Rereading My Childhood: The Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Great Idea

I’ve started a club or two in my lifetime. They started with lofty goals and a generic name. Best Friends Club. Sparks Friends Club. The No Homers Club. We made Membership Cards, usually out of tin foil. We had club bylaws, things like “be kind to each other” and “no one who likes Kimberly can join.” We had a few club meetings, which divulged into the depths of Kimberly’s cruelty. The clubs never lasted more than a week and they certainly never generated income. Unlike Kristy Thomas’s club.

In the inaugural book of The Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy comes up with the idea of the titular club that went on to generate income and adventure for many girls (and maybe some boys) both in Stoneybrook and around the world, both fictional and real. Kristy demonstrates maturity while running and creating the club. She considers feedback from each member and delegates in a professional way. The book also showcases Kristy’s immaturity, particularly when dealing with Stacey, the new girl, and how she deals with her mother’s love interest, Watson, and his family. Kristy has depth, as well as this book. This is a promising start to the greatest book series ever created (come at me, J. K. Rowling).

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #1 - Kristy's Great Idea
Oh, I don’t know, book cover? Going to an amusement park? Reading a good book? Taking a bite out of a good book, like the previous owner?

It starts on a hot day at the end of class. The clock ticks and Kristy loudly and audibly expresses her excitement for the end of class and she can go home to her air-conditioned home. Her teacher punishes her with an essay assignment on the word “decorum.” The first time we see Kristy, she’s shouting before thinking, talking before her brain analyzes what she wants to say. This can bite Kristy in the butt, like almost breaking up the babysitters club just as the club starts or with her teacher, forcing her into a punishment in the form of homework.

Kristy finds her best-friend Mary Anne. The first time we see her, she’s biting her fingernails and talking about her ridiculously strict father. Even for that time, he’s incredibly strict. If the book were written today, I bet he’d be one of those parents who stand outside their kids’ classroom staring at them through the little window in the door. He’d probably give her a cell phone preprogrammed with his phone number (and his phone number only) so he can reach her at any moment. Thank God she stands up to him later in the series – I’m always rooting for Mary Anne.

Kristy and Mary Anne rush home so Kristy can get there before her little brother, David Michael. Kristy watches her little brother while her mother is at work. Ms. Thomas is a single mom/divorcee, which is progressive for an eighties book targeted at children. I remember all the dead mothers on television when I was a kid. Every single parent (usually the father) had to have a dead spouse (usually the wife). They couldn’t utter the word “divorce.” And the television producers certainly wouldn’t have a woman divorcee. To have a working mother in an Apple Paperbacks is revolutionary, at least to childhood me. Ms. Thomas tries, both career-wise and domestically. She isn’t perfect but she still succeeds in giving her children the attention they deserve while (seemingly) conquering the business world in Stanford. All this while providing a secondary influence on Mary Anne next door. I like Ms. Thomas and I think she’s a great mother. I would credit her with the spark that gives Kristy her great idea.

Ms. Thomas needs a babysitter, so she calls every teenager in Stoneybrook. Unfortunately, they are all busy. Kristy comes up with the idea for someone to call one phone number and reach several sitters – the Baby-Sitters Club. After Kristy completes her decorum homework, she contacts Mary Anne via their bedroom windows.

Kristy and Mary Anne decide to discuss the club with their friend, Claudia Kishi. The girls arrive at the Kishis’ house and we have our first outfit description:

“I rang the Kishis’ bell. Claudia came to the door. She was wearing short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and red high-top sneakers without socks. Her long black hair was carefully arranged in four braids. I felt extremely blah compared to her.”

Claudia’s clothes are an explosion at a paint factory – just colors and mayhem everywhere. I love her eclectic style, but there are a few problems I have. People need to wear clothes that are an appropriate size for them. They should not wear clothes that turn them into a giant blob. I know this is new thinking, but, truthfully, people look better when clothes fit them. Secondly, under no circumstances should someone wear sneakers with no socks – that is an experiment in foot odor no one wants to undertake. And lastly, no to a fedora. Never. No fedoras ever. For all time.

Claudia introduces Kristy and Mary Anne to Stacey McGill, who denies food – her major personality trait. When our resident artist comes up with the logo for the Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy wants to call Claudia a genius, but Claudia is sensitive about that word. Her older sister, Janine, is an actual genius and the sisters have a strained relationship.

As a group, they decide on officers without incident. They also create a flyer with phone numbers that start with KL-5, which is something I never understood and still don’t understand. Why not just use numbers?

