Valerie Tripp recalls the Halloween when she and her friend dressed up as hula dancers. A neighborhood boy jumped out and soaked the girls, ruining their costumes and ripping their bags full of candy. "I was so mad," she recalled. "I waited 24 years for revenge."
Her pay back was to recreate the story as a lasting reminder of how mean he was in her first book, "Meet Molly." In the narrative, however, it is Molly’s brother who pulls the prank.
Tripp, the author of dozens books, short stories and plays in the historical fiction series "The American Girl Collection," spoke to about 120 people last week at the Eastern Loudoun Regional Library in Cascades. She said she draws her story ideas from childhood experiences and young readers’ suggestions. She recommended that the girls hold onto their memories, anything that makes them mad or happy or something they have "wished for very, very hard." She predicted that the experiences will come in handy, whether the girls become actors, inventors, artists or writers. "You’ll do better if … you tuck those things away in your memory," she said.
"THE AMERICAN GIRL Collection" focuses on girls who lived in different time periods, such as the Civil War and World War II.
Tripp, who lives in Maryland with her husband Michael and daughter Katherine, has written stories featuring American girls, Felicity, Josefina, Kit, Molly, and Samantha. Janet Shaw is author of the collection’s Kirsten and Kaya books. Connie Porter wrote the Addy series. Susan Adler and Marie Schur wrote the first Samantha books before Tripp took over.
Pleasant T. Rowland is the publisher and inventor of "The American Girl Collection." She met Tripp in 1973. About 10 years later, she called Tripp with the idea of publishing the historic books and dolls. "Not many books at the time had female protagonists," Tripp recalled. Rowland initially assigned the certain girls and time periods to three authors. In 1998, Toymaker Mattel, Inc. bought the company.
LAST TUESDAY, Tripp told her audience, mostly comprised of Moms and girls holding American Girl dolls and books, about the research that goes into the stories. Because she wanted to have the Felicity growing up in colonial era, she visited Williamsburg. She said she heard the clip clop of horses’ hoofs and tasted the salty ham. "When I’m writing a story, I use my five senses," she said, prompting the girls to use theirs.
She directed them to stand up and straighten their backs. "As of [today] you all are going to be observant," she said. She also instructed the girls to pretend they were wearing the girdles of that era, and she taught them to curtsey.
In addition to Williamsburg, she has researched what it is like to drop a piano by calling piano movers in the greater Washington, D.C., area. "Unfortunately, every one of them could tell me what it sounds like," she said, smiling.
TRIPP SHOWED the girls editorial marks made on the first draft of her books. "None of these comments are compliments," she said. But she keeps her original drafts and sneaks some of things that were eliminated into the movies. "Samantha, An American Girl Holiday" was on the WB television station the week before.
She gets to make changes on the artists’ rendering of her characters if she does not think they accurately reflect their traits.
Tripp said she reads her stories to her husband. In "Samantha Saves the Day," she originally had Grandmary die. Her husband pulled the car over. "Dear, that’s so mean," he said. She rewrote the story, and had the child’s grandmother live.
She also has historians read the text to determine its accuracy.
Tripp said she uses metaphors in her narratives. When she wrote that Kit’s father gave her a typewriter, the machine symbolized the encouragement and trust he was putting into her. Kit wanted to be a journalist.
Tripp told the girls to pretend they were the character Kit. "What I want you to do is curl up your toes … for pinched toes," she said.
WHEN SHE ASKED what the pinched toes meant, several girls raised their hands. Samantha Ellis, 10, of Leesburg, said Kit had outgrown her shoes and didn’t have money for new ones. Tripp congratulated Ellis for having the right answers. The author said they also signified that times were pinched during Kit’s life.
She created Felicity as an independent child to mirror the colony that was seeking independence from the King. "They both learn that independence means self governance. She learns about being responsible for herself."
Tripp said she has to keep writing "The American Girl Collection" series, because readers keep saying they want to know what happens next. She also is author of the "Hopscotch Hill School" book series about 10 children and their classroom experiences.
Her favorite books are "Anne of Green Gables," by L.M. Montgomery and "Understood Betsy," by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. She also likes the books by Beverley Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
THE GIRLS, with a few adult fans, lined up to have Tripp autograph their books and the stomachs or backs of their dolls. Tripp talked to each girl about their books and dolls.
Indira Dholakia, manager of the library’s children’s section, said Tripp is always a major draw. It was the author’s third trip to the Cascades library. Dholakia said about 200 girls and their mothers turned out for the event four years ago. She also waited for an autograph.
Tripp told the girls she wanted the books to be her gift to them.
"I owe you a huge thank you," she said. "You are the inspiration. You make these books matter."