KIT KITTREDGE – AN AMERICAN GIRL
SUBJECTS — U.S./1929 – 1941 (the Great Depression);
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Ambition; Families in Crisis; Female Role Model; Friendship;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring; Trustworthiness; Citizenship.
AGE: 6-12; MPAA Rating: G;
2008; 101 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
Kit Kittredge is a nine-year-old girl living through the Great Depression and following her dream of becoming a reporter. Many adults are losing their jobs, including Kit’s father, who goes to a distant city to looking for work. People all around her, including some of her best friends, are losing their homes. There is a Hooverville on the outskirts of town and the so-called respectable people are terrified of the hobos who live there. To survive the hard economic times, Kit’s mother opens their house to boarders, which brings in many fascinating characters. Kit’s mother allows two children from the Hooverville to do work around the house in return for food and clothing. The two children become Kit’s friends; her loyalties are tested when a robbery occurs and one of her new friends is fingered as the culprit.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 2009 Young Artist Award: Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Ensemble Cast; Nominations: 2009 Young Artist Award: Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress (Abigail Breslin); Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actor (Austin Macdonald).
Featured Actors: Abigail Breslin as Margaret Mildred ‘Kit’ Kittredge; Julia Ormond as Margaret Kittredge; Chris O’Donnell as Jack Kittredge; Jane Krakowski as Miss May; Dooley Wallace Shawn as Mr. Gibson; Max Thieriot as Will Shepherd; Willow Smith as Countee Garby; Glenne Headly as Louise Howard; Zach Mills as Stirling Howard IV; Kenneth Welsh as Uncle Hendrick; Madison Davenport as Ruthie Smithens; Joan Cusack as Miss Lucinda Bond; Stanley Tucci as Jefferson Jasper Berk; Douglas Nyback as William ‘Billy’ Peabody.
Director: Patricia Rozema.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film is a tender reminder that those who are down and out deserve support, compassion, and respect. Hard times can happen to anyone. The movie has strong female role models, including both Kit and her mother, who treat everyone with respect and help those less fortunate, even when they themselves are running out of money. Kit also has dreams of becoming a reporter, and plasters pictures of successful women onto her tree house walls; by working at her writing, and never giving up on her dream, Kit ultimately gets an article published in the local newspaper.
“Kit Kittredge” also shows how people with ulterior motives can whip up hatred of minority groups, in this case, the hobos, to serve their nefarious ends.
MINOR. The subject matter (impoverished families, broken homes, financial worries, etc.) might upset or worry younger or more sensitive children.
This is a worthwhile watch for a family. Be prepared for children to ask about your own financial stability, or if you’ll ever have to “sell eggs” to get by. Have children talk to relatives about their experience with the Great Depression. Did they ever have to take in boarders? How was life different between now and then? Review the Projects and Activities, and pick a few to do with your child. If appropriate for your child, discuss the similarities between what happened during Kit’s time and what is going on with today’s economic recession.
During the Great Depression, 1929 – 1939, the economy collapsed, many banks failed, factories closed, and companies went out of business. As a result, millions of people lost their jobs. Because people couldn’t pay their bills, they also lost their homes and had to rely on shelters and soup kitchens to get by. One in every five, 20%, of the children in the country, didn’t have proper clothing and didn’t get enough to eat, going to bed hungry every night. It took many years for the country to get back on its feet.
This might sound familiar to some students, as many modern families are experiencing the same hardships. Again, our country is faced with soaring unemployment, crashing economies and families struggling to keep their homes from foreclosure. Banks have crumbled, and the government has had to give billions of dollars to large businesses so that they would not go into bankruptcy. But, just as the Great Depression ended, our recession will end, too. In the meanwhile, we can help out those who are without food and shelter.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), 32nd President of the United States, was the only president to be elected for more than two terms. In fact, he was elected to four terms, although he died in the first year of the fourth term. In 1921, Roosevelt’s legs were paralyzed by poliomyelitis. He never let this condition hamper him. Roosevelt led the United States through two of the greatest challenges to its existence: the Great Depression and the Second World War. Each of these crises could easily have destroyed the country. He fought the Great Depression by giving people hope, starting government programs to ameliorate the suffering caused by widespread unemployment, and reforming many institutions such as the banking system and the stock market. When Roosevelt died in 1945, most citizens of the U.S. felt as if a member of their family had passed away.
