I am happy to share in the excitement of the debut of the new American Girl Wellie Wishers! It is my pleasure and privilege to share a recent conversation that I had with the inspiring Valerie Trip, the individual who's imagination brought these characters to life through her stories.
Meet Valerie Trip!
Valerie Tripp is the author of more than 30 American Girl books, featuring the characters Felicity, Samantha, Josefina, Kit, Molly, Maryellen and many more. She also writes for the Superkids Reading Program and the Boys Camp book series.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself - where you live, your family, and your interests?
I live in Silver Spring, MD with my wonderful husband, Michael, who teaches American History at a nearby college, and with our dog, Mr. Bingley. Our daughter, Katherine, is a graduate student in Seattle studying child development. Both my husband and I come from big families; my husband is one of 6 children and I am one of 5, and our noisy extended families often get together for parties, reunions, and weddings. Michael and I like to travel, especially to see our daughter, and we frequently to go to the National Parks. At home, my favorite pastime is reading – I LOVE to read – and I also enjoy walking-and-talking with my friends. I take lots of classes. Most recently, I’ve been studying poetry because I admire it so much. Here’s what Emily Dickinson wrote: “The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.” Isn’t that LOVELY? I visit lots of schools, libraries, scout troops, and book clubs and it is a great pleasure to meet the children who read my books. Truly, I’m interested and curious about EVERYTHING, and I do absolutely love to use my imagination – lighting that “slow fuse” of the possible – while I write.
Please tell us how your writing career developed and has grown with American Girl.
A year after I graduated from college, after I’d worked as a saleslady and a copy editor in Boston, I was hired by Pleasant Rowland to write songs, stories, plays, nonfiction essays, and skills book pages for a reading program called “The Superkids.” While Pleasant and I worked on the reading program together, we talked about the books we had loved as girls. Then Pleasant married and moved to Wisconsin and I married and moved to South Carolina. One day the phone rang and it was Pleasant. “I’ve had a great idea!” she said. Her great idea was American Girl: books about girls who lived in different periods of history written for readers of the same age as the characters. It has been my life’s privilege and delight that Pleasant trusted me to be the first “voice” of American Girl. In 1983, I wrote the first outlines of the stories for Kirsten, Molly, and Samantha. As the years went on and American Girl grew, I wrote about Felicity, Josefina, and Kit as well as the characters’ best friends: Emily, Nellie, Elizabeth, and Ruthie – and now Maryellen! So I began writing my American Girl books before American Girl existed, in a way, and it was all due to my friendship with Pleasant Rowland, the creator of American Girl.
I learned while writing the American Girl books of historical fiction that if my reader became friends with my character, then my reader cared about what was happening to her friend whose family, for example, faces losing their house during the Depression, as with my character Kit, or Molly, whose father is off fighting in World War 2. I’ve applied that lesson of friendship to the WellieWisher stories. That is, I’m hoping that my WellieWisher reader will see how her friends in the garden solve disagreements, listen to one another, name emotions, use humor to apologize, have a conspiracy of kindness for a friend who’s in over her head. My reader will feel welcome, will dive right into Welliewishers’ messy, adventurous, imaginative, giggly, goofy, creative play, where the rules of gravity in all senses of that word do not apply. They’ll share their great love of animals and the out of doors.
Though I’ve always loved research and thinking up stories, writing is still hard work for me. I’m persnickety and slow. I think I came to writing as a job because my favorite thing in the world is reading. (Don't you love books and stories and just immersing yourself in the world of a book?) Writing allows me to use my imagination, and I am grateful to have a job that requires me to create something new all the time. It’s a great challenge.
Your ideas have come to life in the form of books, illustrations, playthings, movies and animation. How involved are you in these processes?
I always feel that the illustrations teach me things about my characters that I did not know; the illustrations add 100% more to the story. In the case of the WellieWishers, I wrote long art specs because for a reader of this young age, the pictures and words are equally vital to comprehension. I love that the dolls invite my reader to lift the stories right up off the page and “play out” the story adventures – and make up adventures of their own devising -- for the characters. I often suggest how the dolls should look, and I suggest products, too. For example, I knew that Kit wanted to be a reporter, so I suggested that she have a typewriter. (It is very cute!) I always say to children, “The typewriter symbolizes Kit’s desire to write, and the fact that her dad repaired it for her symbolizes his encouragement. Think of all the ways that YOUR parents encourage YOU.”
How does it feel to have your stories and characters come to life in these ways?
It’s fun to see the characters grow and change by being presented in different media. I cannot WAIT to see the WellieWishers animated! The artist has brought them to lively life!
Tell us about your new series about the WellieWishers.
