Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

Mallory watches over the Arnold twins at their brithday

My sister and I are only separated by a year and because we are so close in age, sometimes relatives gave us matching gifts, particularly for Christmas. One year we each received a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stuffed doll, and in a different year, we received matching baskets of goodies. We even had matching furry white coats that made us look like Frosty the Snowman’s illegitimate children with a She-bear. 

However, not all the gifts were so innocuous. One year, my grandmother paid someone in her retirement community to paint our faces on sweatshirts – and she gave him our school pictures. And not just any school picture – the school picture in which I braided my hair into tight curls and wore a cowboy-style shirt with fringe. Utterly mortifying. If only I had the sense of humor I have now. I’d save the sweatshirt and eventually turn it into a throw pillow. 

I imagine this problem would be worse for twins. Not the horrifying picture of my own painted, curled visage smiling awkwardly from my chest – but the identical gifts. It seems to imply that you’re not two separate people but one duplex of a person.

In The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins, the BSC has a new client who is aggravating the club, but Mallory is up to the challenge. Or is she? (Of course, she is, but let’s pretend to have some suspense, huh? It’s a kids’ book from 1989, calm down, dude. Sheesh.)

Mallory watches over an identical set of twins at their birthday party
What if the secret is that they’re not even twins, but Mrs. Arnold told them they were twins so she could have matching kids?

Mallory Pike, the ginger-est, blindest, and braces-ist of the Baby-Sitters Club, wants to get her ears pierced. This seemed to be a common plot point of late-’80s to early-’90s culture. The sheer act of getting your ears pierced seemed to signal some serious maturing for parents. There’s an episode of Full House wherein Danny Tanner doesn’t want her daughter, Stephanie Tanner, to get her ears pierced, so she lets Kimmy Gibbler do it and it gets infected. And there’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gets angry after Bart gets an earring. Now, as I am doing a rewatch of every Degrassi episode, Ellie comes in with holes all over her body and Sean has both his ears pierced. I remember getting my ears pierced when I was, like, five at the Claire’s. It seems that ear piercing is not the direct stripper pole straight to hell after all.

But I digress. Mallory wants pierced ears and her parents think she’s too young. Or, she assumes her parents won’t allow pierced ears – she hasn’t asked them.

After the obligatory pages describing each babysitter (including referring to Claudia as “exotic” with “almond-shaped eyes” – oof), and pages explaining how the club works, we have a meeting. And surprise! Logan is there. It makes the girls nervous as if they’ve never seen Logan before. I feel like he’s been around enough that they should be used to having him there. I remember the boys I was friends with in middle school – at some point, they’re barely visible.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arnold, the mother of twin girls, Carolyn and Marilyn, needs a steady sitter while she works on a fundraising campaign for Stoneybrook Elementary. Of course, our favorite redhead takes the job.

Mallory arrives at the Arnold household and the twins are dressed in identical outfits – down to the haircuts. They are wearing bracelets with their names on them, but the bracelets match (except the name printed on them). Mrs. Arnold herself is quite a fussy woman, wearing matching bows in her hair, shirt, belt, and shoes. There will be no pattern mixing in her house!

When Mrs. Arnold leaves, Mallory offers the girls her Kid-Kit. Carolyn chooses to play with some puzzles while Marilyn chooses some books, including a book called Baby Island, which is real and not just a bad sitcom with one season from the ‘90s.

Mallory remarks that the twins are cute and “look like bookends.” This prompts the twins to speak to each other in their “twin language,” which is just nonsense and they try to trick Mallory by removing their name bracelets. However, it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano and Mallory is finally able to tell which one is Marilyn until the end of her job.

It’s another day and Mallory is back at the Arnold residence. This time, Mallory plays hide-and-seek with the girls. When Mallory finds one, she asks for a snack. Mallory obliges and goes to search for the other one. She finds one and Marilyn-or-Carolyn asks for a snack. Mallory obliges again and asks where the other one is. It seems she either hid again or is still hiding. Mallory finds another one and they ask for a snack. Mallory declines.

“There are two of you and I gave out two snacks. That’s it. No more.”

“No more? No fair!”

“It’s very fair. Two twins, two snacks. I think you guys just fooled yourselves.”

Then they go into their twin language. When it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano, Carolyn reads a Paddington book and they both ignore Mallory until their mother comes home.

Now it’s time for a different sitter to confront the Arnold twins – Claudia. This time, Mrs. Arnold has some special instructions.

“Marilyn’s piano lesson is at eleven-thirty,” Mrs. Arnold told Claud. “Her carpool will arrive at eleven o’clock. She’s going to be in a recital next week, and today is a special rehearsal and lesson. It’ll last an hour and a half. She’ll be dropped off here around one-thirty. While Mariyln’s gone, Carolyn should work on her project for the science fair. Carolyn just loves science, don’t you, dear?”

Claudia can’t tell the difference between the twins, but one of them leaves with the carpool. A few moments later, Claudia gets a phone call. It’s the music teacher and she has “a very tone-deaf Arnold twin” and asks if Claudia can get the other one there. Claudia can’t drive, so Carolyn just has to stay there until the carpool can bring her back.

When Mrs. Arnold comes back, she scolds the girls for playing a prank on their sitter, but she also scolds Claudia and Claudia has to go without pay. Okay, Mrs. Arnold, it was your horrid twins who played a prank – it wasn’t Claudia’s fault. You should have to pay her double. 

The BSC has a meeting, but before they can discuss the twins, Mallory obsesses over everyone’s clothes. Claudia dressed surprisingly toned down – a t-shirt she painted herself and come capris. Dawn is wearing an oversized blue shirt and if a girl from the ‘80s thinks it’s oversized, it must be able to house a small family and guinea pig. Mary Anne is the one whose outfit is, well, quote-worthy.

Mary Anne was wearing a short plum-colored skirt over a plum-and-white-striped body suit. The legs of the body suit stopped just above her ankles, and she’d tucked the bottoms into her socks. I don’t know where her shoes were. She’d taken them off. The neat thing about her outfit was that she was wearing white suspenders with her skirt. 

So a mime, basically. 

After that, they talk about the Arnolds, but nothing that we didn’t already know. They speak in a twin language. They look identical. But Carolyn likes science and Marilyn plays the piano, so they’re not completely the same.

Another day, another adventure with the Arnold twins. This time, whenever the twins speak in their twin language, Mallory responds with Pig Latin, which confounds the twins. Their minds are blown. Mallory promises to teach them if they stop speaking their twin language around her and put their name bracelets on – properly. They strike a deal.

In a moment of verisimilitude, the twins lament that no one can tell them apart. They show Mallory their one key difference: Carolyn has a mole under her left eye. Marilyn’s mole under her right eye. 

At the end of the sitting job, Mrs. Arnold asks if the BSC would be willing to watch over the twins’ birthday party. Mallory promises to bring it up at the next meeting. As she’s leaving, the girls call “Ood-gay eye-bay!” instead of their twin language, and Mallory is pleased with herself.

We switch to Kristy watching over her siblings Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The chapter starts with a long explanation of what an estate sale is because we couldn’t leave it at “Mrs. Thomas and Watson are gone.” They’re going to an estate sale! Promise! Just a plain ol’ estate sale. What is an estate sale? Let me tell you in excruciating detail. I know all about those sales because I’m going to one. I’m not going to a secret island where we hunt the poors for sport! I’m going to an estate sale, which is something I know all about.

Karen and David Michael invite the Papadakis kids over. Meanwhile, Andrew needs to learn lines for a school play about a circus. However, Andrew doesn’t want to be in this play.

“But I don’t want to be in it,” replied Andrew, and his lower lip began to quiver. “I don’t want everyone looking at me and listening to me.”

“But you know what they’ll probably be thinking while you’re doing that?”

“What?”

“They’ll probably be thinking, What a good bear that Andrew makes. He knows his lines so well. I bet he worked very hard.”

“What if I forget my lines? Then what will they be thinking?”

“They’ll be thinking, Oh, too bad. He forgot his lines. Well, that happens sometimes. He still looks like a very nice, smart boy.”

Sure, Kristy. That’s what they’ll be saying. If you wanted to motivate him, you should have told him the truth: if he remembers his lines and just says them, the second he’s done, they’ll pay attention to the next kid; if he forgets his lines, they’ll remember him and use him as an example of why you should learn your damn lines.

While Andrew works on learning his lines, David Michael reads “Basho-Man” comics with Linny Papadakis. I think it’s lovely that the kids are getting into a comic book series about an Edo period Japanese haiku poet. Instead of reading poetry, which I’m assuming these comics are about, Karen and Hannie dress up identically and say they’re twins because the kids in this town are suspiciously in tune with the A storyline. 

As for the party, of course, the BSC helps with the Arnold twins’ birthday. Although, I guess it’s just Mary Anne, Dawn, and Mallory. When Mallory discovered the mole difference, she started noticing other differences between the twins. Marilyn’s nose is rounder and Carolyn’s cheeks are fuller. She also noticed the personality differences between the two. 

After the games, they open presents and every gift the twins receive comes in a pair. A pair of Raggedy Ann dolls. A pair of stuffed elephants. A pair of the complete second season of Designing Women on DVD. The girls are not particularly happy. That is until they get to Mallory’s gifts.

They were not the same size or shape. They were wrapped in different paper. The twins looked intrigued.

“Is this a mistake?” asked Carolyn.

“Who are they from?” asked Marilyn.

“Me,” I replied. “Go on. Open them.”

So they did. I’d picked out a tiny pin in the shape of a piano for Marilyn, and a book of simple science experiments for Carolyn.

“Boy, thanks!” cried the girls enthusiastically. They absolutely beamed at me.

But the twins are only allowed to be individuals momentarily because the cake has their identical faces on it and they blow out the identical candles at the same time. 

The next time Mallory sits for the twins, they show her some of the other gifts they received. Despite their sets of identical dollhouses, socks, and jumping sticks (I didn’t make up that last one), their favorite gifts were the ones from Mallory because they were different.

Mallory tells them about her triplet brothers. She says that they don’t dress the same, they act differently, and they don’t get three copies of everything. Mallory apologizes for calling the twins cute bookends when they met. The twins apologize for antagonizing Mallory and the other sitters. 

The twins, with the support of Mallory, speak to their mother when she gets home.

“Different,” spoke up Marilyn. “But we look alike and dress alike, so everyone treats us like one person – the same person.”

“And we aren’t one person, Mommy!” said Carolyn desperately. “We’re two. Only no one knows it. At school, the kids call both of us ‘Marilyn-or-Carolyn.”

I cringed, remembering that that was how I used to think of the girls.

“We hate it!” added Marilyn.

“The girls do look sweet in their matching outfits,” I said, “but,” I added quickly as Carolyn poked me in the ribs, “they’ve told me they think they’re old enough to choose their own clothes. They have different tastes.”

“If we went to school looking different,” said Marilyn, “maybe the kids would get to know who we are.”

Their mother agrees to let them use their birthday money to get new clothes and haircuts. Before we get to the shopping montage, bolstered by the twins’ success, Mallory has to speak with her parents.

After a lengthy explanation of negotiation, Mallory asks for a new wardrobe, her ears pierced, a new haircut, and contact lenses. They say she’s not old enough for contacts and they don’t have enough money for a new wardrobe (she didn’t really want those two – they were tokens for negotiation). She can get her ears pierced as long as she pays for it herself and she does the aftercare so they don’t get infected. She can get her hair cut as long as she doesn’t get a “green mohawk” and she has to go to a “salon downtown.” A green mohawk can be adorable, but I guess I’m biased as a member of the blue hair club.

We finally get our shopping montage with the twins and Mallory. They talk about how expensive clothes are and I wondered why they didn’t go to an outlet mall. Too good to be a Maxxinista?

Mallory buys matching book earrings for her and Jessi. I guess we’re not done with the identical gift motif. In the end, the girls show off their new looks to their mother, who is surprised but open-minded.

A few days later, Mallory is back at the mall with the rest of the BSC. Not only is Mallory going to get her ears pierced, but Jessi is going to get pierced ears also, Claudia is getting a third hole, and Dawn is getting a second hole. The lady at Claire’s just puts them on a lazy Susan and shoots their ears as they spin around in a circle. Just kidding. She does it normally. And the book doesn’t explicitly say it’s a Claire’s, but we all know it’s a Claire’s.  So in the end, both the Arnold twins and Mallory get to show off more of their individuality. Every kid has to go through this – when you have to convince your parents to give up some of their autonomy so you can pick out what you want. Even though every kid can relate on some level, being twins exacerbates the situation. If every Christmas my sister and I got the same gifts, I’d go insane also. Especially since her gifts were more of the Barbie variety and all I wanted were books about hostage-level parental negotiations and estate sales.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #20: Kristy and the Walking Disaster

I do not come from a sports family. I had no interest and actively hated (and still hate) physical activity. My mother climbed our cherry trees to get the best fruits, but that’s about it. My father, the stereotypical member of the family to love sports, had even less interest than myself. My sister was the closest to a sports fan. And by sports, I mean sports entertainment. She even wanted to be a wrestler when she grew up. She’s a stand-up comedian, so she just made a lateral move. Luckily for me, because my family doesn’t care much for sports or forcing children into activities, I never joined a Little League team. My parents never made my sister or me join anything, and for that, I am grateful.

Kristy starts a Little League team in Kristy and the Walking Disaster, and this book dives into a world I never experienced. It also affirms why I don’t like sports, so this book is both an exploration and an affirmation! It’s like a self-help book for people who don’t like sports, but like Scholastic Book Fairs.

If you have a cursory knowledge of the kids of Stoneybrook, you know who the walking disaster is. However, I would be surprised if the walking disaster turned out to be the friends we made along the way.

The book starts a BSC meeting and the usual description of each and every BSC member. Kristy even tells the reader, “I am the president and I must look like I mean business.” After four years of the indignity of the Tr*mp Crime Family, I don’t think that’s true anymore. 

We get our lengthy explanation on club procedures, Kid-Kits, and the BSC notebook. All standard opening chapter stuff. Finally, the BSC starts their meeting and they get a call from the Radowsky family. Kristy takes the job while calling Jackie a “walking disaster.” Honestly, it’s a bit harsh, and even if the kid is accident-prone, he’s still one of the more interesting kids in Stoneybrook.

