‘Kit Kittredge’ teaches us how to help others in a crisis

Kit Kittredge, directed by Patricia Rozema, written by Ann Peacock, and based on the American Girl series character and book by Valerie Tripp, tells the story of ten-year-old Kit, a journalist and adventurer living in Cincinnati during the Great Depression.

FF2 team sisters Amelie and Julia revisited the movie together and had a conversation about its lasting impact.

 

Amelie

So like I was maybe six when I read the Kit books for the first time and you were probably a similar age. I remember reading it and you’re learning about the Great Depression and you’re learning about things like people getting their homes foreclosed. You’re learning about homelessness and like different kinds of selfishness and community in this kind of situation and I remember just completely getting it. I was just like: Oh yeah. And we knew our grandfather had been pretty much Kit’s age, he was a kid during the Great Depression, and this was his life and so I just remember being like: Oh, now I get what Grandpa’s childhood was like; and it’s amazing that this story managed to make that make sense.

Julia

Yeah, that’s really true. I’m trying to think. I remember a lot more about the characters and Kit and her friends in the stories than I do about the historical context. We were very much in her world watching her conquer these obstacles, and a really palatable way of understanding things like that is when you’re seeing it through the eyes of someone who feels almost like your friend, because we had the dolls and these were just girls that we felt like we knew.

Amelie

Yeah, and the kids, it’s like, yes, the kids are really brave and mature, like they have to be in kids’ books. But they also have kid emotions. Like when Kit’s dad says that he’s leaving to go find a job in Chicago, she’s really sad and she cries and she just wants him to tell her that he loves her and just stay with her, which can feel like an immature emotion. But at the same time she pushes through that and has all these amazing ideas for how to help her family through and she wants to help everyone.

Julia

Yeah, and I think another thing I really like about Kit and also American Girl in general is I feel like they’re never – – it’s like their gender never comes into question. It never feels like they’re being held back because of it. They kind of just go for things. They’re very proactive and smart and it’s nice to see that and have the message that you can be that way too when you’re a young girl. 

Amelie

Yeah, right, they deal with adult situations and make actual change. I mean so in Kit, one of the plot lines is how she goes into this newsroom and she wants to write a piece about the Great Depression from a kid’s point of view. And at first, she gets dismissed, but she gets people to listen to her and her writing is genuinely good and it’s just awesome. 

Julia

Yeah, she’s a hero because – – I don’t want to give away spoilers, but her article is – – she’s talking about something that’s political and the adults around her are telling her that people don’t want to read this.

Amelie

Right, and then she proves them wrong. Yeah, I think you made a good point about how the American Girl protagonists’ genders don’t come into question. It’s not like: Oh, let’s just think about girl problems and how girls get held back as kids. It’s like:

No, let’s just watch a bunch of young girls being awesome in a ton of different ways. The American Girls are all so different. It’s about them tackling the historical context, but not necessarily – – it doesn’t always have to be about what it’s like to be a girl in a given historical context.

Amelie

Yeah.

Jan did an interview with Valerie Tripp, the author of the Kit Kittridge books, and there are some interesting moments in time represented there. So Valerie Tripp wrote the Kit Kittridge book in 2001, which Valerie Tripp describes as a period of “affluenza,” which is a weirdly… I don’t like the associations that come up with that term in our current crisis, but it was called affluenza, meaning that there was so much wealth in the U.S. apparently that it was having a negative effect. I’m not sure to how much of the population that extended, but it’s interesting that there was that and then this interview happened in 2010, when there was a recession happening. And so in the interview, Jan and Valerie Tripp are talking about like recession. Of course, now we’re again in recession, and we’re also in a very strange public health crisis that’s making life unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lives, so it’s just a lot of interesting parallels with the history of the Kit story.

Julia

Yeah, and I think it’s interesting that Kit’s story has been important in all three of these contexts and I’m sure will continue to be important in future ones. Also in Tripp’s interview, she was saying that she wanted girls and just kids in general to understand that families aren’t their economics. And if you’re going through economic hardship, you still have your relationships. You still have who you are and it’s really scary, but there’s something fundamental that doesn’t go away when money does. 

