Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #27: Jessi and the Superbrat

I like k-pop, and because I like k-pop, I am inundated with emails and Tweets about contests to win five minutes with your favorite idol. I get articles about how to conduct yourself during a fan meet. A friend of mine sends me videos of k-pop stars surprising fans. 

And they all fill me with dread. Unlike most people, I have no desire to meet celebrities, especially celebrities I like. I once met Paula Poundstone after one of her shows because my sister wanted to get her CD signed, and I just stood to the side and said nothing with a doofy grin on my face. I do not stay after the concert in hopes of catching a glimpse of the tour bus. When the podcasters say they’re going to a bar down the street, I take it as a sign to go the opposite direction. A convention advertisement featuring the opportunity to meet someone from Star Trek? Absolutely not. The most celebrity interaction I want is a Tweet they never see. 

But why am I like that? Why don’t I want to meet people whose work I appreciate? Is it because I don’t want to make a fool of myself? Maybe a little, but I don’t think I’m going to impress them. The reason I don’t want to meet celebrities is that I enjoy that piece of societal glass that separates us. You stay over there and I’ll stay over here. Thank you for your work, but we don’t have to have a personal interaction. I’m clearly projecting my need to avoid people onto celebrities. 

That’s certainly not the case in Stoneybrook. A TV star is returning home and he happens to live in Stoneybrook and he’s a kid, so you know what that means! The mother gets an au pair. After all, she can afford it because her kid is a television star. I’m kidding. The BSC drove out the Au Pair Club in the brutal Stoneybrook Childcare Wars. 

Becca’s favorite show, P.S. 162, is airing, so the whole family gathers to make fun of Becca’s crush on the black kid on the show, Lamont. The show revolves around a group of young kids in school. I thought the show was some kind of ‘80s Degrassi: The Next Generation (so, Degrassi Junior High), but the existence of a laugh track makes me think it’s more akin to the classroom scenes in Boy Meets World. (Unfortunately, it seems that family sitcoms replaced school sitcoms by the time I was watching TGIF, so I couldn’t think of a single non-drama school television show. Also, Welcome Back, Kotter is way before my time and I don’t know if it was a sitcom or if it has a laugh track. I’m under the impression that every show from the ‘70s is a cop drama.)

While watching the program, our attention is brought to a character named Waldo, who is a nerd with crazy hair. The Minkus of P.S. 162. I hope he has a backup plan because he’s going to disappear after season two. Anyway, it turns out that a Stoneybrook native, Derek Masters, plays Waldo, and he might be coming back.

At the BSC meeting, Jessi introduces us to all the members, and it’s time for this episode’s “What’s Claudia Wearing?”

She had two French braids pulled back and wound into one. She’s also a wild dresser. At the meeting she was wearing a bright pink T-shirt, a short red flouncy skirt, and underneath the skirt she had on black footless tights that she had rolled up to mid-calf. 

It’s not that wild. This is relatively normal by today’s standards. Why she didn’t just get Capri tights, I don’t know. It’s not the craziest outfit I’ve seen her wear, so I’ll give it a 3/10. 

The meeting continues with usual club business until Mrs. Masters calls. Jessi is the only one free, so she eagerly takes the job, excited to meet television’s Waldo and “get involved with show biz.” If Jon Peters can go from hairdresser to megaproducer, babysitter to actress is a reasonable trajectory. The only problem is that Peters was in Los Angeles and Jessi is in a city that, if you remember #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, has never seen a kimono before.

And speaking of cultural insensitivity, Jessi makes fun of her teacher’s French accent during her ballet lessons. C’mon, Jessi, (also, Jan Carr, who wrote this book), you’re better than that. 

Madame Noelle announces that there will be Swan Lake try-outs at the Stoneybrook Civic Center, and the competition will be stiff, as the Stoneybrook Civic Center is “so good it might as well be [in New York City].” Only one movie at a time plays in town. I doubt the Stoneybrook Civic Center rivals the Lincoln Center. It doesn’t matter to Jessi, who is excited to try out. 

Before she can try out, she has to babysit for Derek Masters, who disappoints her the second she walks into his house. He doesn’t have crazy hair or the coke bottle glasses! How dare he not look exactly like the character he plays on tv?

Jessi gets over that quickly and she plays Candyland with him and his little brother, Todd. Derek is just a regular kid – not like the nerd character he plays at all. And there is no such thing as a nerd in real life, anyway. Toward the end of the job, he gives Jessi some pointers for her audition.

In the BSC Notebook, Mallory proposes a television series called Baby-sitter for the Stars. Y’all have a show already. Y’all have several. One has a theme song that is still stuck in my head twenty years later. 

During another babysitting session with Derek, Jessi invites Becca over. Becca is less interested in playing than she is in asking Derek about Lamont who, if you remember, is her crush from P.S. 162. 

Quick aside, P.S. 162 is a terrible name for a television show. Naming your show after the school it’s based around is fine. Degrassi is memorable. I read this whole book and I couldn’t remember the number for the school. “162” is a random set of numbers. How could I memorize that? Maybe if the school was “411” or something. There’s a reason it’s called Room 222. I can remember that even though I have no idea what the show is about except that the mom from Sister, Sister is in it. Also, we don’t name our schools after numbers here on the west coast. When I was a kid, I couldn’t figure out why the show was called that. I thought it referenced text at the end of a letter past the “Sincerely” or “LILAS.” In any case, as I’m writing this, I still have to reference the text to figure out the school’s number.