That Saturday, Kristy is watching a few of the neighborhood kids play softball. 

Hannie really couldn’t hit. She never connected with the ball. Max dropped or missed every ball he tried to catch. David Michael was simply a klutz. He tripped over his feet, the bat, even the ball, and no matter how he concentrated, he somehow never did anything right, except pitch. Karen wasn’t a bad hitter. And Andrew might have been a good catcher if he weren’t so little, but he’s only four, so balls went sailing over him right and left, even when he stretched for him. Amanda and Linnie were no better than the others.

Yeah, how dare these kids play softball if they’re so terrible! Who cares if they’re four, when Joe DiMaggio was four, he had two World Series wins and had married and divorced Marilyn Monroe!

She gathers up the kids and gives them some pointers because these kids will never get to Koshien if they don’t get their shit together. Some of the kids express an interest in joining a team and David Michael informs Kristy of a kid in the neighborhood named Bart Taylor who coaches Bart’s Bashers. For those of you familiar with the BSC, that name should ring a bell. 

Anyway, Kristy goes to talk to Bart Taylor and she freaks.

Why did I feel so nervous? I’ve talked to boys before. I’ve been to dances with boys. I’ve been to parties with boys. But none of them looked at me the way Bart was looking at me just then – as if standing on the sidewalk was a glamorous movie star instead of plain old me, Kristy Thomas. And, to be honest, none of them had been quite as cute as Bart. They didn’t have his crooked smile or his deep, deep brown eyes, or his even, straight perfect nose, or his hair that looked like it might have been styled at one of those hair places for guys – or not. I think it’s a good sign if you can’t tell.

Do you mean a “barbershop,” Kristy? Since this is the eighth grade, I’m assuming she means “Fantastic Sams.”

Anyway, she tries to get six kids on Bart’s team, but he won’t because he can’t handle that many kids. It will become apparent that he can’t even handle the kids he currently has, but for right now, Kristy walks away having made two decisions – she’s going to start a softball team and she has a crush on Bart Taylor. 

So Mary Anne babysits for the Perkins’s and Jamie Newton and Nina Marshall show up. Gabbers sells Jamie four-hundred dollar water. They also end up playing softball outside, because the kids in Stoneybrook are psychically linked, and Myriah knows a lot about playing. Mary Anne tells her about Kristy’s softball team, making Myriah the first competent player on the team. 

Kristy sits for the Radowskys. Jackie drops pink lemonade while they are preparing a birthday party for the dog. Jackie’s older brothers are in Little League and that prompts them to play softball. His older brothers chastise Jackie for not playing perfectly. Even Kristy thinks about how Jackie is a worse player than David Michael. However, even though she’s awfully judgmental about a seven-year-old’s sports capabilities, Kristy still invites him to join her softball team, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a title.

Later that night, Kristy receives a bunch of phone calls about her team, mostly kids asking to join. Kristy ends with a list of twenty kids, their ages, and their problems, which range from “Gabbie Perkins – 2½ – doesn’t understand the game yet” to “Myriah Perkins – 5 – ?(probably just needs work)” and “David Michael Thomas – 7 – a klutz.” There are even a few kids Kristy hasn’t met yet – the Kuhns. That’s the suburbs for you – just kids and softball teams sprouting like Spirit Halloween Stores in abandoned Circuit Citys in October. 

Watson and Kristy determine that the team is meant “to coach kids who wanted to improve their playing skills, but more importantly, just to have fun.” Kristy also wonders if Bart thinks she’s cute. In fact, she writes it down on her list of considerations for the team. 

On the first day of practice, all twenty kids show up. Kristy is going to coach them for a while and then they’ll play a short game. She also reminds everyone that Matt Braddock is a fantastic player but he’s deaf so the kids can’t just yell stuff at him. 

Before they finally play a game, Mallory, who is there with Dawn and some other parents for moral support, suggests they come up with a name, and Jackie yells, “How about Kristy’s Crushers?”

“And we could spell ‘Crushers’ with a ‘K’,” added Margo Pike. “You know, to go with Kristy. Kristy’s Krushers.”

“No!” cried Karen. “That’s wrong. That’s not how you spell ‘crushers.’ You spell ‘crushers’ with a ‘C’!” (Karen takes her spelling very seriously.)

But she was voted down. Every other kid liked “Kristy’s Krushers-with-a’ K.’”

Dammit, Karen, lighten up. It’s a softball team not a United Nations Treaty. As long as it’s not “Kristy’s Kool Krushers,” I’m sure it will be fine. 

Also, Google thinks it should be “Kristy’s Krushers” also.

At the end of their first game, Linny calls Kristy, “Coach,” giving Kristy a confidence boost, and she declares the practice a complete success. 

While Claudia and Mallory are sitting for the Pikes, the triplets, who are in Little League, propose a game between the Little Leaguers and the Krushers. Matt Braddock is also there, so he is on the Krusher’s side. Matt is very good, as expected, and Nicky has a surprisingly sweet moment with his little sister wherein he encourages her like a proper teammate. In the end, the triplets win, of course, but the Krushers never give up and the triplets congratulate them on the game graciously. 

At the next practice, there’s a bunch of baseball stuff. Claire sings “I’m a Little Teapot.” Jackie trips over his feet. David Michael signs “monkey” to Matt, and he is confused. 

Finally, Buddy Barrett pitches to Jackie and the ball goes right into Jackie’s mouth. Claudia pulls out a tooth and Jackie exclaims, “I just love losing teeth.” Kristy calls for the end of practice.

After dinner, Kristy goes to walk Shannon (the dog, not the sitter) and finds Bart and his rottweiler. They walk their dogs together and we have our main conflict of the book.

“Hey,” said Bart. “I’ve got an idea. Just to show you that I think your team is as good as mine, even if the kids are younger, how about a game? Bart’s Bashers challenge Kristy’s Krushers.”

A game? A real game? Against Bart’s team? I didn’t know if the Krushers were ready for something like that, but I wasn’t about to say no. I couldn’t let Bart think I was afraid of his team. Besides, if we set up a game, I’d be sure to see him again – soon.

“Sure,” I replied. “How about two weeks from Saturday? Is that enough time for the Bashers to get ready?”

“Of course! But what about the Krushers?”

“Oh, they’ll be ready.”

I grinned at Bart and he grinned back.

How do these teams always find time to challenge other random teams? I never want to hear another parent say their kid is too busy with sports again. If they have enough time to challenge five-year-olds to games, they have enough time to finish their one-page report on Taft.

At the next practice, the team shows up in “Kristy’s Krushers” jerseys. Everyone except Karen, of course, who is the wettest of wet blankets and her jersey says, “Kristy’s Crushers.” We get it, Karen, you’re not fun.

The team gets excited when Kristy tells them about the impending game with the Bashers. Haley and Vanessa volunteer for cheerleading duty (with Charlotte coordinating), and the team plans to sell refreshments at the game. But before they play the game, they have to practice. This time, Kristy keeps the kids in one position, instead of having them switch around. 

The practice is going pretty good until Jackie hits a ball through Stoneybrook Elementary School’s window. The practice is over and the Radowsky’s have to pay for a new window.

Bart and a few of the Bashers show up to their next practice to scope out the competition. The Bashers make fun of the Krushers. The little jerks fat-shame Jake Kuhn, call Gabbie a baby, and call Jackie “Pig-Pen from Peanuts.” The absolute worst thing they do is call Matt dumb because he’s deaf. Kristy says she doesn’t think Bart can hear his team’s derogatory comments. 

What the hell, Bart? Get control of your team. What kind of environment are you cultivating wherein your team thinks it’s acceptable to say these toxic things? I don’t care if Bart couldn’t hear them, David Michael wouldn’t make fun of a kid in a wheelchair even if Kristy couldn’t hear him.

Luckily, if Bart wasn’t there to get control, Haley was not putting up with bullshit.

Haley charged over to the Basher who had just insulted her brother. She stood inside the catcher’s cage, nose-to-nose with the boy on the other side of the wire fence.

“That ‘dummy,’” she said with clenched teeth, “is my brother, and if you call him a dummy one more time, I will personally rearrange your face.”

The kid just stared at Haley, but she stared back until she had stared him down.

Well, I’m glad someone has some sense of decency. 

On the day of the big game, Kristy runs into a snag. Their best player and pitcher, Nicky, is sick and can’t play. David Michael will be taking over pitching duties.

The game is pretty chaotic. Matt hits a homerun. The Bashers cheerleaders chant “Strikeout!” as Margo Pike steps up. Vanessa and Haley cheer louder for Margo, and in a surprise move, the Pike triplets, who showed up dressed in their Little League uniforms, join Vanessa and Haley to drown out the Basher cheerleaders. Jackie accidentally throws his bat, “twists” his ankle, and Kristy calls a time out.

“Jackie,” I said, “I’m putting you back in the game.”

Jackie snapped to attention. “But-but I can’t play, Coach!” he exclaimed. “I hurt my ankle.” He began rubbing his right ankle.

“When you fell, you hurt your other ankle,” I pointed out.

“Oops.”

“Jackie, I know you’re embarrassed. I also know you’re a good player. And right now, we need you at first base. It’s either you or Jamie Newton, and you know what’ll happen if a ball comes toward Jamie.”

Whoa, slam on Jamie – a four-year-old. 

Jackie gets back in the game. Matt hits a home run. Charlotte Johanssen cheers even though she is incredibly shy. Hannie Papadakis hits a home run. Everyone is taking off their hats under the blistering sun.

In the end, the Bashers win, because they’re eleven-year-olds playing against four-year-olds, but the score is 16-11, which seems like a high-scoring game. 

We still have one more side-plot to resolve – Bart and Kristy. Does he apologize for his team’s behavior? No. He does not. It does pull Kristy out of the way of a zooming car, so that’s something. And for reasons I don’t understand, Kristy asks for a rematch. 

This is the introduction of Bart as Kristy’s primary love interest to the series, and just like Logan, I was thoroughly disappointed. Bart is passive while his team demeans younger children, and he doesn’t apologize for their behavior after the game. But I guess Kristy is only twelve – she hasn’t experienced how trash dudes can be. While this book did show me (in interminable detail) a few play-by-plays of several softball practices and one game, I still lack interest in sports and its appeal is still inconceivable to me. The extreme competition and hostility for no reason paired with the pep talks and time commitment have just reiterated why I have no interest in sports or group activities. My sister is correct when it comes to sport: at least professional wrestling has storylines and plot twists.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #19: Claudia and the Bad Joke

Practical jokes are stupid. It’s a way for someone to be mean to another for no reason and then say, “Hey, it’s a practical joke!” as if those few words negate convincing your family is dead or whatever dumb joke they concocted. Granted, not every practical joke is like that. If the real victim is the joker, then I don’t think there’s a problem, besides, maybe, wasting time.

Maybe my thoughts on practical jokes have been skewed by the jokes gone wrong in R. L. Stine novels and terrible jokes on YouTube that are thinly veiled, monetized ways to abuse children or girlfriends. Maybe I’m a sensitive millennial who can’t take a joke. Maybe this next BSC book will show me some great practically-based jokes.

Or maybe not, given the title.

a girl lays in a hospital bed while two children look at her
My leg is broken, kids, I’m not getting a brain transplant. What are you trying to say?

The book starts with the entire town, including the BSC, at a free Slapstick Film Festival at the library. I don’t understand slapstick humor, but there’s no judgment here, given that this is my favorite video on the internet.

See? No practical jokes. Just punching. And it’s only eleven seconds long.

We have the obligatory rundown of every BSC member – including Claudia’s admission that she’s “one of the coolest-looking kids in Stoneybrook Middle School.” After that, Kristy lets us in on her life’s goal.

On the movie screen, a man dressed in a tux was holding out a corsage to a woman in an evening gown. The woman leaned over to smell the flowers and SPLAT! A stream of water got her right in the eye.

But just then, the man got hit in the face with a coconut cream pie.

“Awesome!” whispered Kristy. “That’s my dream!”

That’s a weird dream, Kristy. But my current dream is to read and review every BSC book, so I guess we’re even. It’s all about keeping your dreams practical and attainable. If the past four years have taught me anything, you shouldn’t dream beyond your capacity, or else 200,000 people die (hopefully it’s not as bad by the time this comes out – I’m writing this in September). (I’m editing and uploading this in February – yeah, past Amy, double that. It’s still pretty bad.)

The next chapter is a BSC meeting and Claudia explains club logistics. Then the club receives a call from a new client, Mrs. Sobak, who is looking for a sitter for her daughter Betsy. Claudia takes the job. At the end of the meeting, Kristy sprays ink on Mary Anne’s white blouse. It’s disappearing ink, but I bet Mary Anne’s blouse is still ruined. Also, that’s a stupid joke. Haha, I ruined your shirt. 

During a pleasant dinner and homework session with Mimi, Claudia receives a few calls. One is from Ashley Wyleth, one of the most onerous BSC characters, and the other is the Prince Albert in a can prank call. Because kids love jokes about tobacco. I had to Google what that is. It turns out, to the surprise of no one, most jokes are not timeless.

The next day, Claudia contacts two previous babysitters of Betsy Sobak’s – Diana and Gordon. Betsy is a practical joker and it became so bad, Diana and Gordon both refuse to babysit the child. Still, Claudia agreed to a job, and, dadgummit, Claudia is going to do the job.

She meets Betsy’s mother, Cookie, and we learn Betsy’s father works at Tile Corp. Claudia fails to find out if Tile Corp is a corporation for tiles or a subdivision of the army specifically for tiles. I will update if I find out more.

Betsy starts with the pranks almost immediately with a dribble glass. Then, Betsy tells Claudia where she gets all her pranking supplies.

“From McBuzz’s Mail Order. It’s a catalogue. All McBuzz’s sells is practical jokes. I spent most of my allowance on stuff from McBuzz’s . . . Well, I used to. Then Mom and Dad made me quit. But it doesn’t matter. I already had McBuzz’s best jokes.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to miss out on a single instrument of torture.”

