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?

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