Hoovervilles were shantytown encampments of unemployed and homeless people that sprung up near many American cities during the Great Depression. They were called Hoovervilles as a protest against President Herbert Hoover who served from 1928 to 1932 and did little to help people who were thrown into poverty by the increasing economic decline and whose efforts to stop the Great Depression only made it worse. For an excellent introduction to Hoovervilles, see Hoovervilles from u-s-history.com.
The word “hobo” had a different meaning during the Great Depression than it does now. In the 1930s, hobos were people, mostly men, who traveled from city to city looking for work. They often rode in the freight cars of trains because they had no other way to travel. Hobos would jump onto the trains when they were stopped or just as they left the station before the train was going very fast. During the Great Depression, many people were afraid of hobos. Today, the term hobo also refers to people who love to hop on freight cars and ride from city to city, but they do it for fun or as a lifestyle choice. Modern-day hobos are not going from town to town looking for work. They just like to ride the rails.
The Great Depression was, if anything, worse in Canada than in the United States. Unemployment was estimated by some experts to have reached 30% and many workers who kept their jobs had their salaries or hours cut. One of the problems during the Great Depression was that the prices for basic commodities such as wheat, iron, coal, and wood dropped below the costs of production. The economies of three provinces of Canada depended on exports of wheat and were particularly hard hit by the Depression. Certain cities in Canada relied exclusively on mining or logging. When commodities prices collapsed, these towns, along with the provinces that relied on wheat exports, suffered tremendous declines in their employment and per capita income.
1. See the Quick Discussion Question.
FAMILIES IN CRISIS
2. In this movie, we saw families struggling to make ends meet. Problems like this aren’t just limited to people who lived through the Great Depression. Many families are facing the same hardships today. What are some things we can do, individually and together, to help out those in need?
Have a brainstorming session with the class. Classes can organize food drives, and can perhaps create a school-wide food drive, with proceeds going to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Students (in their classes, or with their families) can volunteer at a soup kitchen, just like Kit’s class. See the Assignments and Projects for more ideas.
3. Ruthie’s father worked at a bank that would foreclose on the homes in which her friends lived. How did the girls react to Ruthie? Did they do the right thing?
Ruthie couldn’t control what her father was doing and while they might have been upset at first, her friends ultimately understood this. Ruthie felt bad about her father’s involvement, but after the anger wore off, it didn’t hurt her friendships with Kit and the other girls. They acted as one would expect. In fact, Ruthie talked her dad into helping Kit’s family out by giving them another month in their house when the money to pay the mortgage was stolen. She did what she could.
4. What do you remember about Kit’s Tree House Club? Are you in any clubs like that?
Ask students about the different things that made up the Tree House Club: a clubhouse, selected members, an oath, etc. Kids might be involved in any number of clubs (from Boy or Girl Scouts to clubs they’ve invented themselves).
FEMALE ROLE MODEL
5. What is a “role model”? Who do you think are role models in this film?
A role model is someone that you look up to, someone who almost always makes the right choices, and acts with kindness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness. A role model might also be someone who is very good at something, like an athlete, singer or dancer. Both Kit and her mother were excellent female role models. Kit always showed compassion, and welcomed people into her group of friends, even if she didn’t really want to at first. She never gave up and worked hard for the things she believed in, whether it was getting a newspaper article published or getting Will’s name cleared. Mrs. Kittredge was also a role model, because she welcomed Will and Countee into her home, and did everything she could to save her family and to keep their home.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. Remember when the ladies at Mrs. Kittredge’s garden party were appalled that she gave food to the hobos? How did the general community treat the hobos? Why do you think they acted the way they did?