I’m with Claudia – I still think practical jokes are stupid and this book is not changing my mind. Claudia is not having it with the “jokes” and she tries to stop that behavior immediately. However, less than a page later, Betsy gets Claudia with pepper gum. Still, Claudia has a job to finish and she ushers Betsy outside to play. 

They swing on Betsy’s swing set. Just as Claudia starts to get some air, the chain snaps, and Claudia falls on her leg.

My leg certainly was broken. It was a truly disgusting sight. There was no blood or anything, but it twisted in a way that no leg should ever be twisted. I thought I’d see all possible disgusting sights from eating school lunches with Kristy Thomas. But this was much, much worse. I had to look away from my leg.

I turned toward Betsy. She was still swinging, but the expression on her face was one of horror. Then, in a panic, she began to slow herself down. The swing hadn’t even come to a stop when she jumped off it and ran to me.

“Oh! Oh, Claudia!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! I knew the chain was broken. That’s why I wanted you to sit down on the swing. I thought when you did, you’d just go – boom – onto the grass. But it didn’t break right away and I forgot and you said let’s have a contest and I still forgot and I didn’t remember until-”

“Betsy, Betsy,” I interrupted her. I had suddenly realized that my leg was numb. I could hardly feel it, which scared me more than anything. “I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. The thing is, I have to get to the hospital. And you’re going to have to help me. Can you follow directions?”

Claudia tells her to do several things: 1) Dial 911 and tell them that her babysitter broke her leg and needs an ambulance; 2) Call Betsy’s parents and tell them what happened; and 3) If she can’t reach her parents, call the Radowskys – Dawn and Mallory are baby-sitting over there. 

Betsy comes back with a pillow and a blanket. She was unable to reach her parents, but Mallory and Dawn are heading over. Sure enough, Mallory, Dawn, Jackie, and a bunch of Pike kids come riding up on their bikes like harbingers of death. That’s right. It’s not Four Horsemen – it’s the Pike kids on bikes come to gawk.

Mallory stays with the kids while Dawn calls Claudia’s parents and rides with Claudia to the hospital. While waiting at the hospital, Claudia remembers Mimi in the hospital and starts to cry. Dawn comforts her, but she doesn’t stop until she’s put under.

Claudia wakes up to her family surrounding her hospital bed. Her mother tells her that the break isn’t critical, but it’s severe enough to warrant a week-long stay. The Kishis must have amazing insurance to get that kind of top-notch care. 

Over the next few days, Claudia receives several visitors. Kristy and Jamie Newton show up, as well as Mary Anne, who sneaks in her cat, and lastly, Mallory, Claire, and Vanessa. Claudia’s roommate, Cathy, doesn’t have as many visitors. Claudia attributes her roommate’s unpopularity to Cathy’s childish behavior. Whenever the nurse shows up to do her damn job, Cathy cries and yells. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be around someone who screamed when I did my job. Also, Claudia is a more tolerant person than me, because I would request to transfer rooms the second Cathy screams when a nurse tries to take her blood pressure.

Even Stacey calls her, but it’s not a happy call. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” I told her. “I keep coming back to this one thing. What if I’d ruined my hands or arms when I fell? Baby-sitting can be dangerous, Stace. And there’s a good chance that when I grow up I’ll be an artist, not a sitter. I don’t want to lose that chance. So I’m thinking of dropping out of the Baby-sitters Club. Just to be on the safe side.”

And that’s it! Claudia quits the club and she has no more stories about her.

No, she doesn’t quit the club. But let’s keep going and see how she deals with her trauma.

Meanwhile, Mary Anne and Jessi babysit for the Pikes, who are, of course, going along with the zeitgeist of pranks in Stoneybrook. There’s a fake spider and even faker barf. Mary Anne and Jessi end the day by pretending there’s an elephant outside and that gets the kids. So, got ‘em? I guess?

It’s finally time for Claudia to come home. Her homeroom teacher calls her and has her homeroom class say, “Welcome home, Claudia!” Mary Anne and Kristy orchestrated the whole event and Claudia likes it. After the call, Claudia spends quality time with Mimi.

At the first BSC meeting since her return, Claudia announces that she’s thinking about quitting the club. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Sobak calls the club and asks for a sitter for Betsy. Claudia remarks that “If I were Mrs. Sobak, I wouldn’t have the nerve to call us again.” Honestly, yeah, Claudia, I’m with you there. Her daughter tricks Claudia into sitting in a broken swing and breaks her leg, and Mrs. Sobak thinks, yeah, sure, send another victim into Betsy’s clutches.

Mallory takes the job with the intent to borrow “tricks” from the triplets. Mallory and Betsy start with a prank-free snack and they bond over shared memorization of the poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” However, the peace is short-lived when Betsy disappears, prompting Mallory to search the house for her. Mallory gets her back when she tricks Betsy into rubbing sneezing powder on her face. Then Betsy pretends to sneeze out a tooth. That’s the beginning.

During the rest of the afternoon, Mal scared Betsy with the slug, Betsy scared Mal with a rubber snake. Mal scared Betsy with the rat, Betsy scared Mal with her cockroach. Just as Mal ran out of jokes, she heard Mrs. Sobak’s car pull into the garage.

Betsy and Mal looked at each other. They smiled.

And Mal knew something just from looking at Betsy then. She knew that neither of them would mention the jokes to Betsy’s mother. As a baby-sitter, Mal shouldn’t have been playing them on one of her charges. But Betsy shouldn’t have been playing jokes after what had happened to me.

A battle of the joke war had been fought, but nobody had won and nobody had lost.

It’s not the end of Betsy’s pranking though. Dawn is the next sacrifice at the McBuzz altar. Betsy puts slime in Dawn’s Kit-Kit. Dawn pretends to faint and scares Betsy. And then there’s shaving cream disguised as whipped cream. Honestly, the pranks have become so tired. This book has ensured that any fondness I had for jokes and pranks was eradicated by the end. Just stop sitting for this kid – maybe the total rejection of the entire Stoneybrook baby-sitting community is the only way to get Mrs. Sobak to get control of her daughter.

But there has to be an ending more suited to the BSC, right? Well, none other than our president and pie-throwing enthusiast Kristy Thomas ends the prank war.

Kristy takes Betsy to the movie. Betsy sees some kids she knows and Kristy ushers her to say hi. Betsy admits that the kids don’t like her very much. Can you at home guess why? It doesn’t take Blue and Steve to figure this one out.

Anyway, at the movies, Kristy hides in the theater, forcing Betsy to go up and down the aisle looking for her. After annoying the entire theater, Kristy finally waves and Betsy sits down for the movie. Then, Kristy puts her thumb into the bottom of the popcorn bucket and Betsy thinks it’s a severed thumb. She screams, of course, and the usher comes over to admonish Betsy. All this in front of her classmates. Betsy has been embarrassed and watches the rest of the movie in silence.

On the way home, Kristy tells Betsy that she needs to think about the consequences of her actions. While most of her jokes don’t hurt most people, Claudia was directly hurt by her irresponsible pranking. Also, she makes others feel the way she felt during the movie. 

They take a brief detour to Claudia’s house, where Betsy formally apologizes to Claudia. I still don’t trust this little maniac, but Claudia accepts her apology.

Later, at the BSC meeting, Kristy shows up early to speak with Claudia privately about leaving the club. Of course, Claudia doesn’t quit the club. However, she does have one condition: she doesn’t sit for Betsy. 

I have yet to see a joke shop in my life. I think they all burned down in the Great Joke Shop Fire of 1992 and no one bothered to open them again. Unfortunately, pranks have just found a new medium on the internet and it’s not better. The pranks are still rooted in a disregard for someone else’s feelings or property. They’re either trying to convince children that they’re going to be snatched by a murderous clown or dumping a girlfriend’s bath bomb with dye so you ruin both her skin for days and a bath bomb. All for fake internet cred. 

This book failed to endear me to jokes and Betsy. Sure, she apologized, but her future lies on YouTube, encouraging her children to beat their sibling in the name of a joke and views. If I never see Betsy again, it’ll be too soon.

And stop pranking each other. This is stupid.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #18: Stacey’s Mistake

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur

I have never been to New York City. I would like to visit someday, particularly the Natural History Museum because I love dinosaurs. However, I don’t have the same reverence that others have for the home of Central Park. I love the west coast. I’ve been to Los Angeles, which is kind of like New York City, but with better weather, impossibly beautiful waiters, and a sheen of friendliness that may be fake, but it really doesn’t matter for the three minutes you interact with someone. New York City seems cold and unfriendly and another city with skyscrapers — nothing to revere as the pinnacle of American ingenuity. (At least, not while sourdough was invented in San Francisco, which is my favorite city with an unsustainable cost of living.)

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur
Now apologize to the dinosaur’s butt for blaming your fart on it. Also, if Ms. Jewett needs the book back, just let me know.

The Baby-Sitters Club, and seemingly Ann M. Martin, disagrees with me. New York City is a treasure. It is a place to be heralded as a new Athens, a new Constantinople, a new Babylon. Many songs have been written about the city — and even whole musicals. And even though all that pop culture, I still think of New York City as a place that seems cool, but no more special than Los Angeles. Maybe our favorite New York Girl Stacey will change my mind about the city. Maybe I’ll come out of this book review with a fresh admiration for the east coast. I mostly want to know why everyone seems so grumpy on the east coast.

Even though Stacey moved back to New York and away from the BSC in #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye, Stacey is still baby-sitting. In fact, she’s the resident babysitter for most of her building.

The community announces a meeting to discuss Judy, a “bag-lady” and other people like her, and every parent needs a baby-sitter on the same night. This meeting is the social event of the year! Come have hors devours! Talk about a homeless woman with an obvious drug addiction! Gentrify the neighborhood and get her arrested!

Stacey comes up with a familiar idea — a day camp with her best-friends from Stoneybrook! And since the meeting is for only one day, Stacey can treat the BSC to a New York Weekend complete with a party.

However, if you read the title of this book, you know it isn’t going to be smooth sailing for the rest of the book. In fact, this book falls under the BSC trope of “infighting.” What are they going to argue about now? Let’s find out.

The second the BSC arrives, they’ve established who they’re going to be in this book. Dawn will be playing the part of “Scared Person,” Kristy will be “Big Mouth,” Claudia will be “Too Much Luggage,” and Mary Anne will be “The Tourist” (not the movie). The girls are excited to see their long lost friend, and after they drop off their luggage at Stacey’s apartment, which the Scared Person Dawn is thankful that Stacey has a doorman, they go to get lunch.

Mary Anne wants to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Dawn asks if it’s in a safe neighborhood. Stacey remarks that Dawn used to live in Los Angeles, to which Dawn clarifies that it was outside Anaheim, not Los Angeles proper. I’ve been to Anaheim — it’s not exactly Mayberry, but when the biggest building in the city is The Tower of Terror (now the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, because Star-Lord is better than Rod Sterling, for some reason I don’t understand) the 100-story skyscrapers of New York that loom over the dark streets are imposing.

The girls are impressed when Stacey says to the host, “‘Five for lunch, please.’” I guess girls in the ’80s didn’t normally go to restaurants by themselves. And I thought Reno was backward. I remember having lunches with my other thirteen-year-old friends at Applebee’s, and we all asked for separate checks. It’s embarrassing, I know. I apologize to every server to whom I’ve ever said, “Can we get separate checks?” It’s a shameful act and I have no excuse other than that I was thirteen and stupid.

During lunch, Kristy orders “fill-it mig-nun.” I ignored the obvious pronunciation error and instead wondered how much Kristy brought with her. Like, I know Watson is rich, but I wouldn’t send my thirteen-year-old to New York with enough to consider filet mignon for lunch.

After lunch, Mary Anne gets everyone to buy T-shirts from the Hard Rock Cafe — even Stacey. Kristy tries to give a homeless person some money, but Stacey tells her to never open her purse on the street because someone could snatch it. That freaks out Scared Person Dawn.

The girls go to Bloomingdale’s and Mary Anne shoplifts some eye shadow. She thought it was a sample. Sure, Mary Anne, a “sample.” I’m kidding. Mary Anne couldn’t shoplift a five-cent Jolly Rancher from 7–11. Kristy does what I usually do in these stores:

Kirsty kept exclaiming things like, “Look how expensive this is! In Stoneybrook it would only cost half as much,” or “Mary Anne, come here. Look at this — a hundred and sixty dollars for one pair of shoes!”

Yeah, that’s me — I’m the one screaming, “Who the hell pays full price at Bed, Bath, & Beyond?” And when they get in the elevator in Stacey’s building, Kristy continues her role of Big Mouth.

“Have you ever gotten stuck in the elevator?” Dawn wanted to know. “It took a long time for the doors to open when we came up to your apartment.”

“Never,” I told her firmly. “I have never been stuck. You aren’t claustrophobic, are you?”

“She’s just a worrywart,” said Kristy. “For heaven’s sake, Dawn, I can think of worse things than getting stuck in an elevator. What if the cable broke and the elevator crashed all the way to the basement?”

“Kristy!” exclaimed Claudia, Mary Anne, and I. (Dawn was speechless with fear.)

I laughed, but I tend to diffuse tense situations with laughter. Elevators used to freak me out, but it’s not the fear of getting stuck or the cable snapping (there are security measures in place in case something catastrophic happens). I mostly hate elevators because I hate the feeling of descending. You won’t find me on those drop rides.

The BSC members meet all the parents of the kids they’ll be babysitting during the meeting. It’s a list of names and parents with various eccentricities. We’re never going to see these kids after this book, so I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce you to each one of them. Let’s just say that there’s more diversity in this building than in the entire history of Stoneybrook.

Now it’s party time! Of course, the first thing the girls do is plan their outfits. Mary Anne insists that they dress as “New York” as they can to fit in.

“Maybe we should wear our Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts,” said Kristy. “They’re as New York as you can get.”

Kristy! I know she’s supposed to be saying the wrong things, but Kristy is giving me life in this book.

In the end, Claudia wears a black outfit, Dawn wears an oversized sweater-dress, and Stacey wears a yellow dress. Kristy ends up in a sweater and jeans. Mary Anne ends up, well, let’s let Stacey tell us.

