Should you be looking for a nice Christmas or First Communion gift for a young girl, Kitty from the Start by Judy Delton would be a good choice. Kitty herself is in third-grade, but the book should appeal to readers from 3rd-5th. Good second grade readers could enjoy the book as well. Or maybe you yourself just want a break from reading Aquinas, Homer, or Freud.
Kitty is in third grade during the early 1940’s. Although World War II is raging in Europe, Kitty is not very aware of it. What she is aware of is moving from her well-known, well-loved school St. James’ to the new and unknown St. Anthony’s (where the church is actually in the school and where they make First Communion in Third Grade instead of Second!) At St. Anthony’s Kitty does quickly make friends, just as her parents told her she would, but they are two such very different friends. Mary Margaret is a perfect child, always neat, always has her homework done, always appropriately dressed, and always pointing out what others are doing wrong. Mary Margaret goes to Mass everyday, and Kitty admires her and wants to be holy like her. But she’s also attracted to the lifestyle of Eileen who likes to play “Confession” by turning her closet into a confessional and taking the role of a very old, very mean and very loud priest. Kitty enjoys playing “Confession” but is sure Mary Margaret wouldn’t approve and is pretty sure it’s not holy to participate.
I related to Kitty a lot because, even though I grew up in the post-Vatican II 1970’s and not in Kitty’s pre-Vatican II 1940’s, we had a lot in common. And I suspect a lot of kids who grew up Catholic do as well. I too was attracted to the saintly life and adapted various bizarrely pious acts (I once tried to only wear blue to show my devotion to the Madonna but my school uniform was green and my mother refused to buy me all new clothes). But I also enjoyed playing the titillating and somewhat gory game of “Martyrs.”
Kitty is told through the point of view of a nine year old girl which leads to the one difficulty with the book. A geography lesson on Africa is presented in a patronizing manner and uses a racially insensitive name Bambo for a child in Africa that the American children are supposed to relate to. While it is probably realistic that this lesson would have been presented to these children in the 1940’s in such a way, with only Kitty’s perceptions presented, there is no authorial voice indicating to today’s young readers that such an attitude is inappropriate. An adult should discuss this issue with the child reader.
However, this instance is very brief and all in all, it’s a rather sweet book. Kitty from the Start is actually the first in a series (although the last written) of novels about Kitty, Mary Margaret and Eileen. The series eventually takes Kitty and her friends through high school.
Kitty from the Start is available at area public libraries.