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!

No comments: