Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tea with Valerie Tripp and Friends at Historic Huguenot Street!

A weekend roadtrip that helped me fulfill a childhood dream!

I love living where I do, but sometimes, it does feel a little bit like all the fun stuff happens too far away from me to take advantage of it. All the D23 events? Florida or California. Big time Civil War reenactments? Pennsylvania at the closest. But a couple weeks ago, Doll Diaries posted saying that Valerie Tripp was going to be visiting New Paltz, New York for a book signing and tea at Historic Huguenot Street, a historic site I'd never heard of before. As soon as I realized that hey, New Paltz is only a couple hours away, I knew I had to go. I've been wanting to meet Valerie Tripp since I was a kid! I'm really not exaggerating in saying her books are very much responsible for the person I am today. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to get out, see the sights, and check something off the bucket list.

So I roped my grandparents into going with me and Felicity on this field trip, and headed up north.

Historic Huguenot Street is a really interesting museum site. Today, it's a National Historic Landmark District, with 30 buildings and 10 acres that was the heart of the original Huguenot settlement in New Paltz. The Huguenots were French religious refugees who came to the New World in the 1600's looking for a place to practice their faith in peace much the same way the Pilgrims and other religious minorities did. The major difference here is that they were on the run from the Catholics, but they did want to get out of Holland before their kids got too Dutch just like the Pilgrims!

Seven stone buildings that date to the early 18th century have been preserved as museums, with interpreters and docents who give tours and run programs for adults and kids to educate them about the history of the area and the people who originally settled there. The museum has been running since 1894, when descendants of the first settlers decided to do what they could to preserve the history of their ancestors. They also have an impressive archive of artifacts and documents, and have connections with the University of the State of New York, along with some really awesome summer camps aimed at younger kids. I wish I'd had programs like that available to me when I was growing up!

Unfortunately, the museum was still closed for the season last weekend, so we didn't get to go in any of the houses. It was still cool to walk around and look at everything, though! The preserved buildings are really pretty, and the entire neighborhood is really nice. It's always fun to see places where historic buildings and more modern houses are blended together. I'd love to come back when the museum's open! We got to talk to two moms at the tea who live in the area and really seem to love it, as do their kids. The town of New Paltz itself was also really nice and looked like it'd have some interesting shops and restaurants. Maybe I'll have to convince someone to go on a second trip with me!

Now on to the main event!

Apparently, this tea has been in the work for two years. One of the event coordinators has been in talks with Valerie Tripp for months trying to find a time when both their schedules worked out to do an event like this, and finally the stars aligned, and here we are! The tea was held in one of the modern buildings on the museum's campus, and we got there a little early. Several members of the museum's staff were dressed in period costume and acted as hostesses, bringing us tea pots of hot water and asking if we'd like coffee, lemonade or ice tea instead.

While I was getting my coat, bag and Felicity's cloak stashed, I heard someone say hi and thanks for coming to the event. I looked up, and there was Valerie Tripp! It was so surreal, she caught me totally off guard and I kind of nervously babbled at her for a bit. When I calmed down, we chatted for a while and I know people tell you you should never meet your heroes, but this time, I think it worked out just fine for me. Ms. Tripp is a really friendly, engaging person and an excellent speaker. She made an effort to go around to each table before the event got started and introduced herself to the kids and their parents, as well as any dolls they brought along, and really seemed to be having a good time.

I wasn't sure what to expect for the rest of the event, but after everyone got settled, Ms. Tripp invited all the kids up to the front of the room and spoke to them personally about what it was like to write historical fiction and place yourself in the shoes of people living in another time. She used examples from each of the characters she's written for: teaching them how to do a proper courtesy like Felicity, how to seal an adobe house like Josefina, how to sit up straight and tall like Samantha, what it would be like to wear shoes that were too tight for you like Kit, and how to do the Hula like Molly. She told us about how she takes inspiration from her own life (Molly's hula costume and Ricky's attempt at ruining Halloween was a real event that happened to her and her childhood friend with a neighborhood bully) and the lives of people she knows (her mom wanted to be a reporter like Kit and her family needed to take in boarders to keep their home just like the Kittredges), and explained how things can change from draft to draft, including that she apparently originally planned to kill off Grandmary after Samantha Saves the Day! Her husband talked her out of it while they were driving to the post office to drop off the draft. Thank goodness for that!

She had tons of energy and was extremely entertaining to listen to. She opened up the floor to questions from kids or adults and told us about how sometimes she might approach American Girl with a character proposal, but other times they come to her with an idea, and she teases it out from there. The collections are similar: Kit's holiday dress was made before Tripp wrote the books, but she insisted she needed to have a typewriter in her collection. I asked if she had any advice for how to get over writer's block, and she said that you just need to read. She apparently doesn't really believe in writer's block, and thinks it's just a sign of your brain needing to take a break. Sounds about right to me! I'm definitely going to try to take that advice to heart. God knows I love reading already!