I had chosen a bright, big-patterned sweater and a pair of black pants for her. She’d looked at them, shaken her head, replaced them in her suitcase, and put on this other outfit — a ruffly white blouse, a long paisley skirt, and these little brown boots. It was very mature and attractive but, well, Mary Anne was the only one of my friends who, when dressed up, actually looked like she came from Connecticut. We could tell, thought, that the clothes were new and that she really wanted to wear them, so no one said anything to her, despite the grief she’d given us earlier.

Does she look like she’s from Connecticut, or does she look like she just came back from line dancing night at the Achy Breaky Canteena? A paisley skirt is the epitome of New York to Mary Anne. Who wrote her travel guide? Foghorn Leghorn?

The girls continue their party preparation. Claudia goes through Stacey’s cool-ass tapes to choose music. Stacey’s Dad (who doesn’t have it going on) buys a bunch of sandwiches and the girls pour out chips and snacks into bowls. Meanwhile, Laine, Stacey’s New York best friend, shows up to help. Claudia and her snipe at each other, a grim portent for the rest of the evening.

The guests start to show up. Mary Anne is apprehensive about “New York boys,” but gets over that pretty quickly when she shows off her New York knowledge to anyone who will listen, including fun facts about the height of the Empire State Building and (I can’t believe I still had a physical reaction) the Twin Towers. This book was published in 1987, in case you were wondering for no particular reason.

Meanwhile, Stacey introduces a boy to Kristy and they hit it off. They share a love of sports and even dance together. For reasons that I’m assuming are purely conflict-related, Claudia cockblocks Kristy and asks to dance with the boy.

By eleven, the kids start to leave, indicating that the invitations clearly did not say, “From six to ???”

Laine was going to spend the night, but after the disaster of a party and Claudia’s obvious jealousy, Laine decides to go home, but not before rightfully calling Claudia a jerk. Kristy joins in and says that Claudia is a jerk for butting in between her and the sports boy. Then Dawn calls Mary Anne a jerk because Dawn heard Mary Anne make fun of Dawn’s belief that there are actual alligators in the sewers. Mary Anne cries and everyone’s a jerk. Then they go to sleep in separate rooms.

Stacey wakes up and goes over the problems with the New York trip. She concludes that the infighting is due to three things: the BSC has been displaced from their usual surroundings, the BSC wants to impress her New York friends, and Claudia and Laine are jealous of each other. Stacey is thankful that none of these problems are with her, so she thinks she can fix this. But first, they have a bunch of New York kids to take care of.

They emulate how they dealt with the kids during their previous venture into daycare by listing each kid. Kristy says that they should make name tags since that was useful last time, and Stacey immediately shuts that idea down. They don’t want strangers to know the kids’ names. This freaks Dawn out a little.

The kids start to arrive at exactly 11:35, a detail I didn’t need. Stacey takes charge, a stark difference from Stoneybrook, where Kristy would usually lead. However, Stacey is the only one who knows the kids and how to get around to the various activities they have planned. Surprisingly, Kristy doesn’t make a fuss, even if she may have been perturbed.

They put the kids in two identical rows a la Madeline and march to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs excite the kids, a feeling I am well accustomed to (ask my sister about the time we went to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum or ask my partner about the time his company party was in a museum that featured Sue the T-Rex). Everything seems fine, but something has to happen.

When they reach the giant hanging blue whale, the BSC does a headcount and discovers they’re missing a kid. Mary Anne finds the kid with the brontosaurus.

After lunch at the Food Express (the museum restaurant), it’s time for Central Park. After winding through the city, they reach a huge park pond and Dawn expresses relief.

“Did you think we were going to get mugged back there or something?” I said.

“Well, you always hear stories about people getting mugged in Central Park,” she said with a little shiver. “And not just at night,” she was quick to add when she saw me open my mouth. “Plus, homeless people live in the park, don’t they?”

“So?” I replied. “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re going to hurt you.”

Yeah, Dawn, you’re supposed to be the progressive one. Also, if Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has taught me anything, it’s that you’re more likely to run into a dead body than get mugged.

The kids experience the Delacorte Clock, some musical animals, and finally the children’s zoo. Dawn helps with a potential barfing situation, and the rest of the BSC relaxes. They even let the kids walk ahead of them as the BSC links arms like an early-2000’s teen movie and it seems the girls are a unit once again.

While on the way back to the apartment, the kids sing to their baby-sitters. The BSC finds this endearing, but the thought of fourteen kids singing “For they’re jolly good sitters” is a recurring nightmare for me.

When the parents come back from their gentrification meeting, they announce they’re going to start a soup kitchen. Unless that soup kitchen gives out cash, job training, and access to mental and physical healthcare, I don’t know if that’s the most efficient way to help, but I’m sure the rich people will feel better about themselves.

Later that night, Laine calls and she has a surprise.

“Well, guess what. You won’t believe this.” She paused dramatically. “I’m not sure whether to tell you about this, but, well, Dad got free tickets — house seats, excellent ones — to Starlight Express. They’re for tonight. He and Mom don’t want to go, but would you and your friends like to go to the play? He could get six seats, all together. And he’d order us the limo. I don’t know about Claudia, but I feel awful about last night, and I’d kind of like to start over.”

Since the BSC is finished fighting, they enthusiastically attend the play. And who wouldn’t want to watch a musical about anthropomorphic trains on roller skates from the same Andrew Lloyd Webber era as Cats?

Laine and Claudia get along. Mary Anne is in her version of Heaven. Dawn is able to tell Laine about California. Kristy was happy to watch tv in a limo, which, admittedly, is the first thing I did when I got into a limo for my senior prom night (the first and only time I’ve ever been in a limo — it was fine — it was a long car).

After the play, the BSC is able to really catch up and have the sleepover they wanted. They recap events like Jeff moving back to California and the pageant. Exactly like one of those sitcom episodes where the show wanted to save money so they show scenes from previous episodes. “Remember when we had to put on that party for Mr. Ramshambuler and you dropped the cake.” And then they’d show the scene of the guy tripping and falling into a huge cake. Then some old lady says, “If he comes with the cake, I’ll have a slice.” Something like that. The book turns into that.

The next morning, Stacey makes them bagels. Kristy is weird about smoked salmon, just like someone from 1987. Then they say their goodbyes at the train station.

Well, I sure didn’t figure out why New Yorkers are so angry, but I appreciated the scenes at the museum. I like most museums, but I especially like museums with dinosaurs. New York City is a place with dinosaurs, so it’s worth the acclaim it has received. Do I think it should be the pinnacle of American ingenuity? I would argue that the presence of Wall Street and a terrible, political-office-stealing mob family stains New York’s reputation, but I’m happy there is a city where rats and pigeons fight each other and there are enough people with cameras to capture it.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #17: Mary Anne’s Bad-Luck Mystery

t’s easy to ascribe your troubles to an unseen force. Toss your problems to the wind — there’s nothing you can do to change your luck, so you better just suck it up and ride it out!

It’s even easier to say that it’s because of bad luck brought on by something you did and it can be remedied through mystical means. It’s not just a part of life! You did something! You need to rectify it! No need to just ride it out until it ends! Here’s a convoluted placebo!

This week, Mary Anne and the BSC are having a run of bad luck. Guess which route they take? If they take the former, this will be a very short review. Let’s get to it.

Mary Anne helps a young boy who has scraped his leg.
Maybe the antique staircase with uneven steps isn’t the best place for kids to play on.

The BSC (well, the BSC minus Mallory, Jessi, and Shannon) are eating lunch. This group includes Logan who, if you forgot, is Mary Anne’s boyfriend. They don’t waste any time, and Mary Anne dives right into the long descriptions of each member. When she gets to Claudia, we get a great outfit description.

It was her vegetable blouse: an oversized white shirt with a green vegetable print all over it — cabbages and squashes and turnips and stuff. Under the blouse was a very short jean skirt, white stockings, green anklets over the stockings, and lavender sneakers, the kind boys usually wear, with a lot of rubber and big laces and the name of the manufacturer in huge letters on the sides. Wait, I’m not done. Claudia had pulled the hair on one side of her head with a yellow clip that looked like a poodle. The hair on the other side of her head was hanging in her face. Attached to the one ear you could see was a plastic earring about the size of a jar lid.

Oh please, Netflix, let Claudia continue to wear stuff like this. I’ll do anything. Although, I don’t know what kind of shoes Mary Anne is talking about. Vans don’t say “Vans” on the side. Nike has the swoosh, but not the letters. Maybe DC. Was that around in the ‘80s?

Anyway, the girls (plus Logan) are talking about the Halloween Hop, which is the same dance from the second BSC book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls. At another table, BSC adversaries Cokie Mason and Grace Blume, are snickering at the BSC. I’m sure they’ll have no influence on the plot whatsoever.

Just before the BSC meeting, Mary Anne gets a letter, but there’s no time to open it, so she just takes it with her to the meeting. Turns out, it’s a chain letter that warns Mary Anne of bad luck if she breaks the chain.

It’s weird. I got a chain letter in the mail once, but it promised me postcards from around the world — never bad luck. I didn’t break the chain, but I didn’t get any postcards. Any other chain letters I got were emails from the days when I had an AOL screen name and they granted wishes. I still had to go to P.E., so it clearly didn’t work.

The bad luck starts the next morning when Mary Anne falls out of bed. Then she can’t find her shoes. Then she spills juice on herself. Then she can’t open her locker. Then she can’t find her favorite book, Little Women, in the school library. She comes home to her own copy.

I opened the book to the scene where Beth dies. Maybe I would feel cheered up if I read about someone who was having a worse time than I was.

That’s some serial killer shit, Mary Anne. If I need cheering up, I turn to the happiest song on earth that isn’t saccharine, which is Pentagon’s Shine, thank you very much.

Anyway, Mary Anne is deep in that sweet sweet Beth death when Mrs. Newton calls. Turns out Mary Anne is late to her baby-sitting job! She forgot she had a job that day! Oh no, when will the bad luck end!

Not on page 30, I’ll tell you that much. The bad luck continues and spreads to the rest of the BSC as Dawn sits for Jackie Radowsky, the kid who is referred to as “a happy-go-lucky klutz” and, frankly, one of my favorite Stoneybrook kids. Dawn and Jackie are trying to make him a costume and in the process, Jackie knocks over stuff on every page of the book. Even when he finishes the costume, it collapses. The BSC attributes this not to Jackie’s accident-prone nature, but to the chain letter.

The next day, Mary Anne receives a package in the mail. It is addressed to Mary Anne and the members of the BSC. The group opens it and finds a necklace, a tiny glass ball with a seed inside it, and a note that says that Mary Anne has to wear the “bad-luck charm . . . or else.” Or else what? “Wear this bad luck charm or else you’ll have bad luck?” The sender clearly didn’t think this through. But neither does the BSC because they’re willing to do the note’s bidding.

The BSC talks about their current string of bad luck, including Claudia getting bad grades, Jessi falling during ballet practice, and Kristy losing a watch. Bad luck seeps out of the club and runs rampant through Stoneybrook. Jamie Newton falls down and skins his knee, an event so significant it’s immortalized on the cover but fails to warrant more than one part of a complex sentence, an explosion in the science lab, and a twisted ankle in gym class. While the BSC parses out the occurrences, Cokie and Grace are laughing at them, just in case you forgot they existed. I’m sure they have nothing to do with anything.

Anyway, the girls go to the library to check out witchcraft books.

You might think, “Amy, this is ridiculous! This isn’t the library from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!” Au contraire! The section is 133.3 in the Dewey Decimal System and the library was my gateway into the Occult and Witchcraft. Some day, I might go into that one. Until then, it does not surprise me that the girls found the witchcraft section of the library.

The thing I don’t buy is how strangely convoluted the spells are. Most of the spells I came across were, “Light a white candle during a waning moon and ask for your bad luck to go away.” The spells the BSC finds involve hard-to-find herbs and chanting. The girls each check out a book and run to their meeting.

Jessi babysits for the Newtons, and Jamie Newton is not enjoying the idea of Halloween. He’s particularly apprehensive regarding trick-or-treaters and he’s worried they might come by at any moment, even though it’s days before October 31st. Jessi tells him about a series of stories about a friendly little ghost. You all know him — he’s quite popular. His name is Georgie. (What do you mean there’s some other friendly ghost you thought I was talking about?) That seems to placate Jamie and he asks to be Georgie the Friendly Ghost for Halloween. (What? Who the fuck is Casper?)

Claudia and Mallory sit for the Pikes. The kids ruin something called “Daddy Stew” (Where the hell is Mr. Pike? Oh my god!), so they are forced to eat something else for dinner. But before they can decide what to eat, they need to drive a bird out of their home. After Nicky suggests a butterfly net and Margot thinks they should throw a pillowcase over it, Mallory says they should just open the windows. Mallory, I’m sorry I didn’t give you enough credit when I was a kid, you’re really growing on me.

For dinner, instead of eating their father, er, I mean, “Daddy Stew,” they eat eighteen tuna fish sandwiches. Then Mr. Pike, the new one who is not eaten, and Mrs. Pike arrive home very late. Apparently, there was a massive traffic jam on the freeway and they were unable to call, a problem that is nonexistent today with the advent of cell phones.

Kristy calls an emergency BSC meeting, also known as hanging out in Claudia’s room outside the usual time. They try to figure out how to counteract the bad luck and Jessi finds a spell that includes a white rose, a book of sorcery, and two months. The discussion is interrupted by a storm, but that doesn’t stop them from reading a spell that involves oxtail hairs and “scrapings from the underside of a sea snake.” They eventually dive into “evil power masters” and a bunch of other author-y made-up nonsense that is not in any spellbook I’ve ever seen at the library. They also wonder who could have sent the charm. Gosh, girls, it’s definitely not the two girls who have a grudge against Mary Anne specifically and keep snickering at the BSC.

The Halloween Hop is finally here and Mary Anne dresses up as a cat from the horror-musical Cats. Specifically, she dresses in a leotard, a pair of slippers, and she paints “black and gray stripes” across her face. She’s either Grizabella or Minkustrap. Logan is also decked out, albeit without the leotard, and instead of black and gray stripes, he’s in tiger stripes. He’s Rum Tum Tugger, it seems.