Amelie

Yeah, I love that and I think that’s also kind of poignant because of the way in social isolation now, a lot of people are having to turn to their families or retreat to their families as like their kind of main source of comfort right now. Yeah, and even if you’re having to reach out to families remotely or to family networks that you’ve built yourself, we’re all turning to our micro universes and trying to appreciate what remains even when it feels like the world is falling apart.

 Something really sweet about Kit is the way – – like you mentioned earlier about the characters. Kit has her best friend Ruthie and they have this little club. And it’s like kids’ world, and their club doesn’t care what kind of hardship you’re going through. Their club doesn’t care if you’re homeless or your dad laid off another kid’s dad. Like Kit and Ruthie befriend some other kids who are homeless, and the adults are distrustful of them and the kids are like: No, no, they’re in our club. 

Julia

Right, exactly, and so just these friendships that you can form despite everything that’s happening and everything that feels so in flux, you still can turn to people and you can have these friendships and it doesn’t matter how your separate situations are being affected. Knowing that that’s not going to matter for your friendship.

 Amelie

Right, and kind of emphasizing that we have to rely on each other in this kind of situation, especially in the US, I mean we can’t rely on our government to help us, at least definitely not now.

 Julia

I’m thinking about again the Tripp interview and how one of the big messages of Kit and a lot of the American Girl stories is that sometimes big changes happen and they’re so scary and it feels like your world is completely crumbling. And in Kit, there’s definitely points like that, like when she sees her dad in the soup kitchen and she’s just crying and he can’t really console her because he did lose his job, and he does have to leave. Her life is going to change in a way that is upsetting, but Kit makes it through and she cries, but she’s fine at the end. And even though her world basically gets turned upside down, which I think people are feeling right now, she comes out of it okay. I mean you can attribute that to like cheesy Hollywood plot lines, but I think it’s really actually true to life. The worst things happen sometimes and everything completely changes and falls apart, but the world doesn’t end.

 Amelie

Oh, I love that.  We need this. We need to marathon more American Girl movies.

 Julia

Yeah, we definitely do. I need to watch that Samantha movie again.

 Amelie

We watched the Samantha movie. Julia watched the Samantha movie a million times as a child.

 Julia

I got it at the library and then I watched it like eight times a day for the entire rental period. Yeah, I’m trying to think of if there’s any like final… So I mean we recommend this movie.

 Amelie

Yeah, we love this movie. It’s so cute.

 Julia

Yeah, we are in our twenties and we both loved it. There’s also so many celebrities in this movie.

 Amelie

Yeah, oh my god. What’s her name? Joan Cusack is in it.

 Julia

I’m just going to read off of IMDb the laundry list of… It’s crazy because when we were younger, we didn’t know celebrities.

 Amelie

Yeah, we were just like: Oh, kids movie.

 Julia

Now we were watching, we’re like: What, all these people are in it, so it’s Abigail Breslin, Julia Ormond is the mom. Chris O’Donnell is the dad. Jane Krakowski, Wallace Shawn.  Wait, Willow Smith!

 Amelie

Willow Smith. Oh my god.

 Julia

The little kid is Willow Smith. It’s crazy, but anyway.

Amelie

Hilarious.

Julia

Yeah, we definitely recommend showing this movie to your kids.

Amelie

Show it to your kids. Show it to – – if you’re an educator or you deal with kids in some way, watch it, learn about how to talk to kids about complex things. Watch it if you need some comfort even if you’re an adult.

Read FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan’s interview with author Valerie Tripp here.

Read FF2’s original review of Kit Kittredge here.
Stream Kit Kittredge on HBO, or find out where you can rent it here.

Photo: Madison Davenport as Ruthie, Abigail Breslin as Kit, and Brieanne Jansen as Frances.

Photo Credits: Picturehouse

© Amelie Lasker and Julia Lasker (3/23/20) FF2 Media

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Amelie Lasker
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Amelie Lasker joined FF2 Media in early 2016 after graduating from Columbia University where she studied English and history. She has written plays and had readings for Columbia’s student-written theatre company Nomads, edited the blog for Columbia’s film journal Double Exposure, and worked on film crews and participated in workshops at Columbia University Film Productions. She spent junior year abroad at Cambridge University, where she had many opportunities for student playwrights to see their work produced. 
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