Kristy’s sensitivity to Claudia is a stark contrast to her interactions with Watson, Ms. Thomas’s suitor. He brings over Chinese food in an attempt to get to know his girlfriend’s family better, but Kristy ruins it by refusing the food and establishing open hostility toward him. I get that it’s a huge change, but he’s not so bad. No matter how mature Kristy is with her clients or her friends, she still exhibits immaturity when it comes to Watson. After all, she’s still 12-years-old.

Kristy’s mother is the first call during the inaugural meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club. Stacey takes the job after Kristy mentions her brothers. Then there’s a prank call. I wish prank calling was still the bane of telephone use. If this were written today, the prank calls wouldn’t be a juvenile prank orchestrated by Kristy’s brother, like it is in this book. The annoying calls would be from recordings trying to trick you into buying a cruise or, god forbid, trying to fix a Windows PC that you don’t have.

The first call that is not a prank or a family member is a woman named Mrs. McKeever. She wants a sitter for twins named Buffy and Pinky. Kristy would probably make the best first impression for a first-time customer, so she takes the job. Mary Anne is going to babysit for Watson’s children, Karen and Andrew, and finally, Claudia takes a job for Mrs. Newton.

Chapter 7 starts with a long description of how addresses work.

I walked over to Quentin Court right after I got home from school. I left a little early, just in case I had any trouble finding the McKeevers’ house. Mrs. McKeever had said that address was 52 Quentin Court. So I found the side of the street with the even-numbered addresses on it and started walking. There was 22 Quentin Court, 28 Quentin Court, 34, 40, 46, and sure enough, there was number 52.

I know how addresses work, Kristy. This passage would have been necessary if, at the end of 46 Quentin Court, there was a large opening in the ground. But there isn’t a chasm. Instead, here is a woman who keeps her “children” locked in the laundry room. Oh, and they are not children – they are dogs. Two hulking Saint Bernards. I would rather babysit for dogs than humans, but Kristy doesn’t agree. She reluctantly watches over the dogs but makes it clear that it’s the first and only time she is going to do that. She makes $3.50, which made me think of the Loch Ness Monster for pop-culture-from-the-Paleolithic-era-related reasons.

Claudia babysits for Jamie Newton and his three cousins, one of whom hates girls and is a future gamergater. I like Jamie, but I hate his jerk cousins. Claudia reads to Jamie and that gets the kids to calm the fuck down. She handled the situation well, but fuck those shitty Feldman cousins.

David Michael gets a brand new babysitter in Stacey, but the person Stacey is focused on is Kristy’s older brother Sam. According to Sam himself, Stacey is “a foxy chick.” You’ll have to excuse him, he is a manifestation of Jimi Hendrix. Sam decides to stay behind and play Candyland with Stacey and David Michael.

The final babysitter to tell us how her first babysitting job went is Mary Anne. She introduces us to Karen and Andrew – Watson’s children and future stars of their own book series (I never got into Little Sister, so don’t ask me to write about them). We also meet Boo “mess of a cat” Boo. Watson suggests that Mary Anne just avoid the cat, but when Boo-Boo (the cat, not the Boyz4Now ingenue) gets in Mrs. Porter’s garden, Mary Anne has no choice but to intervene. Karen warns that Mrs. Porter is actually a witch named Morbidda Destiny (I love that name). She calls the cat a “rapscallion” and Karen thinks it’s a curse. Mary Anne has to inform Karen that it’s just a word, not a curse. A ridiculous, archaic word, but a harmless word nonetheless.

Ms. Thomas forces Kristy to wear a dress to dinner, where Ms. Thomas and Watson announce their potential engagement. Not their actual engagement – the fact that they might get engaged. This is a misstep for Ms. Thomas. If she has any hope of ameliorating the relationship between Kristy and Watson, she should have let Kristy wear what she feels comfortable in. She should ask her daughter to wear something nice for the occasion, but shouldn’t force Kristy into a dress. This does not help the situation.

Stacey leaves for New York under mysterious circumstances. Honestly, Kristy can be too nosy. It’s none of her business why Stacey goes to New York periodically – that’s where she’s from. Stacey’s mom shouldn’t have lied on her behalf, but the girl is allowed a little privacy, even from her best friends.

Kristy is forced to babysit for Watson’s children, the previously introduced Karen and Andrew. She finds out they’re nice kids and finds common ground in their divorced parents. She tells them, “Divorced kids are special kids.” As Watson drives Kristy home, we are treated to an especially sweet passage:

Later, as Watson was driving me home, Karen said, “Kristy, I wish you were our big stepsister, right now.”

“Well,” I said, “how about if I be your baby-sitter instead?”

“That’s okay,” said Karen.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” echoed Andrew.

