Making the Grades
When I was a child, our school library had a shelf devoted to great American heroes. I started at one end of the row and read my way through biographies about people like Abigail Adams, Ben Franklin, Babe Ruth and George Washington Carver. I loved the tales of times gone by -- a passion I got from my father. Although based on fictional characters, I would have loved the history-inspired American Girl books too.
Unfortunately, the series came too late for me. But for today's pre-adolescents, the stories, set in a variety of different periods and told from a child's perspective, are both interesting and educational. Now, after having three of these works produced as made-for-TV films, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is opening in theaters.
The movie, starring award-winning actress Abigail Breslin as Kit Kittredge, tells of one family's struggle to survive the Great Depression. Living in Cincinnati, Mr. Kittredge (Chris O'Donnell) works at a car dealership. His wife (Julia Ormond) is a compassionate, socially involved woman who is quick to show kindness to others when hard times fall on them.
But before long, their own comfortable existence is disrupted when Mr. Kittredge loses his job and must head to Chicago in search of work. Kit, an aspiring journalist, and her mother are forced to take in boarders in order to meet the mortgage until he returns. Soon the house is bursting with a dance teacher (Jane Krakowski), a magician (Stanley Tucci) and a mobile librarian (Joan Cusack), as well as one of Kit's friends (Zach Mills) and his mother (Glenne Headly).
However, despite their own shaky circumstances, not everyone is happy when Mrs. Kittredge hires a pair of young hobos (Max Thieriot, Willow Smith) to do handyman work around the house in exchange for food. Worse yet, their dire predictions about her sense of judgment seem to come true when the lock box--with all the household's valuables--goes missing at the same time as the two transients disappear.
Luckily, there is nothing dire about this film. While the characters experience some brief moments of peril, the script is full of adventure, mystery and heart as Kit and her friends try to make sense of a world even adults can't understand. Chronicling her experiences on an old typewriter, Kit learns from her mother to face prejudice, fear and frustration. Along with her friends, she also becomes a gentle and engaging role model -- especially for young readers today.