Anyway, Jessi takes Becca and Derek to the Pikes. Mallory gets a brand new affectation and suddenly she’s speaking as if she were a ‘50s housewife who is secretly a robot trying to emulate human speech.

And you must be Derek. I’m so pleased that you could come visit us in our home today.”

“We are very pleased to extend our hospitality, aren’t we, Nicky? Do come in.”

They go into the backyard and play badminton – the most scandalous of Olympic duo sports. The game turns contentious when the triplets tease him about being on a television show, which is pretty much, “Hey, did they teach you that on set?” and serving the shuttlecock. 

“Is that what they teach you in star school?” Jordan joined in.

Suddenly, Derek’s face turned bright red.

“Forget it,” he said. “Just forget it. Who cares about your crummy old game.” He threw down his racket and turned to face the triplets. “Anvil Head!” he shouted. “Cactus Brain! Pizza Breath!”

Whoa, Derek, language. You don’t want to say something you’ll regret. 

While Derek is back in town, he returns to Stoneybrook Elementary and he doesn’t have a good time. First of all, the girls crowd him and declare their love. A photographer and a reporter accost him in the hallway. Does Derek’s teacher kick them out? Yes, but then the teacher introduces Derek like he is on a late-night talk show and makes him stand in front of the class and answer questions. Additionally, the boys find out he wears make-up while filming and they make fun of him for that and call him a brat.

Derek mentions one specific kid named John. During gym, John ties Derek’s sneakers together and yeets Derek’s lunch out the window. Jessi is so incensed she is speechless, but she does muster the ability to call John the meanest thing she can think of: Superbrat.

Meanwhile, Kristy sits for her siblings. Karen discovers that an actor is from Stoneybrook, so she decides that she is going to use Derek to get on television. Kristy shuts that idea down so Karen wears her “dress-up clothes” and invites Hannie Papadakis and Amanda Delaney over. Then they put on a play designed to convince Kristy to let Karen use a human being to her advantage.

In the play, Karen goes door-to-door begging for an acting job and she’s rejected each time, sending her into furious sobbing. Despite her failure, she doesn’t want to go back home and she knocks on one last door.

She knocked. Amanda answered.

“Who are you?” asked Karen.

“I’m the director,” said Amanda. “We’ve got a show to do here, but my main actress just got sick. I need someone else to step in and be a star.”

“I’m a star!” cried Karen.

“Then you’re hired!” said the director.

So, no starting small. No training. She just needed to knock on one last door.

This is literally the plot of Staying Alive – the sequel to Saturday Night Fever in which a nightmare of a man uses every woman around him and becomes a star by sheer audacity and going off-script, ruining the lives of the people around him.

Back in the world of Stoneybrook show biz, Jessi has her first audition. She reviews her resume (something her mother typed up for her, like, on a typewriter), while her father makes jokes about shaving off all her hair. Then she goes to the Civic Center and encounters a group of snarky girls who criticize all the dancers. In the end, Jessi gets a callback. She calls Mallory to let her know the good news. Mallory relays that Nicky said that Derek got in trouble for throwing food all over someone in the cafeteria. Jessi assumes that John the Superbrat pushed Derek too far.

Jessi isn’t the only one who sits for Derek. Claudia takes the young television star to the playground where Claudia and Derek encounter a group of boys who are in Derek’s class. Then Claudia invites the boys over to Derek’s house, presumably so they can torture him off school hours as well. Why did Claudia do this thing?

Claudia’s idea to invite the boys over was a smart one. She had a hunch that it would be good for them to see where Derek lived. They’d see that he was just a regular kid living in a regular house in Stoneybrook.

Don’t you love it when the book has to tell you that something is a good idea? Well, I guess it was because the boys have a good time. This is more fantastical than Tolkien. In real life, if those kids were really bullies, they’d hang around your house all day waiting for you to leave so they could give you a hard time. In this book, the group has a good time, and afterward, Claudia asks which one is John. Derek says that none of them are friends with John. 

During Jessi’s next audition, Derek and his mother tag along. Jessi gets a callback, and Derek is excited for her, but he has a few notes. Suddenly, he’s Baryshnikov, something he acquired on the set of P.S. 162. Not really. He listened to the snarky girls and took some notes. And then they engage in some light assault. Derek also announces that he is going back to Los Angeles soon and he wants Jessi to come with him. Everyone knows that the home of true ballet is in Los Angeles. Well, he floats the idea of doing commercials and modeling. Jessi is interested in selling sugary drinks and heart medications.

It’s time for the BSC meeting and Jessi proposes an idea to help Derek. She wants to have a party and invite every kid in Derek’s class – including John the Superbrat. Unfortunately, not everyone likes parties so they scrap the idea. No, that’s not right. I don’t like parties. The real problem is they are all busy except for one morning, so they make it a breakfast party. It’s novel to them but I’m more familiar with “breakfast party’s” common parlance: brunch.