After the presentation was over, tables were called up to either do the book signing, or get food. My table got to do the book signing first, and I got to chat with her a little more while she signed my copies of Meet Felicity and Felicity Learns a Lesson. Felicity Learns a Lesson is my favorite American Girl book by far because it just perfectly shows all the things I love about American Girl in one place. It does a really good job of showing how the political situation at the time influences a normal ten year old kid and her relationships with her friends, family and herself. It's the book that made me fall in love with the company and - more importantly - with history, which has had such a huge impact on my life since then. I was really pleased to find out that the reasons why I love the book are the reasons Ms. Tripp does, too! She said it was American Girl summed up in one book, and how she tries to do that with all her characters: how to distill the important moments of history into the character's own story arcs.

It was really, really incredible to meet her, and I'm really glad she turned out to be such a cool person to meet. She happily signed entire stacks of books people brought from home, or new copies that were being sold at the door by Inquiring Minds Bookstore, or even people's dolls, if they wanted to. And of course, we had to get a picture! ... Even if you're still not going to be seeing my face. I don't know why I'm still hung up about that part of internet safety.

When we got back to our tables, we got to sample the goodies from Bridgecreek Catering, a local company that's won several awards for having pretty tasty food. Admittedly, this is mostly for weddings, but I was pretty hopeful going into it that we were going to enjoy our food.

And we did! They had three different tea sandwiches - apple peanut butter, cheese and ham and the required cucumber and cream cheese - strawberries and vanilla cupcakes, blueberry scones and caramel popcorn. Everything was tasty, but my hands down favorite was the scone. It had a really nice texture, and a glaze on top that was totally tasty. It was one of those moments where you wished you could go get another three of them without being making yourself sick, or making a fool out of yourself in front of the other guests.

The final two events of the day were a raffle for a Maryellen doll, her accessories and book collection, and the announcement of the winners of the Historic Huguenot Girl writing contest. Kids were asked to write stories from the perspective of a real Huguenot girl named Maria Hasbrouck, one of the first settlers in New Paltz. They didn't get to read either essay in full, but the parts they did read were pretty entertaining. I would have been all over this when I was a kid! The two winners in the two different age groups got Kit's Typewriter, and all the girls who participated got a goodie bag with a notebook, a pencil and an American Girl book to encourage them to keep writing. After the winner of the Maryellen was announced and lots of thanks and applause, it was time to head home.

I wasn't too sure what to expect going into this. I haven't done many book signings, or celebrity events in general, and obviously I'd never been to the museum before, but I had a really, really nice time. New Paltz is a charming town, the museum is very cool, and meeting Ms. Tripp was definitely a childhood dream come true. My grandparents really enjoyed the event, too! It was totally worth the super long car trip to get there, and I definitely would love to come back.

I just want to say thank you again to all the people at Historic Huguenot Street for organizing the event and to Ms. Tripp for coming in the first place. It was really cool to be able to actually attend something like this instead of being jealous of everyone who lives out in Wisconsin or Florida or wherever else, and also to see an organization make an effort to get kids interested in writing, reading, and learning about history. When I was growing up, the Pleasant Company had a bunch of agreements with historic institutions to do crafts, cooking and other activities with kids to get them more involved in the world of the American Girl characters. That's been something the company hasn't really been offering as much as I'd like them to in the last several years, and it was just nice to see that other people still want to use these toys as a tool to get kids (not just girls, there was a boy with a Bitty Twin at the event!) excited about learning and becoming a more well rounded person. I hope the success of this event means good things for our future generations of writers and historians!

And hopefully when the weather's a little more cooperative we can go back and check out the museum proper!


  1. Wow, I'm so happy for you that you got to do this! It sounds like it was amazing! I'm only just a tiny bit jealous. :-)

    1. It was so much fun, if she's ever in your area you definitely have to go! You'd definitely get a kick out of it. :D

  2. Great post! I read my Felicity books over and over as a kid!

    1. They are definitely my favorite AG series, before or since. :)

  3. ::prolonged fangirl squee::

    Oh this looks like so much fun! This write up felt like I was there.

  4. That is so awesome! Congrats!

  5. Although I enjoyed my time in the sun, I'm sorry to have missed this event. I'm glad you got to go and would love to visit New Paltz at some point in the future.

    1. Well I'd love to come back! Maybe you'll get to meet Valerie Tripp some other time. :)