Giving Girls a Voice in History

Valerie Tripp of Silver Spring has written more than 50
Valerie Tripp of Silver Spring has written more than 50 "American Girl" books. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As the author of more than 50 "American Girl" books, Valerie Tripp knows a lot about bringing characters to life. But the Silver Spring writer was not quite prepared for seeing the adventures of her character Kit played out on the big screen of movie theaters. With "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" out on DVD next week, KidsPost's Tracy Grant caught up with Tripp to talk to her about the movie, her writing and her favorite American Girl.

How did it feel to see your characters on screen?

"It's a very strange experience. It's very unusual to hear words that you've heard in your head spoken and brought to life in motion, color and music on that giant screen."

Kit Kittredge lives through the Great Depression. What lessons can kids today -- given the uncertain economic times -- learn from her?

"Kit's story is very much my mother's story. . . . Usually I just invent the characters, and their stories are shaped by the main problem of the time. In the case of Kit, I had been listening to my mother's stories for my whole childhood. Her father lost his job. To keep their house, my mother and her mother became cooks and maids and took in boarders. My mother had to move out of her room into the attic, which Kit did. But my mother found that the people who moved into her house . . . changed and enriched her life in ways she had not foreseen. Sometimes something that appears to be a loss actually leads to a gain that you never would have had.

"The absolutely crucial message of the Kit books is that . . . the most important thing that you have . . . is your family. Though the circumstances of your life may change, that most important thing -- the love of your family and friends -- won't change. It may strengthen."

You write about girls who live during World War II (Molly), the American Revolution (Felicity), New Mexico during the 1800s (Josefina), who is your favorite -- or at least what's your favorite time in history?

"Whoever I'm writing about at the time! I get to live in that time and soak up the music, the fabric, the fashion of that time. Since I just finished a book about Ruthie, I'm very much into the period of the 1930s now. When you write, it allows you to have a personality that you wouldn't have. For example, Felicity is much braver than I would be. You can create your best self and send that self out into adventures."

What's the hardest part of writing?

"When I go to schools to talk to kids I bring a manuscript that I have that is filled with big Xs through whole pages, things circled in red, Post-it notes sticking out. It's hard when you've worked on something that hard and you hear that [the publisher] isn't going to use it . . . but writing requires a lot of patience. You wouldn't stop playing soccer because you get tired or thirsty. Sometimes the things that are hard for us give the most back to us. But that moment is still very hard."

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