While the party planning is going on, Jessi talks to her parents about going to Los Angeles to become a model. They shut down the LA idea, but they say that she can be a model as long as it’s in Stamford. Jessi also has another audition and she says that it isn’t a big deal if she doesn’t get a part because she’s going to be a big commercial star, um, oh, you know, that guy. You know, that guy with the face who’s in all those commercials. Oh! Wait! You know, I think the pretty lady from Birdemic was in an IHOP commercial. Dream big, Jessi.

One page later, it’s time for the breakfast party – the culmination of sentences of planning. The BSC dress up in pajamas and bathrobes, and the kids compete in morning-themed relay races. Ugh. A party with a bunch of people, doing morning activities, and competitive running. I had a nightmare about this once. Derek eats with all the kids and everyone has a good time. Strangely, there is no kid named John. Girls, I know you’re twelve, but c’mon. 

Toward the end of the party, Jessi has to leave early for her final audition. She won’t learn until Wednesday whether or not she’s in the ballet. It doesn’t matter to her – she has to call agents in Stamford! I’m sure they would love to be solicited by an eleven-year-old with no acting experience. 

But that doesn’t matter either! She’s in! She’s one of the swan-maidens! She only had to wait for one page. Jessi admits that she really did want to be in the play and she only said that stuff about commercials because she was worried she wasn’t going to be chosen. She goes over to Derek’s to share the good news and to reject his offer to come with him to Los Angeles as a tutor or whatever.

Derek says he liked the party and Jessi asks about John. Finally, Derek tells us what’s going on.

“See, what happened,” he said, “was that the kids were bothering me so much that I had to get back at them. So whenever they did something mean to me, I started doing mean things back to them.”

“Well, why’d you say it was John?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Derek shook his head. “When I told you, it was like I had to tell somebody what I’d been doing, but I didn’t really know how to tell. And then once the boys started actually being friends with me, I didn’t have to do those things anymore. So John just kind of disappeared.”

And that’s it, folks! Derek says goodbye as he leaves for Los Angeles. Kids, if you want to make friends, bully some unwitting target. And don’t worry, after the kids befriend you, you don’t have to torment the target anymore – unless you want to stay cool.

I took theater for years and I knew kids who wanted to be on Broadway or movies or commercials. Not me. I barely wanted to act. I was there because it was dangerous and adrenaline-rushing and fulfilled an art credit, but I wasn’t doing anything that could land me in the hospital or required me to learn how to play an instrument. Admittedly, I’m a terrible actress. If there were enough kids in drama, I would have preferred to be on the tech crew, but I’m reliable when it comes to memorizing lines, so I was in a few productions. However, I still think of actors as some untouchable, faraway, beacon. A star, if you will. They are not “just like me.” 

This middle-of-the-road BSC book didn’t make stars more accessible for me. But I also wouldn’t have talked to Derek at all. His life is none of my business and I would like to keep it that way. Truthfully, if I were a TV star, I wouldn’t want everyone up in my shit, so why wouldn’t I want that for the actors and actresses who bring me joy?

But it all worked out for Derek I guess. Break a leg, kid, and make sure you come back for another season.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye

I never knew my grandfathers, but I knew both of my grandmothers. They lived with my family at different times and helped raise my sister and me. My maternal grandmother watched Star Trek: The Next Generation every Saturday at five, and that was my first exposure to science fiction, sparking a lifelong devotion to space ships and androids. My paternal grandmother ran off to Arizona with her boyfriend, showing me that even at the ripe old age of 80, life can still be a romantic adventure.

They have both died now, and they have been dead for more than ten years at the time of this essay. The pain has lessened, but I still think about them whenever I watch Geordi La Forge spout some jargon just science-y enough to sound correct without any actual science involved, or whenever I wonder if there’s still enough time in my life to travel around the world.

It’s time for Claudia to say goodbye to Mimi in The Baby-Sitters Club #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, and if that’s too much of a spoiler, then you should be angry at the title, not me, and, frankly, death is easier when you’re prepared, which is something I learned with the death of my father, which is for another essay. For now, the inevitable death of our favorite Stoneybrook grandmother is our focus. And, if it’s not obvious, this one is a little sad.

Claudia starts the novel firmly cementing Mimi has a positive influence in Claudia’s life. Mimi is still dealing with the effects of the stroke she suffered in #7: Claudia and Mean Janine. Claudia has been helping her, but it seems like Mimi is getting worse. During the first BSC meeting of the book, Mallory remarks that Mimi yelled at her for taking Mimi shopping at a place that makes Mimi wait to use the dressing rooms. The problem is that Mallory has never taken Mimi shopping. It’s not looking great for the matriarch of the Kishi household.

Anyway, the BSC gets a phone call from the Addisons, who have two children: Sean and Corrie. They’re not looking for baby-sitting services, exactly, but they are looking for an art teacher for Corrie. Of course, Claudia jumps at the opportunity. Claudia has a great idea, even though those are usually reserved for Kristy:

“Maybe I could start a little art class. Like on Saturdays in our basement. Gabbie and Myriah Perkins love art projects. So does Jamie Newton. That would be fun. And good experience for me, in case I ever want to be an art teacher.”

“And,” said Kristy slowly, “it would show people that our club can do more than just baby-sit. I think it would be good for business.”

“I’d need some help, though,” I said slowly. “I don’t know if I could manage a class alone.”

“If you hold the class on Saturdays, I could help you,” spoke up Mary Anne. “We’ll split the money sixty-forty, since you’ll be in charge.”