I glanced at Watson. He was sneaking a look at me, too. We smiled at each other.

After all of Ms. Thomas’s forcing Kristy to wear a dress and spend time with Watson, it was babysitting, Kristy’s focus, job, and love, that brought them closer as a potential family.

The book ends with Watson and Ms. Thomas (Edie, I guess – that’s not a name for anyone under seventy) announcing their official engagement and the BSC’s first slumber party. This is where we learn about Stacey’s diabetes. To her surprise, her new friends are completely cool and understanding with her complicated health situation. We end with this:

I felt deliciously scared – and happy. We were friends again. Things were okay with Watson. The Baby-Sitters Club was a success. I, Kristen Amanda Thomas, had made it work, or helped to make it work. I hoped that Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and I – the Baby-Sitters Club – would stay together for a long time.

And they certainly stayed together for hundreds of books (all of which I hope to own someday), several years, a tv series (I wanted to watch but couldn’t because I didn’t have cable), a movie (I watched it recently – it’s not great), a CD-ROM game (which I played every day and would still play if I had it), and countless other merchandise (I’m always on the lookout for merch).

This isn’t just the first book in a series. This is the first book in a revelation. When I was a young girl, this was the only book series exclusively about a group of distinct girls. Girls with flaws and strengths and stories. I didn’t have that with any other book series out there – they all had boys mucking up the awesome girl adventures or drippy girls who spent their time nagging boys and not being fun.

Ann M. Martin created my childhood. She created my love of reading. She created my need to write and tell stories. And I don’t think I’m that different. I’m sure millions of women my age feel the same way. This book was fantastic, this series was important, and I am even more excited to read books from my childhood.

After lauding the series, I’m switching it up for next time, but I will get back to the BSC. That the principal series of “Rereading My Childhood.”
Besides Ann M. Martin, one of the many other writers who has influenced me is R. L. Stine and I’m reading R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: Monster Blood. See you next time!

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Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

The neighborhood kids once feared me. When I strolled up and down the street with my dark clothes, fortune telling paraphernalia, and a book of spells under my arm, kids made way for me, for they knew they were in the presence of a powerful individual. At any moment, my eyes rolled up and I got a message from “The Other Side.” The place where mere mortals dare not tread. I saw the harbinger ghosts standing behind the other children. I tried to warn them, but they failed to heed my words. Those kids disappeared and the ones who knew to listen to me continued to exist.

At least that was how I perceived myself for a summer when I was a kid. The fortune-telling paraphernalia was a coin and a deck of playing cards. The spellbook was a child’s introduction to fortune telling and the paranormal and I had to return it to the library in four weeks. I didn’t see any ghosts – I pretended to see dead grandparents and people who died under mysterious circumstances in the neighborhood houses. If all the ghosts I claimed to see actually existed, that would mean every house in my neighborhood had at least three mysterious deaths per house. That would make the neighborhood the most dangerous neighborhood in America, but children don’t really think about statistics. The children who mysteriously disappeared just moved away.

I have always been fascinated with the paranormal or the weird. I wanted a secret passage in my house. I wanted to see a ghost. I wanted to be a part of a mystery. I still want a secret passage in my house and if I ever built my own house, I’d request a swinging bookcase. I still want to see a ghost and if something says “haunted,” I’m the first in line (I still haven’t seen a ghost). I still want to be a part of a mystery, preferably on a train.

When the baby-sitters go poking through Dawn’s house attempting to find a mystery, I smiled to myself. If I were them, I’d be the one to instigate the whole thing. The Ghost at Dawn’s House is a fun mystery book with a secret passage and a ghost. I enjoyed it, even if Nicky annoys me.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House – Ghosts are very safety conscious, we all know they require handrails in order to haunt a place.

The Baby-Sitters Club #9 – The Ghost at Dawn’s House starts with the first BSC meeting after Dawn returns from her trip to California and a little casual racism. She regales the other babysitters about her father, referring to him as “Disneyland Dad” because he took her and her younger brother Jeff to the eponymous amusement park while they were there in an attempt to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with his children. Then Dawn describes Claudia (who is Asian) as “exotic-looking.” C’mon, Dawn (actually Ann M. Martin), you’re better than that. Asians aren’t exotic – there are billions of them. There are more Asians than white people. Even more than blonde people, so, really, Dawn, you’re the exotic one.

But I guess it was the 80’s and, apparently, world statistics wasn’t invented yet, so I guess I’ll give them a pass. But seriously, this will be a recurring issue in these books. It’s nice and progressive to have an Asian character, but can we stop calling her “exotic.” If she had purple eyes, blue skin, and a proclivity for eating paste, then I’d call her “exotic.” Until Claudia exhibits something actually “exotic,” I’ll just call her “Asian-American.” But I do love that dragon bracelet!

