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.


Isabel Escalante said...

This is definitely my favorite Kit book, and one of my overall favorite AG books. So much that it even inspired parts of a Thanksgiving story that I wrote last year.

SJSiff said...

The part when Stirling reveals the real author of the letter is really sad.

Your story sounds interesting. Is it online anywhere to read?

Isabel Escalante said...

I have it written on a word document, but I'd like to make it into a blog. My stories are meant to be a YA series, but so far, I only have a Thanksgiving book and am still working on a Christmas one.