The WellieWishers are enthusiastic, eager, earnest, and energetic six-year-old friends who play together in a garden. They are curious, messy, imaginative, adventurous, and joyful. Though they are often giggly and goofy, they can be thoughtful, too, and gentle. They are distinct individuals with unique talents, passions, and quirks, but they are all creative, generous, good-hearted, and kind. Oh, and they all love animals and being out of doors!
How did you develop these characters and stories?
It was tremendous fun!
I wanted the characters to be five distinct individuals, and I wanted to show that that the quiet girl can be noisy sometimes, and the exuberant girl can be insightful and thoughtful. I’ve never done this before, but for the WellieWisher characters I wrote long essays that I called “Personality, Products, and Purpose” – or P,P&P, for short – to define the character and I also made a chart. Here it is: Did you have any particular inspiration?
As with every book I write, my reader was my inspiration. I thought about her life, joys, challenges, hopes, and dreams. I know and love this age group. In my undergraduate work at Yale and graduate work at Harvard, I studied them and I’ve been creating materials for children ages 4 to 7 on-and-off since 1974, working with Pleasant Rowland on The Superkids Reading Program, so I am familiar with this developmental stage in terms of ability, interest, Piagetian level of moral comprehension, and Ericsonian stage of self-awareness. Also, I spend an enormous amount of time with school-age children and their families because of school, store, book club, and scout troops visits. I’m on my way to speak to a group of girls and mothers in one hour from now!!
This age is where we see the first glimmers of radical empathy. And oh, dear, in those school visits I have ached to see how teachers are so overburdened with academic goals for even their youngest students – talk about overburdened, the students are, too, so much so that there is no time any more for the sort of slow, organic, experiential learning for social-emotional skills like waiting, listening, or compassion, or how to be a good friend. I’m hoping that the WellieWishers’ stories will be like their garden: an island of good friends who treat one another – and the natural world – with respect and kindness. I really can’t think of anything more important to teach -- ever so gently –than kindness.
Another of my inspirations and hopes and goals for the WellieWisher stories is to show girls that they don’t need magic wands or powers. Not that the garden isn’t beguiling and enchanting and transformative. But magic – miraculous transformations -- happen through creativity, patience, imagination, and hard work. That kindness is magic, maybe all the magic any of us needs.
And another inspiration is very personal. During all those library talks, school visits, Daisy and Brownie troop visits, and signings at American Girl stores, I’ve met hundred of young mothers who greet me as an old friend, who say to me, “Oh, I read your stories when I was a little girl. I grew up with your stories and now I have a daughter of my own to share them with!” I throw my arms around them! I tell them that they are my alums.
I want to say to my alums: the Welliewisher stories are a gift for you now that you are a parent. And here’s my promise to you: the stories will be age-appropriate, with humor and joy, and hit the spot where your curious, merry, goofy, intense girls are in their lives. The stories will respect the reader enough to present multiple viable views. They’ll encourage girls to challenge the given wisdom and challenge dusty assumptions without being snarky. They’ll show that there’s a difference between a cheerful skepticism and cynicism: one is smart and healthy and the other is a dead end. They’ll show that we can love people with whom we disagree and disagree with people whom we love. They’ll celebrate the values of tolerance and compassion as well as the values of drive, hope, creativity, individuality, change, and work.
I want to say to parents: I know that you want your child to thrive and shine, and to learn about herself as she learns about the world. In fact, I believe that in our world where we’re inundated by factual information, EQ is more important that IQ, a resilient attitude is more important than aptitude, and perseverance, responsibility, empathy and compassion are the most important abilities we can teach our children for the future.
The stories are a way for me to say thank you for entering the world of the stories that I have had the great honor and pleasure of writing of writing for American Girl, and holding those stories in your hearts and memories. With the Welliewisher stories, I want to say, Thank you for your friendship. I want to invite them into the garden.
What’s next for you?
Oh, I’m always scribbling away at something. I’ve got lots of great ideas for more stories about the WellieWishers perking along in my head.
Well, now that I think of it, I have LOTS of hopes for the WellieWisher books. For example: Just as the American Girl books of historical fiction encourage girls to go deep and linger and not rush to be older, I’m hoping the Welliewisher stories will encourage girls to love being just the way they are right now. I hope the books will encourage girls to go outside!! Run around! Play! Use imagination! Get messy! Notice light and color and the seasons and animals and birdsong and the different joys of all kinds of weather! I hope the stories model how to solve problems both practical and interpersonal, how to be a good friend and daughter, and the rewards of being an observant, participatory, active appreciator of the earth.
In celebration of the release of the new WellieWishers line of dolls, American Girl is generously offering one lucky Kids and Eggs reader one WellieWishers doll of their choice !
Camille, Emerson, Willa, Kendall, or Ashlyn.
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below. Comments will close by 9am CST on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The winner will be chosen by Random Number Generator and announced on this post shortly after.
This giveaway is open to residents of U.S. & Canada.
....and the winner is: