd be willing to help, but she doesn't have a phone and there's no time to send a letter. Ruthie comes up with a plan: she'll use her ten dollars to buy train fare for her and Kit to go see Aunt Millie in person. The next day, Kit meets Ruthie at the train station, but her brother Charlie is with her. Kit told Charlie about the plan, and he's there to stop Ruthie's hair-brained scheme. Ruthie protests that she already bought the tickets, and they have to at least try. Charlie relents, but goes in Kit's place to provide a little protection.

On the way to Aunt Millie's secluded Appalachian town, Charlie comments that Ruthie is very trusting of strangers, and hopes that she doesn't have to learn the truth about human nature too soon or too harshly. Ruthie counters that she'd rather believe most people are good.

When they arrive, Aunt Millie immediately agrees to help. She gets the money from the bank and hands it to Ruthie, who Charlie says deserves the honor of carrying it. But they've missed the last train back. Aunt Millie won't let them give up though. She gets the town to flag down a passing train that wouldn't normally stop there (I guess it's the express). The engineer knows Aunt Millie, and lets Ruthie and Charlie board. When they get back to Cincinnati, Charlie takes a moment to thank Ruthie sincerely and humbly for her help and caring. He then invites her in so she can tell everyone the good news. But Charlie's gratitude gives Ruthie pause. The people who helped them on their journey, Aunt Millie's eagerness...they all helped because it was the right thing to do and out of love. Isn't that why Ruthie decided to visit Aunt Millie, because she care so much about Kit and her family? Before she'd been excited to prove that she can be realistic and useful despite her love of fairy tales, but now she doesn't want to play the part of a hero, not in the face of the Kittredge family's desperation. She asks Charlie to keep her part in the adventure a secret, and heads home.

A few days later, Ruthie is playing with Kit and Sterling. Charlie and his parents are talking about how happy they are to have not lost their home. Mr. and Mrs. Kittredge start praising Charlie for his bravery and ingenuity in visiting Aunt Millie. He looks at Ruthie and asks permission to tell the whole story, and she acquiesces--Aunt Millie will tell soon enough anyway. Charlie grins and starts to tell the real story, the one about Kit's creative and caring friend.

Looking Back

Whenever a friend falls on hard times, it's natural to want to help them out. But it can be hard to do without the friend feeling like a charity case or a leech; it has to be done the right way. During the Depression, people like Ruthie's family found ways to help the less fortunate without damaging their pride. Sometimes people would organize "parties" that left the guest of honor with donations of food or money but also provided everyone involved with a fun afternoon. Others found or created jobs, like a teacher in Virginia who hired a destitute student to do chores. With the money the student earned, she was able to help support her family and still attend school. Still other people would leave donations anonymously. The government had aid programs as it does today, but those were short-term solutions. To make a bigger impact, the government put people to work fixing up national parks and other needed services.


This book is dedicated to "Robert Schuyler Heuer, with love."


Kit's Surprise

Published in 2000; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


As Christmas approaches, Kit finds herself feeling awkward around Ruthie. Her family hasn't really been affected by the Depression, and Ruthie's love of fairy tales causes her to talk about fanciful wish fulfillment. Meanwhile, Kit has to wear clothes that are too small or have been let out because her family can't afford to buy new ones. Ruthie tries to cheer Kit up and sympathize with her, but Kit increasingly finds her friend's optimism annoying and too unrealistic to be useful. Ruthie also tries to help Kit out now and then by doing things like paying for Kit's movie ticket so she can go to the theater, but Kit doesn't like feeling like Ruthie's charity case. One day, the girls are surprised to find Ruthie's father visiting with Kit's parents. He works at the bank that holds the Kittredges' mortgage, and is warning them that he can only hold off foreclosure for so long before his boss will reclaim the house. Kit's mother asks her awful Uncle Hendrick for help, but he just lectures her about how the family should have been more careful with their money. He also insists that she visit him every day, but Kit's mother is too busy. Kit jumps at the chance to do something to help her mother.

Her great-uncle spends the time ordering Kit around and criticizing her, and taking shots her family. Even his Scottie dog is spiteful. But there is one good thing: he had given Kit's mother a nickel for the streetcar, which Kit missed, and doesn't want it back. He also gives Kit two more nickels for the next day's trip. Kit rationalizes that if he didn't want the first nickel back and only cares that she arrives on time, it's fine to skip the streetcar and save the nickels.

When she returns home from her first day of being berated by her elderly relative, Ruthie is there with a present. It's the Christmas dress Ruthie had last year, altered to fit Kit, and tickets to the ballet and a special tea (Kit and Ruthie have a tradition of seeing the ballet and going to tea with their mother the day after Christmas, but Kit's family can't afford it). Ruthie is trying to help, but Kit bristles when her friend thinks a new dress will make everything better. She doesn't want to be a charity case, and is hurt that her friend doesn't seem to understand that Kit can't enjoy frivolities anymore. Ruthie is also hurt, that her friend seems to be shutting her out and shutting her down. They fight, and part ways furious at each other. It doesn't take long for Kit to regret what she said, but Ruthie is too angry to hear an apology. So Kit starts Christmas break without a best friend.

Seems like it may be just as well. Kit's great-uncle is keeping her busy. One errand he sends her on is to get his shoes shined, but when the shoe shine store is closed, Kit does it herself. Uncle Hendrick is surprised to learn that Kit did it, and tells her to keep the money he'd given her to pay the store because she earned it. Inspired, Kit asks if she can do other things like that for him: picking up his groceries so she can keep the money he would have tipped the person delivering them, hand-delivering his letters and keeping the postage, and so on. He cuts her off, saying all he cares about is that the jobs are done well, not who does them, and agrees that she can keep the money. So she makes up her mind to earn enough to pay the electric bill.

By Christmas Eve, Kit's earned a little more than she needs and can hardly wait to get home to decorate the tree. But it's sleeting heavily, and with the ice and wind, Kit can hardly make it two steps before slipping and sliding, even on level ground. She has to stay the night in the dark house, feeling unwelcome and unworthy. Uncle Hendrick tells her call to let her parents know she won't be coming home until tomorrow, but they can't afford phone service and have had it cut off. Kit has to call Ruthie to ask her to relay the message, who she still hasn't made up with. The phone conversation is brief because of the storm, but Kit is able to get out that she's staying the night and that she's sorry for their fight. The calls drops before she can hear what Ruthie says.

But she doesn't have to wait long to find out. The next morning, Ruthie and her father arrive in a horse-drawn sleigh to pick up Kit and her great-uncle (who was planning to visit anyway). The girls' fight is soon forgotten, and they make plans to window shop and have an indoor picnic the next day (Ruthie gave the ballet tickets to the three boarders and one of their boyfriends), with Kit borrowing--not keeping--Ruthie's dress. Kit also gets to surprise her mother with the money, and her mother is very touched and proud. She has a gift for Kit: a Scottie dog pin she'd gotten as a child. Kit's father and brother have also fixed Kit's typewriter, and it now types in a straight line and all the letters work. Kit and Ruthie exchange presents as well. Kit ended up having some down time at her great-uncles, when she'd finish the chores before she was supposed to leave and he'd fallen asleep. She wrote a fantasy story starring Ruthie. Ruthie and her mother made a doll for Kit, one of Amelia Earhart, Kit's hero. And when it gets dark, Kit's family turns on the Christmas tree lights, able to safely indulge for a little bit thanks to Kit's contribution.

Looking Back

With money tighter for most Americans than it had ever been, families had to be creative to find ways to celebrate the holidays. If they could get a Christmas tree or had an artificial one, they skipped expensive electric lights and cut up magazines into paper strips. Or they could decorate food with Christmas or winter themes. Parents might hide a toy a little while before Christmas and give it to a child with broken parts fixed, and many people gave handmade gifts. Some families weren't hit too hard, and could afford gifts and decorations. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, many of these families got some extra toys and food to donate to less fortunate families. Churches and other charities received these gifts to pass out to their congregations, as many do today. Of course, what all the adults wanted for Christmas was employment, and department store Santas heard lots of children asking for their parents to find work, too.


This book is dedicated to "Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, with thanks."

Kit's family, like Samantha's, puts up their tree on Christmas Eve. Makes sense for the Depression--you could get a good deal buying a tree at the last minute when the seller is trying to unload his stock. Molly's family waited until December 22. All three books were written by Valerie Tripp; I wonder if her family likes to get their trees late.

I find it odd that a skinflint like Kit's great-uncle wouldn't shine his own shoes instead of paying someone else to do it. It's not that hard. But maybe he has arthritis or something.

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree tradition started in the Great Depression. Workers were grateful to have a job, and put up a small tree to celebrate in 1931 (no tree in 1932, but one every year since 1933). They decorated it with bits of paper, strings of cranberries, and a few tins cans. Now, gigantic trees, almost always Norway spruces, several dozen feet tall are flown or trucked in to New York City. Surveyors find them growing in people's yards in the US and Canada. People can also submit their trees for consideration online. The tree is decorated with thousands of lights and topped with a Swarovski crystal star. After it's taken down on January 6, the tree is recycled. At least one year the lumber from it was donated to Habitat for Humanity.


Kit Learns a Lesson

Published in 2000; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Walter Raine and Susan McAliley


Thanksgiving is in two weeks, and Kit wonders what she'll be thankful for. Her father still hasn't found a job to replace the one he lost in August, and three boarders have joined Stirling and his mother, plus her mother says they need to take on two more! She has so many chores to do with the boarders already, and she's sure they're boring people--if she'd bother to get to know them. The attic leaks, and her brother's been sleeping on the enclosed porch, which won't keep him warm in the winter.

