Tuesday, August 22, 2000

American Girls books get Queen City connection

Great Depression seen through eyes of 9-year-old

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kit Kittredge
        Cincinnati, meet Kit Kittredge. Kit is the seventh central character in the American Girls Collection of books, magazines, dolls and doll accessories.

        Aimed at girls 7-12, the series has sold more than 50 million books and nearly 5 million dolls since the first character was introduced in 1986. It also has spawned dozens of copycats from other publishing companies.

        After announcing the new doll last week in Cincinnati, the Pleasant Co. gave The Enquirer more details in a sneak peek at its fall catalog and the first two Kit books.

  For a special introduction to Cincinnatian Kit Kittredge and the author who created her, sign up for a local session of Kit's Care and Share Party, Oct. 6, 7 and 8 at Cincinnati Museum Center, West End.
  Valerie Tripp, who has written 21 books in the American Girls series, will speak at the kick-off event for Kit books and dolls and accessories. Other program amenities: crafts, treats, party favors, door prizes and more.
  Times: 7 p.m. Oct. 6; 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Oct. 7; and 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8.
  Tickets: $20. Proceeds go to the Museum Center's educational programs.
  For reservations call 287-7000 after Sept. 8.
        Kit is a 9-year-old aspiring writer coping with the Great Depression “here in Cincinnati” with her parents and her 16-year-old brother, Charlie.

        Their house is probably somewhere in Clifton, confides Maryland author Valerie Tripp, but the books — at least the first two of six in the Kit collection — include virtually no specifics on Cincinnati geography or culture.

        At Thanksgiving, when Kit and her friends volunteer for the first time at a local soup kitchen, they are given directions to River Street, which would be difficult to find for anyone, let alone a 9-year-old. There is no River Street in the Tristate. And River Road, U.S. 50 on the west side of town, has no soup kitchen.

        Kit's cranky Uncle Hendrick “was tall and gray, and he lived in a tall gray house near downtown Cincinnati.”

        Other references to the Queen City (a total of seven in the first two books, Meet Kit and Kit Learns a Lesson) could have named almost any U.S. city and been plunked into almost any story.

        “ "You know how hard your father has been looking for a job here in Cincinnati,' said Mother.”

        “ "Dad's not going to find a job here in Cincinnati,' Kit concludes.”

        And, “Everyone knew that Mr. Howard had not had a job for two years, ever since the company he worked for here in Cincinnati had gone out of business.”

        Mr. Howard is the father of Stirling Howard, one of Kit's classmates, who comes, with his mother, to live with the Kittredges after Mr. Howard takes off for Chicago.

        While the Cincinnati aspect of the new books is not fully developed, at least Kit has a hometown. Previous American Girls characters Josefina Montoya, Kirsten Larson, Addy Walker, Samantha Parkington and Molly McIntire were not assigned cities of residence at all.

  The Kit Kittredge phase in the American Girls series begins with three books, all expected in bookstores Sept. 1: Meet Kit, Kit Learns a Lesson and Kit's Surprise.
  Three more books are due in 2001: Happy Birthday, Kit; Kit Saves the Day;and Changes for Kit.
  About 70 pages each, in paperback, the books cost $5.95.
  Eighteen-inch dolls, available only via catalog, Web site and at one retail store, American Girls Place, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, go for about $90 each.
  For a copy of the American Girls catalog, call (800) 845-0005 or go to www.americangirl.com.
        The initial books about Felicity Merriman, launched in 1991, were based in Williamsburg, Va., where publisher Pleasant Co. and toy-making parent Mattel have teamed up with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to organize Felicity tours and teas for young girls and their parents.

        “This is the fifth year, and they (reservation spots) are filled every single day,” said Scott Hale, reservationist.

        The day-long event, based on Felicity's would-be life in the midst of the American Revolution, is held daily in the summer and holidays and weekends in the fall and winter. Tickets are $60 per person. Most of the money goes to Mattel; some goes to the foundation.

        In Cincinnati, Ms. Tripp will appear for a Kit kickoff in October at Cincinnati Museum Center, West End.

        “It's such a positive story,” said Meg Olberding, spokeswoman for the Museum Center. “It bodes well for Cincinnati and puts us in a positive light as girls across the country read the stories.”

Attention to detail

               In Kit Learns a Lesson, the central character discovers that her father has been forced to close his automobile dealership and that, to make ends meet, the family has been forced to take in boarders in the large house they own. Kit comes up with her own ways to help.

        Kit, Ms. Tripp said, is “plucky, ingenious, hard-working and brave. Most of all, she is an observer — she pays attention to what happens around her. And she is a reporter.”

        Ms. Tripp and a Pleasant Co. researcher visited the Museum Center for background before the books were written. They read old issues of The Cincinnati Enquirer to ensure Kit's stories authentically represented the area's history and culture.

        They found a name they liked in a 1932 society column. Never mind that Kit Kittredge appears to have been 6-foot-6 William G. Kittredge, who died in 1990.

        For Kit's stories, the author said she wanted a city with:

        • A professional baseball team. Kit is interested in baseball.

        • Railroads. Kit meets a hobo.

        • An organized Depression relief effort.

        • Close proximity to Kentucky and West Virginia, so she could discuss the Depression's effect on the mining industry.

        • Close proximity to the automotive industry.

        • A large population that would provide boarding business.

        • Work Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps projects put in place after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president.

        • People who had disparate experiences during the Depression — those who lost everything and those who were not devastated.

        “Because of Procter & Gamble, there were people in Cincinnati who did not lose everything the way Kit's family does,” she says. “To me, that was a crucial part of the story.”


               The American Girls Collection promotes community awareness and the spirit of giving through Kit's Can-Do Challenge, a national food drive. From Sept. 15-Nov. 22, girls and their friends and families are encouraged to donate at least five cans of food to local food pantries. The goal is to collect one million cans nationwide.

        To track results, participants are asked to complete and return coupons, available in the September American Girl catalog, the November/December issue of American Girl magazine and at www.americangirl.com.


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