The community feared the hobos. They blamed them for crimes, without ever being entirely sure the hobos had committed them. There are many reasons why they acted this way. One was that the hobos were a reminder of how tough it was to make a living, to provide food and shelter for their families. The hobos were a constant reminder that anyone could wind up homeless. Another reason might be snobbery. The upper class just didn’t want to see poverty right in their faces. The ladies at the garden party were snobby toward the hobos and were surprised that Mrs. Kittredge treated them with anything other than disrespect. A third reason was that the hobos’ poverty and homelessness made them different from the other people in the town; people often fear those who are different.
2. Who demonstrated respect in this film?
The Kittredges are the obvious answer. Ask students about minor characters who showed respect for others: Examples are the teacher who organized the soup kitchen field trip; the people who ran the soup kitchen; some of the boarders; and some of Kit’s classmates and friends.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
3. By taking in strangers to help pay the bills, Kit and her mother had to trust themselves, and their new housemates. Were they right to do so?
The Kittredges did what they had to do. They had to trust that this was the right choice. The only other option was to lose everything they had. Kit’s mother decided to do what she thought was best for her family, and it turned out that she was correct. Not only were they able to weather the hard economic times, but they made lots of new friends, and changed the way some people thought about hobos.
4. How did Jefferson (the magician) use the trusting nature of the Kittredges to his advantage?
By being kind, charming and entertaining, he got himself into the Kittredge household. Knowing that Will and Countee helped out around the house, and knowing that hobos were being suspected in a number of robberies, he figured he could set up Will as a thief and play on the suspicions of the other members of the household and the community. By not acting suspicious, he managed to maintain the Kittredges’ trust, up until Kit and her friends found out what was going on.
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
5. Do we have a responsibility to help people in our community that have fallen on hard times? What are some of the ways we can help?
Yes, we do. As members of society, we need to help other people out. Think of the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. If you were struggling, wouldn’t you want someone to help you out? Some of the ways that we can help include volunteering our time, organizing food drives, donating money, and encouraging people to treat everyone with respect. See the Projects and Activities section for more ideas.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
6. What are some ways that Kit and her family showed other people that they cared about them?
Kit and her family showed that they cared by letting Will and Countee do work around the house in exchange for food and clothes. They worked with what they had to make the best out of the situation. Kit also showed that she cared by letting her friends into her Tree House Club, welcoming everyone as her friend, and defending Will and Countee.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
1. Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction
2. Have students put together a class newspaper. Students can contribute a short article about the Great Depression. Encourage basic research in the library. Some students could also contribute illustrations, depicting the hardships of the time.
3. Students can write an essay, based on Kit’s article, about the recession that began in 2008 through their eyes. What changes have they noticed around them? Have neighbors moved away? Local businesses closed?
4. Organize a food drive. This can be as large of a project as you want. It can be done by classroom or held for the entire school. Contact local family shelters and ask for a list of their needs. Collect canned and non-perishable food items, toiletries and new or gently used clothes, shoes, and toys. The class can take a field trip to distribute their donations. Encourage students to volunteer regularly, and explain that homeless shelters and soup kitchens rely on constant support. For more information, visit The National Center on Family Homelessness website. They also have some links for books and websites to teach about homelessness.
5. Older students can be requested to do a research project on Hoovervilles in the Great Depression;
6. Older students can be requested to do a research project on homeless encampments in the current recession.
BRIDGES TO READING
The movie was based on a series of books about Kit Kittredge. You can find these at your local library. Ask your librarian for references about books for children concerning the Great Depression.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Hoovervilles from u-s-history.com;
- Cities Deal with a Surge of Shantytowns March 9, 2009, from the New York Times;
- Pictures of the Great Depression in Canada from About.com;
- Box Car Art showing graffiti left on box cars by rail riders;
- Hobos to Street People Artists’ Responses to Homelessness – from the New Deal to the Present;
- Hobos Ride The Rails To 2008 Convention from CBS Sunday Morning; being a hobo has become riding the rails to rejuvenate the spirit;
- The Hobohemians On the rails with the new freedom riders, by Ben Ehrenreich, LA Weekly October 1, 2002.
The websites cited in this Guide.