I’m surprised Mary Anne didn’t say that slowly.

Later, during the Kishis’ dinner (after Janine’s college class entitled “Advances and Trends in Computerized Biopsychiatry,” which is nothing), Mimi passes out and the family rushes her to the hospital. 

After a long series of tests, the doctors send her home, but it doesn’t seem like Mimi has recovered. Claudia becomes frustrated with Mimi and they have a brief argument. Claudia leaves in tears. 

At the next art class, the kids mess around with watercolors as Marilyn and Carolyn mess with Jamie Newton. After all the kids have been picked up, Corrie’s parents are very late. So late that Corrie is the only one whose painting is dry when her parents finally arrive.

There’s another art class, but this one doesn’t go smoothly. Mimi comes downstairs during the lesson and collapses in front of the children. Claudia retrieves her parents while Mary Anne and Corrie distract the children and get them ready to go home early. Unfortunately, Corrie sees Mimi on the stretcher and cries, and her mother is forty-five minutes late.

Once again, the hospital is not great. They can’t get painkillers for Mimi. That is strange because every time I’ve been to the hospital, they are quick with the pain meds even if I wasn’t in any pain – just general throwing up and dizziness. Luckily, Mimi seems to get better as Claudia stays with her in the hospital. Eventually, the doctors discharge her.

After a few days, Claudia wakes up in the middle of the night and hears her parents talking. Mimi passed away while Claudia was asleep. Everything becomes hectic. Calling the relatives falls to Claudia’s parents, and people come over all day to offer their condolences. Claudia and Janine have a heart-to-heart. Claudia calls Stacey, who cries. Then Claudia calls Kristy, who doesn’t cry, thankfully, and Kristy offers to cancel the meeting. Claudia insists that they don’t cancel the meeting. They sit in silence. Janine even sits in on the meeting because she doesn’t want to be alone.

Claudia still wants to participate in club activities, even though Kristy let her opt out. The girls get pizza and share memories about Mimi, including the first time Mimi had pizza. The family had dressed up to eat at a Japanese restaurant and Mimi wore a traditional kimono. When they arrived at the restaurant, it was closed, so they ended up at a pizza joint.

“And everyone stared,” I said, “because Mimi looked like she was on her way to a costume party, but we ordered two pies anyway, and Mimi ate one slice very bravely.” 

“And,” said Kristy, “as we were finally leaving that awful place where everyone had been staring at us, Mimi turned around, faced the people in the restaurant, and announced, “[sic]Best Japanese food I have ever eaten!”[sic]

Us club members were hysterical. Jessi even dropped a whole slice of pizza on the floor.

I don’t get it. Claudia calls an important garment a costume and Stoneybrook is racist? Like, people in Connecticut have never seen a kimono? I saw one in a store right next to the My Hero Academia enamel pins – it’s not that uncommon. And I’m sure pizza exists in Tokyo. If I was able to get pizza in a little mall in a village in the Philippines in 1996, I’m certain there’s some pizza joint in Akihabara in 1989. I don’t get why it’s funny that Stoneybrook is so devoid of culture that a kimono is perplexing to the locals. Or maybe Martin has some strange ideas about Japanese culture. Either way, the optics here are not great.

And speaking of strange cultural gymnastics, Mimi’s funeral is the next day and she’s buried. Not cremated, which is the custom for Japanese people. The whole funeral is, dare I say, white. White church. White customs. White people. There’s nothing remotely Japanese in the whole ceremony. It could be that Mimi converted, but I’m just not sure and this is not addressed in the text.

For the next few days, the kids at school don’t talk to Claudia, because everyone is up in everyone else’s business and the whole town seems to know about Mimi’s passing. Ashley Wyeth makes an appearance and she’s just as pleasant and warm as ever. That was sarcasm. 

Claudia is thankful when the weekend comes and it’s time for her art lesson. The kids are making puppets and Corrie is making Nancy Drew. She wants to give it to her mother. Marilyn and Carolyn tell a dumb joke about twins named Trouble and Shut Up and that one is so old it went to college for fifty bucks a semester and now thinks everyone younger than it is entitled. After class, Claudia gets a call from Corrie’s mother.

“Well, the thing is, I’ve been held up doing my errands.” (She did sound like she was calling from a pay phone on the street.) “My bracelet won’t be ready at the jewelry store for another half an hour, and the man at the laundry is running late, too.” (What a tragedy, I thought.) “So, I was wondering if you’d keep Corrie for another hour or so, dear. I’ll pay you whatever the rate is for an unexpected call like this.”

Charge her an exorbitant fee like the landlord of a modestly-sized apartment! You got bracelet money, you got peak pricing money, lady!

Claudia and Corrie make sandwiches and talk to Janine. When Corrie’s mother finally shows up, Corrie gives the Nancy Drew puppet to Claudia.

The Kishis go through Mimi’s things. It turns out that Mimi wrote her obituary before she passed. Claudia talks about her anger toward Mimi for dying, the doctors for not doing enough to save Mimi, and herself for fighting with Mimi toward the end. 

In art class, the students learn about collages and make their own. After class, Mrs. Addison is on time! Holy crap, drop the balloons! Cue the “Macarena!” Release the Al Gore!

“Hi,” replied Mrs. Addison. “I’m sorry I’m so early. My husband’s waiting in the car.” (She turned and gave a little wave toward a blue Camaro parked crookedly in our driveway, as if the Addisons were in a big hurry.) “I forgot to tell Corrie this morning that we have tickets to the ice show in Stamford. I mean, tickets for Sean and Corrie. They’ll meet a baby-sitter there, and then Mr. Addison and I can enjoy an afternoon to ourselves.”

Finally, it’s time for Claudia to confront Mrs. Addison.

“Did you know that Corrie is always the last one to leave my house after class is over? And that she’s always the first to arrive?”

Mrs. Addison checked her watch impatiently and glanced over her shoulder at the car waiting in our driveway.

“I love having Corrie around,” I went on. “She’s a terrific kid. But, well, she feels pretty bad about being left here . . . left here longer than any of the other children, I mean.”

“Did you notice,” I started to ask,  “that Corrie hasn’t brought home any of her art projects?”

“I think,” I began (and oh, my lord, I hoped I wasn’t butting in where I didn’t belong), “that Corrie is a little bit mad at you and Mr. Addison.” (What an understatement.) “She wants to please you, but she gets angry and scared when she feels like,” (I tried to think of a nice way to say that Corrie felt her parents didn’t care about her), “like . . . sometimes other things are more important to you and Mr. Addison than she is.”

Mrs. Addison cries and says she’ll do better. I doubt it. Boomers will show contrition and the second it inconveniences them or they forget, things go back to the way they were before. Or they get mad at the possibility of being wrong and take it out on the teenager at Jack in the Box.

I hope the Addisons are saving some of that ice show money because Sean and Corrie are going to need a lot of therapy when they grow up. Honestly, these people shouldn’t have had kids. Not every couple is equipped, prepared, or ready for a tiny dependent human and the sooner people realize that the sooner we can focus on something more important like devastating climate change or Christmas toy shortages because apparently, those two things are equivalent in the eyes of capitalism. I’m just kidding. Capitalism only cares about consumerism and not the very ground we live on. Unless that ground has resources for consumption. But I digress.

Claudia is finally ready to confront her feelings about Mimi, and she does it in the best way for herself. She makes a collage featuring cut-outs from magazines that signify Mimi in some way or another – teacups for their “special tea,” needlework, a Japanese woman holding a Japanese baby. I’m assuming they are holding Goku figurines, sushi, and a flag, otherwise, how would Claudia know they’re Japanese.

Meanwhile, the kids in the art class have a special project they’ve been working on – another collage for Mimi. With all these collages, the Kishi house is overrun with them, and they display them in Mimi’s old room.

Losing a loved one is hard and I think Martin made the concept accessible to a younger audience. Mimi knew she was dying, and it’s implied that she just “let go.” That adds an undertone that death isn’t something sudden, even if it may seem like that to the loved ones. Death is something to be confronted.

Claudia’s human response of anger and a need to return to normal is true to the character and a different narrative. It contrasts with Mary Anne and Stacey, both of whom have the expected emotional response of sadness. It shows that there are several possible emotions surrounding death besides despair and that each reaction is valid.

However, I think there’s a real lack of cultural sensitivity in this book. Why wasn’t Mimi cremated? What was so funny about the restaurant scene? I saw a bunch of racists. Also, I don’t see much of Mimi within the funeral or the stories about her. They felt like stories that could be told about anyone – not just Mimi.

Maybe that was on purpose. Death is universal. Losing a loved one is universal. This last year, we’ve all had to confront loss and death in an unprecedented way. Maybe my criticisms that the book lacks specificity are shrouded in my recent contemplation of death, funeral rites, and if a memorial should be made for the dead, or should be made for the living. These are personal questions with no definite answers that are dependent on societal norms, cultural backgrounds, and personal tastes. They probably shouldn’t be explored in a silly essay that has a joke about the 1996 Democratic Convention in it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #25: Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger

Mary Anne and a random girl hold our their hands while a boy stands around and Logan puts up a sign on a telephone post.

Logan Bruno and I have been off to a rocky start. He started out okay, but then he compared Mary Anne to other girls and generally disappoints me with his ambivalence toward Mary Anne. On top of all that, he’s barely a driving factor in her life. And that’s when he’s around, which is never. If every book didn’t start with a long description of each member, adding that Mary Anne’s boyfriend is named Logan, then I wouldn’t have any idea that Mary Anne is in a relationship. However, maybe it’s better if Logan isn’t an integral part of the series, considering his track record.

And it’s strange. I don’t remember having any disdain for Logan when I was a kid. He wasn’t my favorite of the BSC boyfriends, but I didn’t hate him. Maybe when I was a kid, the bar for men was so low that Satan himself could use it for pull-ups. Since then, the bar has been raised. Now it’s on the ground, but it’s still impossible for some men to hop the inch it takes to clear it.

Logan plays a significant role in The Baby-Sitters Club #25: Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger. That means he has another chance to justify himself to adult me and be the boy I remember from my childhood. Let’s hope Logan can climb his way out of hell and use that southern charm to get himself one inch into the air to get over that bar. 

Mary Anne starts the novel at the pet store with Dawn. She is buying presents for her cat, Tigger. See, Tigger keeps losing toys behind the refrigerator, so the logical thing to do is buy the cat more toys. You know. To replace the ones behind the refrigerator? I think?

But it’s almost time for a BSC meeting, so the girls pay for their purchases and rush back to Mary Anne’s house before heading to Claudia’s house, where Mary Anne can tell us a little about the young artist.

Claud mixes and matches the weirdest stuff and comes up with the coolest outfits. Like a loose blouse with a fake coat of arms on it worn over a very short black skirt. Around her waist, a scarf. On her feet, short black boots. Dangling from her ears, dinosaurs. And her hair might be piled on top of her head and held in place with hairpins that look like seahorses. She combines all this stuff – and she looks fantastic.

Then Mary Anne calls Claudia’s room “a rat hole.” That’s needlessly harsh, Mary Anne. Maybe that “rat hole” has all the accessories she looks “fantastic” in. 

Mary Anne doesn’t say it out loud, so this isn’t one of the books wherein the girls fight. That’s a firm check in the “plus” column. Instead, Logan calls! He needs a babysitter. See, he has engineered clones in his free time and they need a sitter while he’s speaking at the United Nations on the ethics of cloning. I’m kidding. He needs a sitter for his siblings, Hunter and Kerry because he joined the baseball team and can’t watch them. Mary Anne takes the job.

The next day, Logan and Mary Anne are outside of her house playing with Tigger and going over what Mary Anne needs to know about Logan’s siblings. Hunter is allergic to everything, which would make him a terrible hunter. Kerry is trying to prove she’s independent, which Logan thinks would end if she had more friends. Suddenly, Jamie appears to play with the cat. And then Myriah and Gabbie. And finally, we have Charlotte. And they all play with the cat, and Mary Anne tells us that Logan is good with kids and gorgeous.

You know what I still can’t figure out, though? I can’t figure out why Logan likes me. Why would any boy like shy me better than sophisticated, outgoing Claudia? Or self-assured Dawn?

Boys don’t like sophistication, otherwise, there wouldn’t be thirty-five-year-old men dating nineteen-year-olds. Boys also don’t like confidence, otherwise, again, there wouldn’t be thirty-five-year-old men dating nineteen-year-olds. And Logan shouldn’t make Mary Anne feel that way. What is he telling her? A boyfriend should give you the confidence to fight God and time like a JRPG character. They shouldn’t make you question your worthiness.

Before leaving for another BSC meeting, Mary Anne lets Tigger stay outside since he’s having so much fun. However, later that night, Tigger doesn’t appear for dinner – not even when Mary Anne calls for him, and he usually shows up when she calls him. Her father tells her that sometimes cats just disappear or take long naps outside and Tigger will be back the next day. Unfortunately, Mr. Spier is wrong. But there’s still hope and Mary Anne has to get to her baby-sitting job at the Brunos’.

Hunter is full of allergies and his room is an exercise in dander control. His room is so barren that his toys are kept in another room. The Brunos have made a rule that no one is to open Logan’s room because it’s so messy and could contaminate Hunter’s room. The Brunos doomed their kid when they named him “Hunter.” The only thing this kid is hunting for is an EpiPen.

Mary Anne plays “Vet’s Office” with the kids and later Kerry prepares a snack for all of them since she knows all of Hunter’s various allergies. When Mary Anne goes home, she hopes to see Tigger, safe and sound. But he’s not. It’s official – Tigger is missing.

Kristy calls for a patented BSC Emergency Meeting because Kristy won’t help unless she can do it with a gavel and Claudia’s room. The club is going to distribute posters around Stoneybrook. Kristy suggests they offer a reward. The girls pool their money together and, with the added funds from the club treasury, they can offer a thirty-dollar reward. That translates to $66 in today’s money. That’s a lot for a cat, especially when every person I know who has a cat says they just started feeding it one day when it snuck into the yard and they said to their roommate, “Hey, guess what? We have a cat now. His name is Quesalupa!” 

Claudia designs the posters, including a life-like drawing of Tigger. The drawing is so good because Claudia asks Mary Anne to get every photo of Tigger she can find. Why they didn’t just use the photos, I have no idea. Claudia wants to draw something, so Claudia gets to draw something.

Meanwhile, Jessi is babysitting for her siblings, Becca and Squirt. They play some games and talk about how much Charlotte, Becca’s best friend, likes Tigger. Then they read that weird Baby Island book. Apparently, it’s the hottest book in Stoneybrook. Move over, Stephen King – this one-hundred-year-old book that doesn’t have a movie adaptation is coming for you! 

The next day, Kristy has made copies of the posters and the entire BSC, including Logan, is ready to help Mary Anne.

“Now,” she began, “the idea is to paper the neighborhood. By tonight, there shouldn’t be a single person in this area who doesn’t know that Tigger is missing. I’ve got boxes of thumbtacks, and I want you to make sure you put a poster on every phone pole. Maybe two posters – front and back. Then stuff mailboxes. There are plenty of streets around here.”

I know how to litter, Kristy. 

The girls split up. Logan says that Mary Anne is being dramatic and while a lost kitten is sad, she’s overreacting. Mary Anne doesn’t say anything back. Dump him, Mary Anne, and we’ll go get Baskin-Robbins. They have 31 flavors and Logan’s flavor is the insensitive Disney Channel antagonist. 

As they’re putting up the posters, a ten-year-old boy walks up to Mary Anne.

“Is there really a reward?”

“Yup.”

“Well then, okay. Yester- um, no, let’s see. The day before yesterday I saw a – a gray kitten with tiger stripes.”

“That’s just like Tigger!” I cried.

Hey, Mary Anne, tell this boy to go back to the treehouse with the misspelled “No Girls Allowed” sign and get back to work.

“And he had short hair – I’m sure it was a he, not a she – and he was, oh, about fifteen inches long – I mean, including his tail. And, um, he answered to the name of Tigger.”

I wouldn’t know a female cat from a male cat, but Alfalfa here checked that cat’s genitals.

I looked suspiciously at the poster I’d just put up. “How did you know to call him Tigger?” I asked the boy.

“Because his name was on his collar?” he suggested.

I shook my head. “Sorry. He doesn’t wear a collar.”

The boy didn’t look a bit uncomfortable about having told a whopping lie. “What’s the reward for?” he wanted to know. “For information leading to finding this cat or something?”

“No,” I said crossly. “For finding him. For putting him in my hands.”

Now stop talking to wandering children and get to breaking up with Logan, er, looking for Tigger.

The next day, Mary Anne rushes to her mailbox and it contains a letter for her! But there’s no return address. People keep sending her troubling things in the mail. You’d think she would stop checking. Anyway, the letter contains a handwritten note. 

If you want to see your cat alive again, leave $100 in an envelope on the big rock in Brenner Field at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

She takes the letter to the BSC, which springs into action with a plan. Only Claudia and Mallory entertain the idea that it’s fake. Logan says that Mary Anne is acting like “a girl” and Mary Anne finally says that it’s okay to be sensitive and she is a girl. Claudia lives on the second floor, Mary Anne should defenestrate Logan. (Let me just check that word off my “Words To Use” list.)

But we can’t throw him out yet – he comes up with a brilliant plan! What is this plan? They’re going to put Monopoly money in an envelope, leave it on the “big rock,” and then watch the rock to see who retrieves the money. Huh. It took seven of you to come up with this plan? 

Before the BSC can enact their plan, Dawn has a baby-sitting job at the Barretts’. Buddy is worried about their basset hound and vows to protect the dog from would-be thieves. Eventually, the kids need to go to sleep. Buddy stays up watching a show called Dragon Warriors, which is not real. There is a real show called Dragon Warrior: Legend of the Hero Abel, but unless Buddy is exceptionally worldly, there’s no way he watches a Japanese show wherein only thirteen out of forty-three episodes were dubbed and released in America. Eventually, he goes to sleep and there is no more television talk.

It’s finally time for that great caper that Logan concocted. Everything goes according to plan. Soon, a figure arrives, takes the envelope, and books it. The BSC chases the figure down. It’s a kid. In fact, it’s that Alfalfa punk who thinks about animal genitals from before. And, to no one’s surprise, he doesn’t have Tigger – he just wanted money. Logan makes up some stuff about felonies and that the kid could go to jail for twenty-five to fifty years. Sure, but if the kid is white, he’ll get probation and a swimming scholarship. Anyway, the kid runs away but Mary Anne is still missing one cat.

Claudia babysits for the Perkins girls, and they are going to look for Tigger themselves. But first, they have to sing Christmas carols and “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis. There are some great late ‘80s songs, but these kids are going to sing Elvis – a man who died in 1977. Then the girls play “Hawaiian detective” and Tom Selleck all over the neighborhood while Claudia contemplates death. 

Once again, Mary Anne is baby-sitting the Brunos. She makes a shocking discovery in Kerry’s room. In Kerry’s closet, in a box, is none other than Tigger! What is going on?

“I – I just found him,” replied Kerry. “And I didn’t know he was Tigger then. Honest. I was riding my bike home last Friday and it was getting dark. Remember? The weather wasn’t very nice that day. And I was a few houses away from Mary Anne’s and I thought I saw something shiny on the side of the road. So I stopped. And it was this kitten. Its eyes were shining. I thought, Poor kitty, no one’s taking care of you. So I just put him in my bike basket and rode him home. I wanted to have a friend. And I wanted to show you and Daddy that I could care for a pet. I really am responsible enough to do that. Look how well I cared for Tigger.” 

And then she kept it to prove that she can have a pet if it stays in her room, away from Hunter and his allergies. Mary Anne takes her cat and goes home.

Logan and Mary Anne have a chat later. He’s been testy because he’s about to be kicked off the baseball team. His coach doesn’t like him and Logan is trying to improve, but it’s failing and Logan isn’t getting any better. Mary Anne gives him snacks and stays with him, which is annoying.

If Logan can’t step over a bar on the ground, then it’s no wonder he’s a terrible baseball player. He demeans Mary Anne’s anguish over losing her cat. He says that acting like a girl is a bad thing. When it turns out his little sister has stolen his girlfriend’s cat, he’s pretty damn nonchalant, and he doesn’t give Mary Anne the confidence she clearly needs. 

I have only watched the first season of the excellent Netflix show at the time of writing this, so I hope the showrunners redeem this boy, because I’m losing my patience for Logan. He’s a terrible boyfriend and Mary Anne should dump him. She should go out with Kristy. At least Kristy can play baseball. 