So Minkustrap and Rum Tum Tugger make their way to the Jellicle Ball to perform for an old cat who determines who gets to die. Or the Halloween Hop. Neither name is great.

Logan and Mary Anne see some of their friends, including Dawn who is dressed as a witch (there’s your spellcaster). They also come across Cokie who comments on Mary Anne’s bad luck charm.

When Mary Anne gets home, there’s another letter for her. It beckons the BSC to go to Old Man Hickory’s headstone at midnight on Halloween. Too spooky!

The BSC has yet another emergency meeting. Jessi asks about Old Hickory. Apparently, he’s an old man who died of “meanness.” (If only that could happen. Then people would stop being so terrible to retail workers — the true deescalating heroes of our time.) They realize that it’s a trap, and we’re at page one hundred and they have to wrap this up. The plant for the night starts with Charlie driving them to the cemetery earlier than the midnight indicated in the letter.

Before the shenanigans can begin, Kristy has to take David Michael, Karen, and Andrew trick-or-treating. In a relic from the past, Kristy has to make sure that Andrew doesn’t want to wear his mask. I remember extensive PSAs warning parents not to let their kids wear masks because they obscure their vision. The ’80s were a different time.

While that’s going on, Mary Anne shows her father the bad luck charm. He says that it’s not a bad luck charm, but some religious thing. It’s a mustard seed that somehow symbolizes faith. Look, this is all beyond me. I was raised secular. The most exposure I ever had to religion was if I spent the night at a friend’s house and the next morning I was forced to wake up and listen to some guy talk for a few hours in a stuffy room. I didn’t learn anything about the Bible or Jesus. What I learned is that I shouldn’t sleepover at that friend’s house on a Saturday.

So the BSC brings various items to the cemetery — a few flashlights, masks, string, sheets. Sounds like they’re going to Klan rally or, as I like to call it, the Policeman’s Ball! Hiyo!

They string the sheets up and when Cokie Mason and her friends arrive, they make the sheets look like ghosts. This freaks out Cokie and the others just in time for Logan to show up and see them. Grace expounds on their brilliant plan.

But Grace spoke up. “Oh, we might as well tell them.” (She said them as if she were referring to a swarm of flies.) “We just wanted to make you — all of you, but especially Mary Anne — look like, well, like jerks. We kind of wanted Logan to get fed up with you . . .” Grace’s voice was fading away. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but I think she was blushing.

Cool plan? As if Logan would be all, “Ah, man, Mary Anne. I really liked you until I saw ya’ get spooked. I can’t be with a girl who has human feelings.” I don’t think very highly of Logan (especially since his “you’re not like other girls comment”) but I don’t think he’d do that.

Cokie and her friends leave with their tails between their legs and the BSC continues their Halloween sleepover. In the end, they realize that their string of bad luck was really a coincidence. Also, while we learn who sent the necklace and the threats, we never find out who sent Mary Anne the chain letter at the beginning. How’s that for a final scare! Take that, R. L. Stine!

I remember being obsessed with luck when I was a kid. Truthfully, I’m still superstitious. Compound that with my tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behaviors and it can be quite debilitating. However, that discussion is for another day and not at the end of a BSC book in which the main character dresses up as a cat and wears a seed around her neck.

The lesson is don’t listen to random letters in the mail and the ones teasing you from another lunch table are probably the ones instigating the events of the plot. And just because you get send jewelry in the mail, doesn’t mean you have to wear it. This is advice for everyone.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #16: Jessi’s Secret Langauge

I wish I knew about linguistics when I was eighteen. Maybe if I knew about linguistics when I was eighteen, I wouldn’t have entered university as a Computer Science Major, instead of an English major. It took me a college dropout and ten years later to learn about the perfect major for me – linguistics. There is a degree where you just play with grammar and learn languages? Those are the two things I sit around and do all day.

It seems that Jessi Ramsey and I share a common interest – language. Unlike some other people, we put the onus of understanding on ourselves. Do you want to understand someone from a different country? You should learn their language. Some people think the other person should learn English, therefore putting the onus of understanding on the other person. What a ridiculous way to think. You want to know, you do the work.

In the latest book, Jessi is given an opportunity to expand her understanding in what is, so far, one of my favorite BSC books. Let’s get to it.

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The first thing Jessi tells me in her first entry into the BSC canon is that she’s very good at languages. That’s a great skill to have. I do believe that learning a new language is more about effort than innate skill. However, Jessi claims that after a single week in Mexico, she was “practically . . . bilingual.” I don’t want to be a jerk, but I kind of doubt that, unless she understood the intricacies of the subjunctive case, in which case, she would be a WEIRDO. Ask your friends in Spanish 211 about that one, kids.

Jessi is so good with language that she’s been able to equate ballet with language. Language is expression and ballet is expression through body movements. It’s an excellent comparison that really opened my eyes, so thank you for that. If I were trying to communicate with dance, I would sound like a certain president, which is like an illiterate gorilla who stares directly into the sun.

We get a little bit about Jessi’s family life, including her younger sister Becca and her baby brother Squirt. In their basement, her parents built a dance studio for Jessi to practice, which she does every morning. She wakes up before her alarm at five in the morning and gets up immediately to practice. We may share a love of language, but waking up to do physical activity at sunrise is not something we share. I’m usually going to sleep at five in the morning and when I wake up, I check my phone and pull my covers above my head before I even think about waking up.

Then she hits us with this passage.

My family is black.

I know it sounds funny to announce it like that. If we were white, I wouldn’t have to, because you would probably assume we were white. But when you’re a minority, things are different.

Take that, reader, with your preconceived notions on race! I hate you tell you, Jessi, that white is still the default race and it is bullshit. If someone doesn’t expressly say that a character is a different race, it’s assumed they’re white. Just look at when a character that has never been plainly stated as a white person is cast with a black actor. A bunch of man babies get all pissy. Jessi spills the tea right here.

She goes on to lament that in her old neighborhood in New Jersey, black and white families mixed. In Stoneybrook, black families are an anomaly. She talks about how she can’t tell if the people of Stoneybrook don’t like black people (are racist) or are wary of them because they’ve never encountered other black people (are racist). Either way, not a great look, Stoneybrook. I guess it’s not as idyllic as we’re lead to believe.

Anyway, Jessi is trying out for a role in the ballet Coppelia, which is about some doll maker and a dude who wants to marry a doll (there is some light doll cosplay) and is a real thing.

At the BSC meeting, we get to meet all the girls, including long explanations about Claudia’s wild clothing that the other mothers wouldn’t let them wear. I still have no idea why palm tree earrings are so frowned upon by the generation that streaked, dropped acid, and had sex in front of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. If someone could explain that one to me, I’d appreciate it.

A new client calls the BSC – the Braddocks. They are looking for a baby-sitter willing to sit regularly for a deaf child and his sister and they want the baby-sitter to learn Ameslan. Our resident linguist takes the job.

During Jessi’s next dance class, her instructor Mademoiselle Noelle (my first instinct would be to name the ballet instructor Mademoiselle Baguette, but I am a jerk) announces the parts for Coppelia. Jessi earns the role of Swanilda – the lead. Two other girls, Katie Beth and Hilary, implant the idea that Jessi didn’t actually earn the role and Mademoiselle Noelle is just playing favorites. Mrs. Ramsey tries to reassure her that Mademoiselle Jones would not jeopardize the recital just to play favorites.

Jessi has her meeting with the Braddocks. It’s not an official baby-sitting session – it’s just to explain the unusual demands of sitting for Matt, who is deaf. Mrs. Braddock introduces Jessi to American Sign Language and lends her a signing dictionary. It’s a good introduction to any kid who hasn’t heard of ASL and goes over the basics of signing in a frank, informative way. Mrs. Braddock also adds a little bit about the history of ASL.

“One thing you ought to know is that not everyone agrees that the deaf should communicate with sign language. Some people think they should be taught to speak and to read lips. However, in lots of cases, speaking is out of the question. Matt, for instance, is what we call profoundly deaf. That means he has almost total hearing loss. And he was born that way. We’re not sure if he’s ever heard a sound in his life. He doesn’t even wear hearing aids. They wouldn’t do him any good. And since Matt can’t hear any sounds, he can’t hear spoken words, of course, and he can’t imitate them either. So there’s almost no hope for speech from Matt. Nothing that most people could understand anyway.”

This is a problem. Not with Matt, but with the people who want the deaf to lip read. They are the type of people who hear someone speaking a foreign language and say they speak English. Those people think the onus of communication should be on the other person, not themselves. Everyone should cater to their style of communication, even if it’s impossible (like lip-reading) or stupidly complicated (English).

Maybe they’re insecure because they could never learn another language, and instead of directing that energy toward learning another tongue, they take it out on the people they’re jealous of. Or they’re paranoid and so self-centered that they think everyone is talking about them in Vietnamese. Or maybe they feel left out, and since they’re white (the only people who complain about this are white, don’t @ me), they’re not used to being excluded. Or they’re racist – I’m not sure. I’ve never cared what people speak if they’re having a conversation that doesn’t involve me.

I have learned to fingerspell in case I need to communicate with a deaf person because A) I like learning new alphabets and languages, B) it’s easy to learn – took about forty-five minutes, and C) it’s a useful skill to have. We should all learn how to fingerspell. When ASL was invented, it was quite popular, but the assholes of the world said that people who are deaf shouldn’t be learning this “secret language.” ASL was forced into the underground, as the prevailing method for teaching the deaf was “Oralism”, which an idea as stupid as the word itself. “Oralism” is the idea that deaf people should learn how to read lips and speak. A few intrepid teachers taught ASL in secret schools and they kept the language alive until it’s resurgence in the 1950’s. Their dedication is a clear testament to the brilliance of sign language and it’s creators, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc.

Anyway, back to the book. Jessi finally meets Matt and Mrs. Braddock teaches Jessi some basic signs that Jessi will need immediately. The BSC member leaves excited to learn the new language.

Our first handwriting chapter is Mary Anne at Jenny Prezzioso’s house. If you don’t remember, Jenny is the finicky one, and this chapter is no exception. Jenny doesn’t want to do anything, but Mary Anne gets her to take a walk. They come across Jessi, Matt, and Matt’s sister, Haley. Jenny makes a big deal of Matt not hearing her, including screaming at him and calling him weird. Cool kid, Mrs. Prezzioso, yelling at deaf people for no reason. Haley blows up at her brother. She yells that he stinks and he can’t hear her and then she storms off back into the house.

Sometimes we forget about the people around those with a disability. Haley just wants to be normal, but her brother makes that impossible. She shouldn’t take it out on Matt, of course, but her anger is understandable. And Jessi empathizes with her isolation, being the only black family in Stoneybrook.

Jessi finally has her first real baby-sitting job with Matt and Haley Braddock. After their snack and the announcement of Jessi’s signing name (the fingerspelling for “J” combined with the sign for dancing, which is adorable), Jessi takes the kids over to the Pikes’, which seems to be the first thing every new family has to do in Stoneybrook. Turns out the Barretts are also visiting the Pikes’ house. They all seem to get along, including Matt, and Haley teaches them to sign the word for “stupid.”

Later, Mallory and Dawn baby-sit for the Pikes’, which starts with a song that makes Margo Pike throw up (that spaghetti one – it’s really not gross by today’s standards). The kids are sent to a rec room, where they are suspiciously quiet. It turns out they are arguing with each other in their secret, made-up, sign language.

Jessi has rehearsal and afterward, Katie Beth’s sister, Adele, shows up. She’s a Grammy Award-winning singer. Just kidding. She’s Katie Beth’s deaf sister. Jessi gets to show off some of her sign language skills. Katie Beth doesn’t know any ASL and can’t communicate with her sister. Jessi tells her about her “sign language is like dancing” theory and the girls leave on amicable terms.

Claudia sits for David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Claudia tells them about the “secret language” all the kids are doing. This is so Claudia can distract Karen from making inedible food for ghosts. They call Jessi all night to ask her how to say stuff in ASL. It ends with Karen signing “I love you” to Claudia. I don’t care if you love me, Karen, don’t waste food on ghosts.

We get to hear about Jessi’s routine for a few paragraphs and suddenly months have passed. Jessi and Haley have bonded over sibling resentment, and Jessi encourages her to remember the good times with her sibling. They also talk about accessibility for deaf people, with things like Closed Captioning. Although, I’ve watched TV with CC since I discovered it when I was a weird little kid. “You mean I can read TV? Sign this book nerd who watches anything including infomercials because we don’t have cable right the fuck up!”

There’s this whole clock and dagger part where Jessi talks about her “secret plan” that involves Mademoiselle Noelle, Mrs. Braddock, and Matt’s teacher. Jessi goes to Matt’s school, which is a school for the deaf in Stamford. Jessi speaks to Matt’s class about ballet and how it’s expression using your body, not unlike sign language. She also says that deaf people can feel the music’s vibrations. Because of this, the first performance of Coppelia will be a special one and Matt’s entire class is invited to attend.

Kristy babysits for Becca and Charlotte comes over. Not much happens, but Becca knows what is going on and tells Charlotte, but won’t tell Kristy. The BSC all have tickets to opening night, but Kristy is still impatient.

Opening night finally comes. The special surprise is that before each act, Haley is going to narrate the events of the story and Mrs. Braddock is going to sign what Haley says.

Jessi finally takes the stage as Swanilda, to which Jessi remarks, “When I’m onstage, I am the dance.” Whoa, Jessi, a little intense there.

Since it’s the end of the book, the performance goes off without a hitch and is a big hit. Matt and Adele meet. The BSC gushes over Jessi’s performance. Mallory meets Keisha. Mr. Ramsey takes the whole family and the BSC out for ice cream. All’s well that ends well.

This book is a perfect encapsulation of the things that made The Baby-Sitters Club so good. It didn’t shy away from sensitive topics like race or deafness. It introduced the difficult subject matter with care while still making it accessible to a child or someone who is completely unfamiliar with the topic. The dedication thanks Patsy Jensen for her “sensitive evaluation of the manuscript.” I’m not sure but I would guess that Ms. Jensen is a sensitivity reader for Ann M. Martin. If that is true, I cannot commend Martin enough for her willingness to seek out an outside knowledge source to make sure the material is correct and empathetic.

Rereading this one was a joy. Entries like this one demonstrate the positive influence the BSC had on me and millions of other readers. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Not only is it important, but it also plays to my niche interest in linguistics.

And, if I can make a suggestion, learn to fingerspell. It doesn’t take long and will only make the world a better place.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #7: Claudia and Mean Janine

I have a sister. She’s one of my loyal readers. She’s also younger than me. When we were kids, she was active, popular, artistic, and had an effortlessly cool style. I was always more withdrawn with my nose behind a book, an unwillingness to talk to people, and a style that included ill-fitting pants and even more ill-fitting sweaters and/or windbreakers. Like I was going to hike in the ‘90s at any moment. She’s one of my best friends now, but during my swishy-pants days, we did not get along. 

It’s the same for Claudia and Janine. Claudia is the cool younger sister and Janine is the stuffy older sister. In this book, the sisters have to confront their differences and their strained relationship after a family emergency. Let’s get to it – I’m eager to use this YA book from 1987 to figure out my strained teenage sibling relationship.

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First thing in the morning, Claudia compares herself to Janine. Her older sister is smart, gets good grades, doesn’t give anyone trouble, and studies all the time. Meanwhile, Claudia is outgoing, artistic, and brags about her “two semi-boyfriends,” which I’m assuming means they’re interested, but they’re not steady. I don’t think she means boyfriends who are semis, rolling down the interstate, shipping cargo across this great nation. 

We learn that Claudia’s father is a “partner in an investment business in Stamford,” and her mother is “the head librarian at the local public library.” Claudia says that the only books she likes are Nancy Drew mysteries, which the library doesn’t have and she has to hide them because her parents don’t want her reading them. 

What kind of library doesn’t carry Nancy Drew? Don’t they just come with the library? You say, “Hey, I want a library,” and suddenly, those distinctive yellow spines appear on a shelf. Also, what kind of librarian discourages reading? Every librarian I’ve ever interacted with (and I’ve interacted with a lot – weirdo bookworm, remember) has been happy to give me any book I’ve ever asked for, including the En-suck-lopedia. (Real book, by the way. When I put it on hold at the library, the librarian did a double-take before saying out loud, “It’s really En-suck-lopedia, huh?”)

Back to the book, after breakfast, there’s a BSC meeting. Kristy gets another great idea that sets up the B plot of the book. Since most of the kids are on summer vacation, they should have a “play group” a la the one they just held in Kristy’s Big Day.

“We’d just hold the play group a few mornings a week. It could be outdoors, in somebody’s yard, just like last week at my house. We could tell all our regular customers about it, and they could send their kids over any time they wanted. We could charge, say, three dollars per kid per morning. That’s a bargain for our clients, and even divided five ways, the money should be good for us, since chances are there wouldn’t be enough jobs for every single one of us to be sitting if we weren’t holding the play group.”

The day camp is to be held at Stacey’s house and the next day, the girls go from client to client armed with fliers and the slogan: “Summer Play Group: the unique alternative to baby-sitting.” 

Later that night, Mimi and Claudia are making a special meal of waffles and they talk about the impending play group. Janine joins them for dinner and afterward asks if they all want to play The Trivia Game. Mimi wants to play and Claudia reluctantly joins. Claudia spends the whole game griping, thinks Janine made up Napoleon Bonaparte, and gets mad when Janine, predictably, wins the game. Mimi tells her that Claudia’s behavior wasn’t very nice and Claudia replies, 

“Oh, you just take Janine’s side because she’s smarter than I am. Mom and Dad love her more because she’s smarter, and I bet you do, too!”

Mimi says she’s tired, goes to her room, and shuts her door.

Claudia and Janine snipe at each other for a bit, but it comes to an abrupt end when they hear a thud from Mimi’s room. Mimi has collapsed and is unconscious. Janine instructs Claudia to call 911 while she covers Mimi with a bathrobe. Then she tells Claudia to wait outside for the ambulance and to guide them to Mimi’s room when they arrive.

Mimi had suffered a stroke. She’s in stable, but critical, condition, but it won’t be for twenty-four to forty-eight hours before they know the extent of the damage to her brain. The doctor suggests the Kishi family go home and return later.

Despite Mimi’s emergency, Claudia still goes to the first play group. She lets the other members of the BSC know what’s going on with Mimi (Mary Anne almost cries), and they suggest that the kids make get-well-soon cards for Mimi. 

Ten kids attend the first play group, including David Michael, Jamie Newton, and, to everyone’s surprise, Jenny Prezzioso. The little girl shows up in her usual attire – dressed as if she were a museum exhibit about Victorian Era dolls. And, of course, the girl wants to play with the other kids, but can’t because her dress will get dirty, but she doesn’t want to change into a smock because then she won’t be dressed pretty. I will take the Netflix Original Series character, Bailey, over this frustrating one any day.

When Mimi finally wakes up, the whole Kishi clan goes to see her. For Claudia, it does not go well. Mimi can’t speak – all she can do is a blank stare. Claudia is unable to handle Mimi and rushes out of the room. Eventually, Claudia tries again, this time coming up with a system of blinks – one for yes, two for no. This is more successful and Claudia apologizes for her behavior before Mimi’s collapse. When they get home, Janine retreats to her room. Claudia sees her sister possibly crying while drowning out the sound with the pounding of the keyboard.

During the next play group, Jenny, once again, refuses to wear the smock. Meanwhile, Karen is telling everyone that their next-door neighbor, Morbidda Destiny/Mrs. Porter, put a spell on Andrew and he’s going to become a monster. The kids countdown to Andrew’s transformation. Of course, nothing happens and it was just a goof, but Jenny is convinced that Andrew is a monster. The BSC asks him to tell Jenny to put on the smock to protect herself from him. Jenny throws on the smock without question.

The Kishis visit Mimi again. This time, she’s able to wave and write a little bit. However, she is writing Japanese, but it’s in Romaji. It’s very strange. If she were reverting to her native language, wouldn’t she write in Kanji or Hiragana? She writes “kodomo,” which means “children,” but wouldn’t’ she write “こども?” This is peculiar. Again, the Netflix television series handles this situation beautifully, I highly recommend the show.

There is some good news -Mimi is coming home! Unfortunately, Claudia has to miss the play group because Mimi needs constant care. Claudia takes the opportunity to help Mimi without reservation.

At the play group, Kristy brings Louie and the kids give him a chaotic bubble bath. 

Mimi is having trouble speaking English, to which I say, just let the woman speak in Japanese, geez. While Claudia is sad to leave the play group, Mimi is more important to her and she’s in the best position to help Mimi. 

There is a moment when Claudia baby-sits for the Newtons and has Mary Anne take care of Mimi in her stead. Mary Anne is being pedantic and Mimi blows up at her. Mary Anne is shocked because Mimi has never raised her voice. Mary Anne gives her some space (not too much – she can’t be alone) and they reconcile at the end of the chapter.

In a later event, the Newtons hire the BSC as “hired guests” for Lucy’s Christening and we finally get a Claudia outfit:

I chose a new outfit, one I liked a lot. It was a big, loose white shirt with black splotches all over it, and white pants that came to just below my knees. My shoes (and I might point out that I’d had a fight with Mom over permission to buy them) were dainty gold sandals that laced partway up my legs. Then I put on my pink flamingo earrings and a pink bracelet that said CLAUDIA in heart-shaped beads. Finally, I braided my hair into four long braids, tied a ribbon around the top of each, and fastened the ends with butterfly clips.

Capris and gladiator sandals – fantastic. 

During the Christening, Lucy receives constant attention, and Jamie gets jealous. 

I’m not sure what made me look up to see who was holding Lucy at the moment, but I did – and I couldn’t see anyone holding her. So I scanned the yard and saw that she’d been placed in her bouncy walker chair. She was sitting by one end of the food table, next to a half-empty pitcher of fruit punch that had been left out. As I watched, Jamie spotted both Lucy and the punch. He darted toward her, lifted the pitcher, and – 

I ran across the yard as fast as I could, knowing I’d never reach them in time. I could just picture Lucy’s beautiful gown all stained with red punch.

“Jamie!” I shouted. “No!”

But before the words had actually left my mouth, Jamie was putting the pitcher back on the table. And by the time I got to him, he was tickling Lucy’s bare feet.

“Jamie,” I gasped, “I thought you were going to pour that punch on your sister.”

Jamie looked at me guiltily. “I was,” he said, “but I changed my mind.”

“How come?” I asked.

Jamie shrugged, then frowned. “‘Cause I love her,” he said at last. “She is my sister.”

Claudia equates her relationship to Janine with Jamie and Lucy. Even though he’s upset that Lucy is getting all the attention, he still loves her because they only have each other. 

Finally, Janine and Claudia have a good, long talk. Claudia says everyone likes Janine because she doesn’t cause trouble and does well in school, while Janine says that everyone likes Claudia because she’s popular and charming and Janine can’t connect with people the same way. The sisters realize what every set of siblings has to realize eventually – you only have each other. 

No one else will be able to relate to you in the same way that your sibling will – how to deal with your parents, how to deal with peers, how to deal with a life of inescapable cyclical tragedy – from terrorism, to financial collapse, to the pandemic, to another financial collapse. 

My sister and I had to go through the same growing pains that Claudia and Janine (and Jamie and Lucy) have to experience. When there’s only the two of you, there’s no one else to diffuse familial tension with, so that creates animosity. Combine that with teenage angst, and it can be explosive or, as is the case with my sister and me, passive-aggressive. 

Claudia and Janine will get through this the same way Alyssa and I did – we had to grow the fuck up.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #6: Kristy’s Big Day

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So far, I have written all of these retrospectives before Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club series has aired. Those reviews, even the ones that came out after the show, were written without any knowledge about the new series and how it would change (and, in most cases, improve) on the original material. This review is different. I have crossed the threshold and there is no turning back. I have already seen and written about the new series.

However, I am discussing the book – not the episode of the excellent Netflix series (seriously, if you love the BSC, you’ll love the new series). Maybe I’ll get to that one day, who knows. Until then, it’s time to put on a yellow dress and walk down the aisle, because Kristy’s mom is getting married in this very special episode of The Baby-Sitters Club.

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Elizabeth Thomas is getting married to Watson Brewer in September, and she wants Kristy to be her bridesmaid. Kristy is excited to wear a dress and stand by her mother, which surprised me, as I always thought if Kristy was seen in a dress, she would combust. But you know, it’s a special occasion and Kristy is happy for her mother. It’s incredibly mature of her to put aside her clothing preferences for one day to make her mother happy.

However, there’s a snag. Kristy’s mother’s company is sending her on a business trip the week of her wedding, and there’s a new family that wants to buy Kristy’s house and they want to move in next month. The wedding is not postponed – no, it’s moved up. Mrs. Thomas has to pack, move an entire family, and plan a wedding in two and a half weeks. I’d suggest getting the house ready to move, marry at the courthouse if it’s that important, and postpone the wedding. However, I decided to postpone a trip to Disneyland and then Covid-19 hit and who knows when I’m going to see my buddy Hat Box Ghost again. I might not be the best person to ask about long-term planning.

The rest of Watson and Kristy’s relatives are arriving early to help with the wedding, but they’re also bringing a total of 11 kids (plus David Michael, Karen, and Andrew) with them. The kids can’t be left on their own, but the parents are going to be busy with the packing and the planning and the preparation of the aperitifs. Well, the Baby-Sitters Club is to the rescue!

Since they’re on summer vacation, many of their charges are also taking vacations. There’s a big hole in their job calendar, so they step up and create what is essentially a day camp for the Thomas/Watson relatives – a future BSC staple. Watson and future Mrs. Brewer (I’m assuming, I wouldn’t want to be a Mrs., but since it’s the ‘80s, I’m assuming Lizzie will take the title) will pay the BSC a total of $600 to watch over fourteen kids for a week – $125 per BSC member. That is nothing to scoff at in 1987 dollars – today it would be $1300 – or about $260 afrapiece. But they’re going to have to earn it, and the next few pages showcase just why these girls are worth more than a thousand bucks.

The first thing the girls do (after accepting the job, of course) is to list all the kids and their ages. Mary Anne organizes the list by age. Two of the kids are babies and Mary Anne volunteers to exclusively care for those two. The rest of the kids are split into groups of similar ages and are assigned to a baby-sitter. Then, the girls name each group with a color and a symbol and create name tags. Their corresponding baby-sitter will wear the same name tag and this allows everyone to know which group they’re in. This also helps the babysitter remember the names of the kids. I was reading this book and two sentences after the list of kids, I already forgot all their names – except the regulars David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Katherine of the Yellow Suns? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m pretty sure that’s a team on Legends of the Hidden Temple. (“The Shrine of the Silver Monkey,” Olmec echoes in my head forever.)

This level of organization is incredible. Seeing the girls work together is a highlight and an excellent example for girls to emulate.

On Sunday, all the relatives arrive and each kid gets a little introduction. Turns out David Michael and his cousin Berk are friends. Peter is carsick. There’s a shy one who won’t let go of her father’s legs. I don’t remember them all. I can barely remember the names of my favorite K-Pop group, and there are only five of them. How would I remember the names of fourteen kids whom I’ll never see again?

Monday arrives and it’s T-minus five days to the wedding and the first day of the Brewer/Thomas It’s All Relative Day Camp (it’s not called that, but it should be). Every parent who shows up gives a monologue about all their kids’ various allergies. Poor Mary Anne has to stand there and write down everything. They all have nap times. I don’t remember childhood-scheduled nap time. I don’t remember ever taking a nap as a kid. And the only times I’ve ever taken a nap as an adult, I immediately regretted it moments after waking up.

When the parents leave, all the kids start to cry. Some because they’re children and that’s what children do. Maybe some of them are crying just to fit in. Anyway, the baby-sitters start to read to the kids and they all calm the fuck down.
The next day, they take the kids to various field trips around Stoneybrook. Just to name a few, Claudia takes her kids to the library, Stacey goes to the brook, and Dawn takes her kids to the school playground. Unfortunately, Dawn’s group is Karen, David Michael, and Berk.

The three tell the other children at the playground about the Martians, who are coming to fight humans with ray guns. The other children run screaming and Dawn ushers her group away from the playground, or else face the horrific wrath of the playground counselor – Fran. The kids are on their best behavior for the rest of the day.
Three days left to go and Stacey writes in the BSC Notebook,

“I know you guys think I’m so sophisticated, since I’m from New York and my hair is permed and everything, but no kidding, my favorite movie is Mary Poppins.”

Okay, Stace, like what you like. Mary Poppins is a fine movie to choose as your favorite. And I have no basis to judge you. One of my favorite movies, and the movie I’ve probably seen the most in my life, is Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. (My actual favorite movie is Spirited Away, in case you were wondering, which you weren’t.)

Well, it just so happens that The Embassy, the local movie theater, is showing Mary Poppins. Stacey takes her group to see the movie and it doesn’t go so well. First of all, one of the kids, Emma, forgets her money. Stacey calls Mary Anne and asks if the money is there. Mary Anne can’t find it. Emma discovers her money in her pocket, but this, paired with the children getting snacks, makes them late for the movie. By the end, the kids spill their food and scream and are kicked out of the theater.

On Thursday, the boys of the camp all have to get haircuts. Mary Anne is tired of taking care of two babies, so she joins Kristy in this task. They take the kids after lunch when the kids are, hopefully, tired.

It does not go well.

The barber is overwhelmed, the boys ask for strange haircuts instead of the standard boring stuff appropriate for a wedding, and Kristy chastises David Michael and Luke when they act like brats.

The day before the wedding, it rains all day and the camp is moved inside. There’s going to be a rehearsal dinner later, so the BSC gets the idea to put on a rehearsal for the rehearsal – they’re going to marry off Karen and David Michael. Not really of course – it’s not West Virginia (prove me wrong, West Virginia). The others volunteer for the remaining roles, including Luke as the minister and Berk as the bride’s father (to give her away – my thoughts on the antiquated idea of the father of the bride giving his daughter to another man as if she were a Buick is coming soon). While the ceremony takes place, the BSC takes pictures of the whole thing. Of course, when it comes to the kissing part, David Michael and Karen recoil in horror.

One more thing bad thing has to happen. While the children are getting dressed for the rehearsal dinner, all the clothes are mixed up. Emma moved the clothes around for some reason. Kristy punishes her by making her sit in a room by herself to think about the trouble she caused. That punishment never worked for me. All I thought was, “Oh thank God, I get to have some alone time.” However, it does work for Emma.

At the end of the week, the BSC is paid, including a bonus of ten dollars each. Don’t break the bank there, Watson, you’re only the richest person in Stoneybrook.

The only thing that goes awry during the wedding is Karen screams when she sees Morbidda Destiny. This is addressed fantastically in the Netflix series. In the book, the parents just usher Karen away and pretend she didn’t just scream at the neighbor.

Finally, as a wedding present, Kristy gives her mother and Watson a hand-drawn family tree.

I’m not a big fan of weddings, so a wedding episode of The Baby-Sitters Club doesn’t appeal to me, especially when it involves old, rich, white people. What does appeal to me? I appreciated the extensive logistics conversations utilizing each baby-sitter’s specialties. I like the personal drama, but it’s better when the drama doesn’t involve petty fights between the members of the BSC. The conflict should come from outside the club. Also, it should force the club to work together to make the world a better place – even if it’s just teaching a kid to behave better or giving respite to some stressed-out people who have no patience.

Either way, the girls earned that money and it’s positive to display young women as smart and capable. The BSC was thoughtful in how they went about organizing the camp and they were responsible in how they interacted with the children. This book is an early BSC highlight and an excellent example of what made this series so special to millions of young girls (and a few boys) around the world.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three

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Sometimes I wonder how people function. I mean, how specific people function. They always ask you for a pen, as if the idea that they might have to take notes in class was sprung on them that day. When they arrive at the register, they have to dig through a pillow-case sized purse and they pour all the contents on the counter, as if they had no idea the cashier would ask for payment. This goes beyond absent-mindedness as this is a daily occurrence. Simple things that most of us are accustomed to (paying for things, taking notes, a basic level of preparation) in life come as a surprise to them. That might be nice while gliding through life, and they’re probably happy in their little flighty head, but it’s a huge inconvenience to everyone around them.

In Dawn and the Impossible Three, our favorite California Girl meets a person who needs a lot of help and Dawn doesn’t seem up to the task.

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Some books, a shoe, and a dog? What chaos!!!

The book starts with Dawn sitting at the Pikes’. Dawn goes over how her parents got divorced and her mother moved them across the country. Two little kids from down the street come over to play – Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Dawn connects with them because their mother is also recently divorced. After her job is done, she is heading to the BSC meeting when she sees Mary Anne who yells, “Great news!” And we end the first chapter on a cliffhanger.

Did I accidentally read a Goosebumps book instead?

The cliffhanger is quickly resolved. Mary Anne says that her father is going to ask Dawn’s mother out and he won’t be there for dinner. I guess even Republicans have to date, as much as that idea makes me retch. Who the hell would date a Republican? 

At the BSC meeting, the girls hand in their dues and decide to use the money to buy more stuff for the Kid-Kits. The Prezziosos, the Newtons, and the Brewers call. More importantly, there’s a call from a new client! It’s Mrs. Barrett and Dawn takes the job.

Saturday morning, Dawn goes over to Mary Anne’s house primed with stuff for Mary Anne to go through in her endeavor to redecorate her room. Apparently, the Schafers brought a bunch of stuff with them that they were planning on selling. Why they didn’t get rid of the stuff while still in California, instead of packing it all up, paying shipping fees, and unboxing it for the express purposes of a yard sale, I don’t know. 

Kristy catches wind of shenanigans in Mary Anne’s room and the two shout at each other through their windows. Kristy comes over and acts hostile and jealous toward Dawn, refusing to speak directly to her and never laughing at her jokes. This behavior continues into lunch the next school day when Mary Anne and Dawn realize that they’ll be sisters if their parents get married. 

During Dawn’s initial meeting with the Barretts, Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie, she makes a strict “no guns” rule. Good rule, but this is America, Dawn, and in America, we give guns to every God-fearin’ white person who wants one because 2nd Amendment blah blah blah rights blah protection blah blah.

Anyway, Mrs. Barrett is discombobulated. She doesn’t give Dawn a phone number to reach her in case of emergency (“call the Pikes, okay?”), something called “Pow” is waiting to get inside, and the baby needs stuff

When she leaves and Dawn is in charge, Dawn learns that Pow is “the meanest dog who ever lived.” He’s a lethargic basset hound. So, a basset hound. Dawn figures out a way to trick the kids into cleaning the living room, the kitchen, and the playroom by turning it into a game where they have to break their previous record time. She bonds with the kids more regarding their mother’s divorce. Suzi gets upset that her father isn’t coming back and then she pees her pants. I don’t think the two events are related, but that’s the order in which they happened. 

Mrs. Barrett returns and she calls Dawn the best baby-sitter she’s ever had. Dawn is happy and says that if Mrs. Barrett needs Dawn to come over, she can call on her “any time.” Dawn ends the chapter with the following ominous passage

If I had only known then how often “any time” was going to be, I might not have spoken so quickly.

Meanwhile, Kristy babysits for Karen and Andrew and they all play this game called “Let’s All Come In.” Basically, they pretend to be hotel guests with outlandish personalities. Clearly, this is something Karen invented. It’s not really a “game” if no one wins, but there are definitely losers in “Let’s All Come In.”

Karen’s friend Hannie comes over and the games begin. Hannie pretends to be a woman named Mrs. Nowswimple, who is meeting with her husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor. Strange. Whenever I tell the hotel staff that I’m going to meet my husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor, I’m escorted off the premises. 

While they’re playing, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Porter, a woman whom Karen thinks is a witch named Morbidda Destiny, comes over and asks for some fennel and coriander. You know, for a kid who pretends to be someone named Mrs. Mysterious (not Miss Terious, for some reason) and makes up stories about ghosts, Karen is awfully judgmental of her neighbor.

Later, in a surprise move, Dawn invites Kristy over. In an even more surprising move, Kristy accepts. They hang out in Dawn’s barn and patch things up through swinging on the rope swing and talking about divorce. By the end of the chapter, they’re friends, Dawn becomes the BSC’s Alternate Officer (a person who fills in for any role if a member can’t), and Kristy’s jealousy doesn’t rear its ugly head. Well, at least until the next BSC fight.

Dawn sits for the Barretts again – this time during an all-day affair that starts at 8:30 in the morning. Claudia calls and suggests a lunchtime picnic with the Pikes. Dawn and the Barretts bake some brownies for the event and there are about four pages of baking. At the picnic, Jordan gives Nicky the Bizzer Sign, which is just pointing at someone and buzzing. The Pike kids created it to flip each other off without actually flipping the bird. Usually, you flip off your sibling behind your parents back and the idea is that they don’t see it. The Bizzer Sign, however, is noisy – it’s obvious when you do it. Maybe it’s more akin to saying “Shut up, shitbrains.” 

Anyway, when it’s time for brownies, Mallory snatches the brownie from Marnie. Is Mallory just being a jerk? No. Mallory knows that Marnie is allergic to chocolate. This infuriates Dawn. Mrs. Barrett should have told her that Marnie can’t eat chocolate. Dawn fully plans to address the issue with Mrs. Barrett, but when the forgetful mother comes home and notices how immaculate the house is, she gushes over Dawn. Dawn forgets any issues she had.

During another baby-sitting job for the Barretts, Mrs. Barrett warns that if her ex-husband calls, Dawn shouldn’t let him talk to the children or tell him that Mrs. Barrett is out. Mrs. Barrett implies that Mr. Barrett is not holding up his end of the custody deal financially.  When Mrs. Barrett sees that Buddy spilled pink water on Suzi, she looks to be on the verge of tears. Dawn insists that Mrs. Barrett get going and Dawn will take care of her moist child. 

Dawn baby-sits for the Barretts “an awful lot” over the next couple of weeks and Mrs. Barrett’s disorganization becomes a bigger issue. When Dawn needs to call her to let her know Suzi has a fever, Mrs. Barrett does not leave the phone number for the temp agency she’s working with, but instead the number for “Hurley’s Garage.” This is a problem that wouldn’t happen today, as Mrs. Barrett would just have a cell phone. But knowing Mrs. Barrett, she probably wouldn’t charge her phone.

Dawn also helps Buddy with his homework – a family tree. While Dawn can’t tell him his family tree, she does help him put blanks for him to fill in with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. When he comes to Dawn to let her know that he got a good grade, Dawn hugs him while thinking that it should be Mrs. Barrett hugging her son.

Meanwhile, Stacey babysits for David Michael, who is nervous about moving. On a tangential issue, Kristy doesn’t know how she’ll be getting to BSC meetings when she lives across town. 

Dawn’s mom sets up a picnic for her parents to meet Mr. Spier . . . again. Dawn invites the BSC, but only Mary Anne (obviously) and Kristy’s families can attend. Also, the Barretts show up. There’s some food stuff involving the Schafers driving to the grocery store because they don’t have any red meat to serve people, but that’s fixed relatively quickly. When everyone shows up, Dawn notices some tension between her grandparents and Mr. Spier. I sincerely doubt Mr. Spier was a rebel without a cause in high school, so I don’t know why they have a problem with him. At the end of the picnic, Mrs. Barrett asks Dawn if she can babysit on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Dawn isn’t free, but Mary Anne is there to take the job.

Mrs. Barrett rushes out of the house just as Buddy gives Suzi the Bizzer Sign, causing her to burst into tears. The kids are getting restless, so Mary Anne tells them to put on their bathing suits and “thongs” (the shoes, I’m assuming) and they go outside. There, Suzi and Buddy jump in the fresh puddles. Mary Anne calls this a “puddle walk” and it’s a great way to get worms. She doesn’t even make them shower when they get home – they just have to change their clothes.

While Mary Anne is babysitting, Mr. Barrett calls to ask if he can speak with Suzi or Buddy. Mary Anne remembered Dawn saying something about not letting Mr. Barrett talk to the kids, so she tells them that they’re at a friend’s house. Mr. Barrett gets angry and slams the phone.

When Dawn babysits for the Barretts again, Buddy goes outside and throws a baseball around while Dawn gets Suzi and Marnie dressed. When she finally goes outside, Buddy is nowhere to be found. She calls the Pikes and asks if Buddy is playing with Nicky. No luck. The Pikes rush over, ready to search for Buddy. They try to contact Mrs. Barrett, but she’s shopping and no one can reach her. Finally, Jordan Pike comes back from his piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy get into a strange car. He didn’t say anything because he thought Buddy was going to a lesson of some kind because Jordan was going to his lesson at the same time.

Dawn panics as the Pikes enlist others to help search for Buddy and they call the police. The police interrogate Jordan, seemingly to the point of traumatizing the poor kid. They also go through the Barrett household, looking for clues. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the cops, but I guess Dawn doesn’t think she has any other options. Dawn bursts into tears and her mother tries to console her. Dawn gets a phone call on the Barrett family phone – it’s Buddy. He’s calling from a gas station. He says he got into his father’s car, but he thinks he’s not supposed to be with his father. Then the connection goes dead.

Mrs. Barrett comes home to find the police and neighbors swarming around the house. Not long after that, Buddy sheepishly enters the house and we get an explanation.

Apparently, earlier in the week Mr. Barrett had become angry when he’d realized that once again, Mrs. Barrett had confused the dates and had forgotten that today was to be Mr. Barrett’s day with Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie. He had decided to teach her a lesson. His plan was to come by on Saturday, simply take the children, and wait for Mrs. Barrett to figure out her mistake. So he drove over to the Barretts’ house. There he found Buddy by himself in the front yard. At that moment, he decided that the easiest course of action would be just to take Buddy without bothering to look for the girls. So he did. He drove Buddy to an amusement park and took him out to lunch, but Buddy didn’t seem to be enjoying himself. When he asked him what was wrong, Buddy said he was worried about me. He didn’t think I knew where he was. That was when Mr. Barrett realized that Mrs. Barrett wasn’t even home. Concerned about what a baby-sitter might do when she discovered that one of her charges was missing, he headed home immediately, stopping briefly at the gas station on the way. He’d tried to call before that, but had gotten only busy signals, and didn’t even know Buddy had phoned until they were on the highway again. (Buddy had called while his father was in the men’s room.)

Good Lord, Mr. Barrett. You think it’s okay to just kidnap kids to teach their mother a lesson? No wonder Mrs. Barrett left you and you lost custody. You should lose unsupervised visitation also. “Hey son, if a bitch pisses you off, scare her into learning.” It is not a husband’s job to “teach her a lesson.” I know she’s scatterbrained, but that’s no reason to treat her like one of the children of whom you lost custody. 

After the whole kidnapping debacle, Dawn finally tells Mrs. Barrett that Dawn can’t be a mother to her children and in order for Dawn to be a good babysitter, Mrs. Barrett needs to help her out with things like visitation and allergies and correct phone numbers. Mrs. Barrett promises to do better.

Mrs. Barrett is no angel, but Mr. Barrett’s behavior is inexcusable. Mrs. Barrett is absolutely one of those people who needs a lot of help in life. However, her problem is fixable – she should get into the planner lifestyle. Mr. Barrett should be a lonely divorced man who only sees his children while an actual adult supervises. 

I wish the best for Mrs. Barrett and Dawn – I really do.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #4: Mary Anne Saves the Day

I’m conflicted when it comes to incredibly strict parents. My parents were pretty hands-off when it came to my sister and me – as long as we got good grades, we were allowed to do almost anything we wanted without too much parental oversight. I firmly believe that this helped my sister and I determine who we are and what our values are because we were able to explore these topics without our parents meddling. On the other hand, this made an environment wherein we (mostly me) made mistakes that were entirely avoidable if we had more guidance besides “it’s your life, you need to decide for yourself.”

As for stricter parents, I had a friend who lived with her grandparents and they were so strict that she wasn’t allowed to watch PG movies and The Simpsons, as if one whiff of Bart Simpson would have her blaspheming the Lord and breaking windows. Despite this, when she became a teenager, and her mother regained custody, she rebelled in a major way that included drugs, drinking, and teenage pregnancy – three things I didn’t do in high school despite my parents letting me watch the wretched Lisa Simpson question authority and any rated-R movie I wanted.

I think it comes down to parents understanding their children – some kids need rules and regulations, whereas others can thrive in a laissez-faire upbringing. Some need their parents to tell them that their school counselor, whom they have met exactly two times, doesn’t know them well enough to suggest dorm life, because if they knew you well enough, they’d know that the dorms are the worst thing for an introvert.

Mary Anne of The Baby-Sitters Club has an incredibly strict father, and frankly, he’s ridiculous. Mary Anne is the one member of the BSC who doesn’t need any restraints, but it takes Mary Anne to exhibit wisdom beyond her years just for her father to treat her like a basic twelve-year-old. Let’s get to it.

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The true villain of this one is whoever chose that couch.

The first thing we learn about Mary Anne’s father is that he forces her to wear her hair in braids each day paired with a corduroy skirt and sweater combo set. The thought of my father choosing my outfit when I was in the seventh grade makes me both laugh and fill me with dread. Laugh because my father would hate it. Dread because he could make me wear a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and a plain t-shirt with a pocket. That was his uniform and there would be no reason for him to alter it for his daughter. Anyway, Mary Anne’s father really should have sent her to Catholic School if he wanted her to have such a constricting wardrobe.

By the end of the first chapter, the BSC is having a fight – a common trope for the BSC. This time, it’s about Kristy accepting a job without asking the others first. They all blow up at each other and storm out of the meeting.

Mary Anne’s father also makes her eat dinner with him every night, including saying grace. My family tended to just eat at the same time because if we didn’t, the food would be cold. The food is made when it’s made and it’s up to you to get to the table in time or heat it up later. During dinner, Mary Anne’s father is a lawyer and he says that the case he’s working on is of the utmost importance:

“This case is interesting because it demonstrates the extreme importance of honesty in business dealings,” he said finally. “Always remember that, Mary Anne. Be scrupulously honest and fair. It will serve you in good stead.”

Yeah, okay, Mr. Spier. Be honest but if you really want to get ahead in business, you should open a bunch of businesses, don’t pay your contractors, declare bankruptcy, create a fake college to swindle well-meaning people out of their money, get loans from Germany, be in the pocket of Russia, and then become president. I’m not talking about any real-world case in particular.

After dinner, Mary Anne sees her room and remarks that it looks like the room of a child. It’s pink and white, she has nursery rhyme pictures on the wall, framed in pink, and pink curtains. Mr. Spier can’t be that smart if he thinks that’s an appropriate room for Mary Anne, let alone any human being with sight. Actually, even the blind shouldn’t be subjected to that and I would call CPS on behalf of the blind person.

The next day at school, the BSC is still fractured. Each member refuses to talk to the others. Mary Anne attempts to say hello, but they just ignore her. At lunch, Mary Anne is forced to sit by herself, but the new kid asks if she can sit with the braided wallflower. This is the introduction of Dawn Schafer, a future BSC member. Mary Anne is ecstatic to have someone to sit with. Dawn asks where her regular friends are and Mary Anne tells her that they’re all sick. Yep. That’s not suspicious at all. All my friends got sick except me. I didn’t do anything to make them sick, they were like that when I found them, I swear!

Mary Anne tells Dawn about all the weirdos of Stoneybrook Middle School. I mention this because I need everyone to know that there’s a kid named Alexander Kurtzman who wears a three-piece suit to middle school. Let me repeat that. There’s a kid at Stoneybrook Middle School who wears a three-piece suit. In middle school. I’ve been to middle school. It’s a miracle this kid doesn’t get beaten up in Dog Alley every day. 

Anyway, Dawn invites Mary Anne over to her house. Dawn has a VCR, so how could Mary Anne say no? Dawn’s parents just got divorced and her mother grew up in Stoneybrook, so she moved her daughter, Dawn, and her son, Jeff, across the country to an old farmhouse in her hometown. That’s a pretty extreme thing to do after a divorce. I hate you so much I’m leaving beautiful California, with its theme parks and culture, for a town that is suspicious of black people when they move in

The girls watch The Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills version, I’m assuming. The one where they make sure the girls are always standing on opposite sides of the screen. Afterward, Mary Anne has her BSC meeting.

To call it frosty would be an understatement. Kristy doesn’t even show up to her own damn club. She claims she’s sick. Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne distribute the jobs, but it’s not in the friendly manner that the club is accustomed to. When Mary Anne leaves, she looks back at Claudia’s window. Mary Anne waves and Claudia “flashed [her] a hopeful smile and waved back.” Mary Anne goes back to Claudia’s house and leaves an apology note for Claudia with Mimi. Claudia calls her and the girls make up, but the peace is only temporary.

Mary Anne goes to talk to Kristy at school. If the club can’t get along, they have to figure out how to run it. Kristy comes up with the idea that one girl goes to the meeting and takes any jobs that she can immediately and calls around to the other members if she can’t. 

Dawn comes up and Mary Anne takes the opportunity to invite her over. Kristy is flabbergasted because Mary Anne only invites Kristy over. To get back at her, Kristy announces that she can stay out baby-sitting until ten on weekends and nine-thirty on weeknights, further cementing Mary Anne’s position as the “baby” of the BSC.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos. There are a few paragraphs about these freaks, including notes that Mrs. Prezzioso wears cocktail dresses wherever she goes and buys monogrammed handkerchiefs and suits for Mr. Prezzioso. She also has a daughter whom she dresses like a porcelain doll. When Jenny says she likes Mary Anne’s skirt, Mrs. Prezzioso says to her daughter, “It’s a very pretty skirt, I’m sure, but not as pretty as my little angel in her brand-new dress!” 

Mrs. Prezzioso’s first name must be Karen. (It’s actually Madeleine, but I refuse to call her that. It is clearly Karen.)

Jenny goes through Mary Anne’s Kit-Kit and inspects the Colorforms. She eventually settles on one of those coloring books where you put water over the page and, magically, dull colors appear. It takes the choice out of coloring!

After the babysitting job, Mary Anne asks her father if she could stay out later. Predictably, he says no. Mary Anne continues:

I’d like to be allowed to choose my own clothes. I’d like to take my hair out of these braids. I’d like to wear nail polish and stockings and lipstick. And if a boy ever asked me to go to the movies or something, I’d like to be able to say yes – without even checking with you first. You know what? Sometimes you don’t seem like my father to me. You seem like my jailer.”

These requests are perfectly reasonable but not to Old Man Spier. It does not go well. You can’t reason with Conservatives – they don’t listen to reason. They only care unless it directly affects them. And even then, they’ll just get the secret abortion for their mistress.

Mary Anne meets with Mimi and asks what to do with her father. She basically tells Mary Anne to try to find another way. In the process, she calls Mary Anne, “my Mary Anne.” Claudia overhears and says, “But I’m the only one you call yours.” Mary Anne and Claudia’s tentative truce is clearly over.

Mrs. Newton invites the entire BSC to help with Jamie Newton’s fourth birthday party. Mary Anne is also forced to ask Kristy if they want to sit for the Pikes. Kristy doesn’t want to work with Mary Anne, so Mary Anne says she’ll get her new friend Dawn to sit with her. Kristy relents and agrees to the job because the only thing she can’t stand more than her former best friend is a baby-sitting job going to someone outside the BSC babysitting monopoly.

At the Pikes, Kristy and Mary Anne speak through Mallory. Then they play Telephone, followed by a play. The suggestions for what play they should put on include Peter Rabbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Chuck Norris. What the hell is “Chuck Norris,” Adam? Huh? Do you just do bad karate while wearing a hat? Or do you just try to sell exercise equipment?

The next day, Dawn invites Mary Anne over. They venture deep into Mr. Spier’s yearbooks, looking for Ms. Schafer (or Ms. Porter, as that’s her maiden name). It seems that their parents knew each other in high school and may have dated. Well, they at least went to prom together. 

Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos again. This time, they’re going to a basketball game in a suit and a cocktail dress. These two seriously subscribe to the axiom “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.” 

Jenny is quite lethargic all afternoon and falls asleep on the couch. Mary Anne notices that Jenny is hot and mumbles when Mary Anne tries to wake her up. She takes Jenny’s temperature and it’s 104. She calls Jenny’s doctor and leaves a message. She calls the Pikes. Nothing. Her father. Nope. The next-door neighbors. What? Those nameless no-faces? Do you think some no faces are going to help Mary Anne?

It’s Dawn who comes to assist Mary Anne. She suggests they call 911 and ask them for advice. The operator sends an ambulance. In the meantime, Dawn makes a cold compress and gets Jenny’s coat while Mary Anne calls the gym and leaves a message for the Prezziosos. 

When they get to the hospital, it turns out Jenny has strep throat. The Prezziosos arrive. The gym was paging them for a while before they arrived and heard the announcement and they immediately went back to Stoneybrook. Mr. Prezzioso drives Mary Anne and Dawn home and pays them ten dollars each – a fact that Mary Anne is very excited about. Those ten dollars is the spending power of $20 today. That’s pretty good for half a night of baby-sitting. 

Mary Anne finally tells Dawn what has been going on with the other members of the BSC. Dawn is upset because Mary Anne originally claimed all her friends were sick, starting the friendship on a lie. Now Dawn is mad at her also. Okay, Dawn, it’s not like Mary Anne said she’s a vegan just to impress Dawn but it turns out she just loves bacon and the taste of death. 

Mary Anne tells her father what happened with the Prezziosos after they call later to update Mary Anne. Then he makes a weird analogy:

“But twelve means different things for different people. It’s like clothes. You can put a certain shirt on one person and he looks fabulous. Then you put the shirt on someone else and that person looks awful. It’s the same way with age. It depends on how you wear it or carry it.” 

That’s a convoluted way of saying that people are different. All that so that Mary Anne can finally wear the clothes she wants, decorate her room in a way befitting someone over the age of four, and she doesn’t have to wear her hair in braids. 

In the BSC Notebook, Stacey remarks that the fight is stupid and has been going on for a month, but that doesn’t stop the BSC from almost ruining Jamie’s birthday party. Mary Anne steps on Kristy’s foot and over pours a drink for the BSC president. Kristy cleans up the mess and throws the napkin in Stacey’s face. Then Stacey smashes the napkin in Claudia’s face. This causes Jamie to cry and the girls realize that they almost ruined Jamie’s party if it wasn’t for Mrs. Newton. The rest of the party goes fine.

The girls have yet another emergency meeting at Claudia’s house after the party and we have the big apology scene where they all recognize their pettiness and makeup.

Mary Anne also makes up with Dawn. And Mary Anne’s father even lets Mary Anne have a BSC party at her house to formally ask Dawn to join the BSC. However, Mr. Spier insists that the girls eat dinner together. With him. During the party. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than have dinner with a group of 12-year-olds, I don’t care what tradition I have. He is a grown-ass man and his daughter deserves a little privacy. 

During the dinner, the BSC formally invites Dawn to join the club. 

After all that, in order for Mr. Spier to treat his daughter like the responsible person she is, all Mary Anne had to do was save a little girl’s life! I’m not a parent, but that’s a ridiculous lesson. She has to be extraordinary just to be treated as ordinary. No one should be held up to this standard. I mean no one. 

Mr. Spier is entirely too strict. My childhood best-friend’s grandparents were also too strict, but her mother wasn’t strict enough. Maybe Mr. Spier should take his own analogy to heart. Making sweeping rules for your child is a good way to ensure your child won’t speak to you when they get older. But not having enough boundaries can create undue stress on a child, either by making avoidable mistakes or detrimental life decisions. The key must be in knowing your child – who they are and their priorities and proclivities – in order to create appropriate boundaries. But that would require parents to actually speak to their child as if they’re equals, and who has time for that? (Nervous laugh.)

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.