These girls are dedicated to baby-sitting. Dawn baby-sat her father’s friend’s kids, Claudia baby-sat some kid while she was on vacation to a ski house, Kristy baby-sat her siblings, and we know who Mary Anne and Stacey baby-sat (see #8). A lot of baby-satting (this is intentional) going around.

Now that’s out of the way, we can finally get to the meaty part of the story, which starts with a stormy night at home with Dawn and Jeff. Their mother is on a date, which, for a book that describes Claudia as “exotic,” is pretty progressive. Stoneybrook has been inundated with thunder and rain, which makes Dawn nervous, especially in her home.

“I stood still and listened. I could hear little rustlings. Far away, thunder rumbled. I shivered. I love our old house and the barn, but sometimes they give me the creeps. They were built in 1795, and there’s just something spooky about a place that’s been around that long. So many people have lived here. . . . Some of them have probably died here, too. Right in the house or the barn.

This house sounds dope. I live in the west, so our haunted houses are usually from the Gunsmoke days – nothing that was around when Aaron Burr (Sir) shot Alexander Hamilton. Well, there were things, but white people came in and forced the Natives to leave while the white people tore down perfectly good structures.

The next day, Dawn invites the BSC over to, in Dawn’s exact word, “search for a hidden passage.” That’s something a group of young girls would do, especially since Dawn’s house is so old. Much to their chagrin, the girls find nothing but hijinks where they scare each other.

Now we have our first handwriting chapter. This time, it’s Mary Anne at the Perkinses – the people who purchased Kristy’s old home. Myriah is older than her sister Gabbie, who is nicknamed “The Gabbers.” That is an amazing nickname. I would love to be called “The Gabbers.” My name isn’t Gabby, but I would still love to be called “The Gabbers.”

Mary Anne is apprehensive about the Perkinses. Her best-friend, Kristy, once lived in that house. Mary Anne and Kristy used to be able to talk to each other via their bedroom windows. Now some weird family has taken over the domain that once belonged to Mary Anne’s best-friend, forcing her to use the doorbell like someone who hasn’t considered the place a second home for most of her life. She is understandably upset about this. But, being the nice responsible person that she is, Mary Anne has a good time with the girls, playing games and coloring with them. The Gabbers hands Mary Anne a picture that looks like a “huge, jumbled scribble.” Mary Anne responds in the best way:

“That’s lovely!” Mary Anne exclaimed. She was about to ask, “What is it?” when she remembered something we Baby-Sitters Club members had thought up. Instead of saying “What is it?” when we can’t tell what a picture or an art project is, we say, “Tell me about it.” That way, the kid doesn’t know we can’t tell, so his feelings aren’t hurt, and he tells us what the pictures so we don’t say anything dumb about it, like “I’ve never seen such a big elephant,” when it turns out to be a picture of the kid’s grandmother or something.
“Tell me about it,” Mary Anne said to Gabbie.

That’s some clever shit. It spares the kid embarrassment and it spares the sitter from insulting the kid.

Dawn sits for the Mob family – er, I mean, the Pikes – and learns that Nicky has a new rule where he can leave the house but can only travel as far a two-block radius around the Pike house. Nicky disappears but reappears, dirty but in one piece, after a quick search.

Dawn goes home after her babysitting scare and tries to relax by reading in the barn behind her house. She falls through a trap door and finds an actual secret passage from the barn to her room – just behind the fancy molding. She also finds three mysterious items – a button, a buckle, and a key.

I knew it. I just knew it: Our house was haunted. It was haunted by the ghost of the secret passage. No one was going to believe it, but it was true. I remembered the rapping noises I had heard the night of the storm. Now I knew what had really made them.

That’s a logical conclusion. Trash in a secret passage? It’s a ghost. Although, my first instinct was that it was a rat or some other subterranean rodent moving trash around. The automatic supernatural conclusion is something a twelve-year-old (as well as some adults who watch too many ghost hunting shows) would land on.

The next chapter is a handwriting one in which Kristy baby-sits for Karen, Andrew, and David Michael during a rainy night. Karen wants to tell scary stories, but Kristy wants to tell jokes. She proceeds to tell that stupid knock-knock joke that involves a damn banana. Martin chooses not to paraphrase the joke but to actually write out the whole joke. As if everyone hasn’t already heard that joke a million times before they enter school. I wonder if Martin had to fill a page quota and was short half a page.

Karen tells a scary story about Ben Brewer, the ghost of the third floor. It freaks out Kristy a little. The four of them (plus Boo-Boo the cat and Louie the dog) end up falling asleep together. Kristy’s brothers make fun of her, and Kristy feels silly falling asleep with her siblings, but she’s just being a good older sister, and her brothers should shut the hell up.

Back to Dawn. She tells Jeff about the secret passage from Dawn’s room one night while Dawn’s mom is out on another date (get it, guuurrrll). They find a Buffalo-head nickel and an ice cream cone. They don’t make it to the barn – they hear weird noises and run out. Ms. Schafer comes home with her date. (His name is Trip, which is a ridiculous name for a date let alone a human being.) Ms. Schafer orders her children to stay out of the passage until they can find some way to seal the openings. Her date leaves and she goes to bed.

Dawn can’t sleep, so she rummages through her mother’s things. She finds a book from her grandmother entitled A History of Stoneybrooke. Dawn flips to the conspicuously named “Legends” section of the book. Basically, some guy named Jared Mullray a long ass time ago didn’t want to leave his property and just disappeared. Dawn believes that the property Old Mullray refused to leave is her house. This leads her to another completely rational and not-at-all jumpy conclusion:

There really was a ghost in our secret passage, and that ghost was crazy Jared Mullray!

Of course he is. But he’s not malicious. There’s no record of Ol’ Jared attacking anyone, and it’s not as if he was murdered. He just didn’t want to leave. While he did disappear, there isn’t any indication of foul play or something malicious afoot. Dawn’s house doesn’t have a history of people running away or a string of suspicious accidents. The ghost, if he is haunting Dawn’s secret passage, isn’t a malevolent specter keeping people off his property, but one of those old people who won’t leave their house even though a park needs to be built in an old neighborhood and the city offered them a good sum of money. It’s his house and if he wants to stay in it and annoy everyone, he can because he’s a ghost and there’s not much you can do about a persistent ghost.

Chapter 10 is about Claudia’s baby-sitting adventure with Jamie and Lucy Newton. Lucy goes to sleep immediately, but Jamie attempts to stay up later with kid shenanigans, like asking for more stories and water. He eventually goes to sleep.

Dawn invites Mary Anne over and we have the first mention of “Cam Geary” the “Corey Haim/Feldman” of the BSC universe. That person might be Justin Bieber for a younger person. For my sister, he was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. It was Jonathan Taylor Thomas for me. For Mary Anne Spier, it’s Cam Geary.

After looking at the teen heartthrob in Tiger Beat or Bop or Tiger Bop, (whatever the kids are reading) Dawn invites Mary Anne into the secret passage. The girls are attacked by a flying book and they run away.

Stacey is babysitting a few of the Pike children. Margo and Vanessa use some crazy shampoo on Claire. Meanwhile, Nicky disappears. Stacey asks Dawn for help finding the second most annoying Pike child (the first is still Claire and her “silly phase” which is just an “annoying phase”). Dawn finds Nicky covered in mud near her house, which at the edge of Nicky’s two-block wandering maximum.

Now to the climax. Mallory and Dawn are watching the Pike boys. Nicky gets into a fight with the triplets during a bizarre lunch that involves pregnant woman food combinations and juvenile attempts at humor. Nicky runs away and Mallory scolds the triplets. Dawn finds Nicky in the secret passage. Nicky was the one who left the food, the buckle, the key, and all the other bric-a-brac in the passage. He also tapped on Dawn’s walls and made her think it was a ghost. They share a tender moment before heading back.

The book ends with the BSC having a slumber party at Dawn’s house where they watch a ghost fellate a man and Anthony Michael Hall rape a woman while a racist Orientalist stereotype terrorizes a small town (they watch Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles – I love those movies, especially Sixteen Candles, but let’s not overlook the more problematic and unpleasant aspects of those movies). Stacey and Dawn are left out of the junk food buffet and play a prank on the rest of the club.

I enjoyed The Ghost at Dawn’s House. It was a predecessor to the beloved The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery books (I remember loving the Mystery series, we’ll see if they hold up when I get those). Nicky gets on my nerves, but I have a short fuse when it comes to children. I know that’s odd considering I’m rereading a book series about children watching over children. Maybe I’ll learn to love Nicky and Claire and the other Pike children as the series continues. For now, I’m happy with the mysteries that surround Stoneybrooke. And just because Nicky was the ghost this time, doesn’t mean there isn’t a curmudgeon who refused to leave his property a million years ago haunting Dawn’s house, or that any other houses in Stoneybrooke don’t contain a paranormal enigma waiting for the BSC to solve.

Next week, I’m going back to the beginning! I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Great Idea. See you next time!