On the way to school one morning, Kit and Ruthie discuss how wishes must be very specific. Ruthie considers herself an authority on the subject, due to her love of fairy tales. Kit has been wishing for her father to find a job so the boarders can move out, but when he ponders looking for work in Chicago, she amends her wish. She wishes for him to find a job in Cincinnati, soon. The reason he's thinking of Chicago is that Stirling got a letter from his father with $20--about $600 today-inside (his mother graciously gives half to Mrs. Kittredge).  At school, there are more frustrations. Roger, a show-off classmate, takes every opportunity to spout off about how the unemployed are just lazy, and it's shameful to accept charity. Kit is ready to defend her father's honor when the teacher distracts the class with news of the upcoming Thanksgiving pageant. Kit and her classmates are amazed when they learn that Stirling made an elaborate set piece. Maybe he's not just a rotten boarder after all.

While working on the set (fourth graders make the set while fifth- and six-graders are the Pilgrims and Native Americans), Kit and Roger exchange more words, culminating with Kit shoving Roger, who hits a ladder and knocks a bucket of paint over himself. Although Kit feels justified in defending her parents and Stirling's, she accepts the punishment of cleaning up with Stirling and Ruthie (who were also involved--Roger gets off scot-free) and delivering the class's donated food to a soup kitchen during the pageant. Kit's impressed with how much there is. Most families could only spare a bit here and there, but it adds up, especially with the twenty-pound turkey Ruthie's family was able to afford.

The soup kitchen is slammed, and one of the volunteers quickly puts the trio to work handing out bread and canned goods (the turkey, along with some potatoes, will be made into soup). Kit surveys the crowd, thinking about the stories the people have to tell and feeling pity for them. Then, she looks up at a man she's handing a loaf of bread to--it's her father! Overwhelmed by a confused whirl of emotion, she bolts. Ruthie and Stirling quickly find her, and tell her that her father left but he'll talk to her at home. Confronted with the reality that her father has had to rely on a food bank to feed the family, Kit says maybe she should hope for him to find a job in Chicago. Stirling disagrees. The $20 was his own money, that his father gave him to use for emergencies before he left. His mother had refused to take it for rent money--which they don't have--so he typed up a fake letter on Kit's typewriter and mailed it to himself. He has no idea where his father is. Even though Kit's father is in dire straits, it's still better to know where he is.

At home, Kit's father apologizes for misleading her and the family. He'd said he was out looking for work, but most of his time was spent waiting in line for food. Besides, there aren't any jobs anyway. He might have to travel to another city for work, but he promises that he'll stay in touch. When he had a job, Kit would write up newsletters about what he missed at home, and he assures Kit that he'd love to get some more of those newsletters in the mail. Now finally seeing how desperate things are, Kit understands why they need the boarders. And suddenly she gets an idea.

The next morning, as Kit sets the table for breakfast, she puts a newsletter at her father's place. It's laid out like a series of want ads, illustrated by Stirling. Her idea is that her father can use some spare lumber from Ruthie's family to fix up the enclosed porch (it was intended for a treehouse, but Kit prioritizes). Then one of the boarders, Mr. Peck, can stay there with Charlie. That will open up space for two more boarders to move in. More boarders means more work, so Kit suggests that Mrs. Howard help with the cleaning, since she can't make rent. She also asks for stories from the other two boarders, who are nurses, so that she can practice her journalism skills. It also opens the door for her to connect with the two women, and they with the others in the house. Kit wants everyone to feel welcomed, so that they'll stay for a long time.

Looking Back

During the Depression, schools were massively underfunded. There was no money for structural repairs or new textbooks, and eventually for teacher pay. Schools tried to make due by stretching out breaks to shorten the school year, sometimes as short as three months of classes. Some especially hard-hit states had to close schools entirely. Children worked when they could, to help their families. Further deepening the Depression was a period of drought in the South and the Dustbowl in the middle of the country (drought + overfarming = lots of dust), causing farms to fail. Many families moved to California, which was still able to grow crops, to get what little work they could harvesting the fields. People everywhere were desperate. Teachers tried to help their students with food drives and other charity, and tried to help them learn in the over-crowded classrooms and provide distraction from their troubles (To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the Great Depression; Scout's school puts on a play that provides some escapism). But teachers needed help themselves. Teacher salaries were cut drastically, sometimes 75% of what they had been--if they could keep their jobs at all. Some teachers were given room and board with students' families in place of pay. Things got so bad that a teacher in Cincinnati killed himself upon finding that his position was eliminated.


This book is dedicated to "Jill Davidson Martinez, with love."

Charlie has a job delivering newspapers.