Books Review – Kit, Julie, Marie-Grace

Meet Kit
Written By: Valerie Tripp
Illustrations By: Walter Rane
Hardcover, 2000

Meet Julie
Written By: Megan McDonald
Illustrations By: Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2007

Meet Marie-Grace
Written By: Sarah Masters Buckey
Illustrations By: Christine Kornacki
Paperback, 2011


With this one, we’re back among the American Girl reviews, where I get to finish my involvement with the last three yet-unknown-to-me girls Kit, Julie, and Marie-Grace.
I’ll start with Kit Kittredge.  For starters, I hate her name.
Also, Kit’s family is one of those totally well off, perfect/rich, everything’s awesome families.  And that’s fine and good I guess, but I think that one of the ongoing problems with American Girl has always been that the people involved are almost always the well-off of society.  (Okay, so Addy was a slave and Kirsten was an immigrant child, but look at the rest of them…)  How well-off is Kit?  Well, the Depression started in America in 1929, and in 1934, when this book happens, Kit’s living happily with her family in their huge house and her father still has his car dealership in Cincinnati.  (Oh, and her uncle has more money than God apparently.  They bring that up in the book.)
Actually, that’s the catalyst of the book – Kit’s dad finally closes the lot and they’re plunged into the masses of poor.  Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly.  Kit’s dad finally closes the lot and they’re plunged into the category of people taking on boarders and her brother can’t go to college anymore because the father has used his college fund to keep the dealership going and the employees working for as long as he could.
Okay.  Noble man.  I’m okay with that.  And I do like the play between Kit and her brother Charlie, who treats her like she’s not some dumb little kid, like we tend to see with everyone else. And I like Ruthie, Kit’s best friend.
Now, then, onto more problems. Kids can be cruel and all, but usually we don’t see it as much with the MC in these books as we do with Kit’s reaction to Stirling Howard moving in (he and his mother first stay for free and then become boarders). I mean, the kid’s sickly, and she’s just mad that she doesn’t get a cool playmate. “He’s a shrimp!” she tells her mother, and whispers things to her best friend. Then again, I don’t know if I should forgive this or not, because Kit does make an effort to talk baseball with him, but after a mishap involving a tea tray, Kit’s basically banned from talking to the kid, even though he lives in her house. [Side note-I know the kid’s delicate, but maybe if he had ever done anything for himself, he wouldn’t be half dead all the time.]
Also in the woe-is-me category, she ends up relegated to the attic, which she has to herself. She could have ended up sharing her brother’s room or something. Or sleeping on the couch. I mean, it’s the depression after all. Instead, she’s got this huge attic to herself and she still manages to have her own bed, a typewriter and desk, paper and cartridges for said typewriter, and several other things. Which goes back to my not-bad-off-ever comment about the American Girls.

[Historical side note: The Depression hit America in 1929. By 1934, the President’s first New Deal was digging us out of it already, so it’s weird to see her spiral downward start when the country’s on it’s upswing. Unemployment was at its worst in 1933, so if the father had hung on till then, he had half a chance to stay in the game. Maybe the whole car-dealer thing had something to do with it, I mean, people just digging themselves out of the depression would have had better things to buy than cars, but still.]

In Meet Julie, we get the only American Girl that’s normal, except maybe Kirsten or Molly. Julie’s a child of the 70s, so flower-power and women’s liberation make their way in here. Her parents got divorced (gasp!), and oddly enough, her father is a pilot and never home, but he got to keep the house and Julie and her sister go live with Mom in the upstairs apartment over her mother’s hippy-dippy store (her mother did the 70s version of up-cycling).
A lot of the other American Girls had to deal with war, racism, etc. Julie’s problems are divorce, fighting with her best friend after moving strains their friendship, and being on the basketball team. She’s a girl. The team is a boys team. And even though Viet-Nam is raging, it’s not affecting those at home (unlike Molly and WWII), so really, all her issues are normal and relate-able.
For the record, I’m not saying if that’s bad or good – part of the joy of the series is being able to see a culture/world/time period not your own – but as a book in general, it’s always nice to relate to the MC.

In Meet Marie-Grace, we’re once again with child of privilege. Marie-Grace is the child of a doctor, and her mother died several years ago. They’ve just moved back to New Orleans with her puppy and housekeeper from New England, so she’s basically been dropped into culture shock (she’s from there, but was too young when they left to remember), and we get to experience the culture as she learns it.
She meets Cecile, who becomes her best friend, gets enrolled in private school and then voice lessons from a professional opera singer, and gets invited to the ball. Her biggest issues are the snobby girls at school and whether or not her Doctor Father will get home in time to take her to the dance.
While we do learn about Free People Of Color and some of the differences in well-established New England in 1858 vs. predominantly French/Creole New Orleans, the issues between Marie-Grace and Cecile aren’t big deal things. I don’t know if they will be in the next book – they broke format tradition with this, book 2 is Meet Cecile – but as it stands, they’re treating it like color segregation is no big deal.

So what do I think?
Julie’s story is simple and common and we can all relate to the stuff she deals with – fights with friends, children of divorce, being the new kid in school, etc – so if you’re okay with the historical stuff being fairly recent, then definitely read this book. I’m giving it a 4/5 for sure, and it doesn’t fall that short of being a five page rating. I really like the artist in this series, too.

Kit’s story annoys me in several ways. I know all 10-year-olds are still learning the hard lesson that the world is a huge place and there’s a lot they’ve been shielded from, but there’s only a 10 year setting difference between Kit and Molly and the two are worlds apart. Molly is mature and doing what she can for the effort and Kit’s pouting and hates everything and it takes a kid she makes fun of to remind her that she’s not got that bad a lot in life. 3/5

Marie-Grace’s story is… adequate. But there’s nothing special about it. And I seriously hate the artist. Like, the illustrations are almost creepy in a couple places. But I’m curious to see where they’re going with this so I might pick up the next book. 3/5 for this one as well.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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