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Valerie Tripp on the Power of Stories


“ Children’s books construct the readers’ characters, their view of the world, their ideas of the purpose and challenge of life. Books stretch children’s brains and hearts and give them a sense of themselves as unique beings with contributions to make.” —Valerie Tripp

Valerie Tripp has been committed to creating rich, engaging characters for American Girl. Her own deep and abiding love of reading and her professional expertise in literacy education informs her approach to crafting stories that resonate with girls, whom she places at the very center of her creative process. As she described in a 2015 interview, “My readers are my inspiration in every way. I think of them as the personification of promise. I take them seriously. When I write, I think of one delighted girl; if I can please that reader, or make her stop and think or laugh and reconsider an opinion—that’s why I write.”

As the first “voice” of American Girl, it is little wonder that Tripp’s motivation for writing echoes, and is echoed in, American Girl’s enduring mission: to support girls’ development and help them reach their full potential—to make a difference in the lives of girls. Sharing stories is one of the most important ways American Girl works to honor that mission, a mission that is firmly grounded in character.

Characters that Last

Tripp’s first American Girl books came out in 1987, and her first readers are now grown. “I call them ‘my alums,’” she notes with joy, “and many of them have daughters of their own.”

Eager to share their memories, experiences, and love for their own favorite characters, her “alums” often tell her “how the adventurous and thoughtful American Girl characters helped, inspired, and befriended them. I take their messages to heart, and work hard to make any new stories I write equally compelling, worth sharing with both my alums and their daughters.”

Part of that work involves immersing herself in the story’s time period and researching the current issues that matter to girls: “Every story I write makes a connection between girls of today and the characters I write about from the past. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the strength and creativity, intelligence, industriousness, and kindness of the women I read about in my research and the girls I meet and get letters from today. In that regard, all my characters are a mix of all the girls I’ve ever met—generous, smart, curious, creative, active, imaginative, earnest, and optimistic.”

In many ways, Tripp’s characters resonate with girls because their stories “are fueled by understandable humor, shared experience, and common aspirations. They contain relatable mischief and joy, and they offer friendship. They tap into imagination, which is of course a branch of hope—the ability to imagine different outcomes, different circumstances, a different life, a different self. Emotion is the captivator, and the driving force is friendship.”

Lasting Character

“Children’s books,” Tripp observes, “leave an indelible imprint. They shape and color and influence the way a child perceives the world. Books spark interests, feed passions, ignite ambitions. They also provide facts that give a child a sense of mastery and curiosity. Stories give children a sense that they, too, can contribute to their community, whether it’s friends and family or the world.” It’s important work, and the role of reading in the development of empathy and, subsequently, personal character continues to fascinate readers, writers, educators, and researchers. In fact, a growing body of scholarship that brings together the humanities, neuroscience, and cognitive studies supports Tripp’s belief that “all of us who are lucky enough to hand books and stories to children know that we are changing their lives.”

“ I write my stories to say to them, ‘You are creating the world we will all live in, so be thoughtful, alert, and compassionate.’”

It’s a message that, now, generations of Valerie Tripp’s readers can take to heart.

Since she first began storytelling with American Girl, Valerie Tripp has written more than 30 titles for girls, giving voice to some of American Girl’s most beloved characters and their closest friends. Having graduated magna cum laude from Yale, and having earned her M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Tripp brings both the expertise of a reading and education specialist and the delight, wonder, and pure joy of a caring and imaginative friend to every tale she crafts.

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