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #22: Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter

I like dogs. I’ve always liked dogs. They’re sweet and caring and I take them as proof that if God exists, she’s a benevolent goddess and wants us to be happy because she put dogs on this earth. However, we do not deserve them. We do stupid shit, like elect leaders the same way we choose our favorite football team. It’s not who has the best ideas that will help the most people – it’s which side they are on. They would rather stick it to the liberals even though the liberals have better policies to help their families and themselves. Also, liberals are open to using they/them pronouns, and apparently, that’s a problem for some inconceivable reason.

Dogs and elections collide in The Baby-Sitters Club #22: Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter. While our favorite ballerina is tackling a sitting job more akin to the National Zoo than the office daycare center, the BSC is engaging in the democratic process. Because they’re fighting. Again. Oh boy, here we go.

The Mancusis call the BSC hoping to book a sitter for a full week. The catch is that they don’t need a sitter for children – they need a sitter for a house full of animals! They reject the job because Kristy had a bad experience with animals in the first BSC book and the book is over! 

I’m kidding, of course. Jessi takes the job, just like the title says. The Braddocks, her usual baby-sitting charges, are on vacation and Jessi doesn’t have ballet practice all this week, so she’s free and needs a job. However, Kristy almost rejects the job because of her bad experience, leading the club to question if Kristy’s bossiness is a detriment to the club.

The next day, Jessi arrives at the Mancusis’ house to meet all the animals. She does not describe the smell, but I imagine it is powerful. The Mancusis have three dogs (Cheryl, Pooh Bear, and Jacques), five cats (Crosby, Powder, Ling-Ling, Tom, and Rosie), a bunch of birds that are usually allowed to just fly around the house (but they won’t for that week, much to Jessi’s relief), a parrot named Frank who repeats commercials, hamsters, two guinea pigs (Lucy and Ricky), some fish and rabbits, and the pièce de résistance – Barney the snake. No shenanigans will happen with the snake, I’m sure. Not surprisingly, Jessi takes on the challenge with aplomb and her signature grace.

The next day, as Jessi starts her new job, Claudia brings Jamie Newton and Nina Marshall over to gawk at the animals in the world’s cheapest zoo. I know the National Zoo is free, but they charge you five dollars for a map whereas the Zoo Mancusi has an eleven-year-old. This does not stop Jamie Newton from freaking out when he sees the guinea pigs, claiming they are from space. Jessi suggests they all walk the dogs together to distract Jamie from the space creatures from Quizno’s.

While walking the dogs, they encounter Chewy, the Perkinses’ dog. He had gotten loose while the Perkinses were gone, so he joins the walk and they chase squirrels. Luckily, by the time they circle around back to the Perkins residence, the Perkinses are home and relieved to see Chewy.

When they get back to the Mancusi residence, Jessi sees that one of the hamsters is curled up in the corner, refusing to move.  I’m sure this will have no effect on the plot.

During the next BSC meeting, Kristy barks orders at everyone, and everyone is arguing yet again. This time, it’s about Kristy being very Kristy and how complicated everyone’s individual job is. Kristy thinks this is a great time to roll out her new idea:

“To make sure that each of you is reading the notebook once a week, I’m going to draw up a checklist. Every Monday, in order to show me you’ve been keeping up with the notebook, you’ll initial a box on the chart.”

And then they argue about the checklist. The arguing changes a bit when Claudia complains about taking calls during non-BSC meeting hours. Mary Anne is tired of scheduling and Dawn doesn’t like collecting dues. Jessi and Mallory refuse to take sides and later they worry about the future of the club. Since there are one hundred more books in the mainline series, I don’t think you’ll have to worry, girls, but now I’m meta-reading.

During Mary Anne’s baby-sitting job at the Perkinses, they go over to Zoo Mancusi, because why not? Finally, Chekov’s gun has gone off – Barney is missing from his cage! Myriah took the top of his cage off while the others pondered the fat, immobile hamster. They figure that he went outside since he’s cold-blooded. They trap him in an extra aquarium, slip some cardboard under, and plop him back into his home. Crisis averted, metals all around.

It’s Wednesday, so it’s time for another BSC meeting! And I can finally announce the long-awaited comeback of “What’s Claudia Wearing???”

Claudia was wearing another of her great outfits. This one consisted of an oversized, short-sleeved cotton shirt with gigantic leaves painted all over it, green leggings – the same green as the leaves on her shirt  – bright yellow push-down socks, her purple high-tops, and in her hair a headband with a gigantic purple bow attached to one side.

I’m not a big fan of the green/purple color combination (mostly because of its internet meme connection), but an oversized shirt, leggings, and high-tops is still a good look. 

When Kristy arrives at the meeting, she puts her checklist over Claudia’s pictures of Stacey. Claudia snatches the checklist off, Kristy snatches it back and puts it up again. This goes on until the checklist rips in half. Kristy reminds everyone that she’s the president which prompts Claudia to call for an election.

Jessi and Mallory try to stay quiet, and after the meeting, they once again express their concerns about the stability of the club.

The next day at the Mancusi’s, Becca and Mallory come with Jessi. Becca wants to play with the animals and Mallory wants to discuss the elections. They feed the animals, walk the dogs, and Mallory says that the election makes her uncomfortable. There are no problems and we are moving on.

Meanwhile, Kristy sits for Jackie Radowsky. Since everyone in Stoneybrook is psychically linked, Jackie’s class is holding elections for various classroom duties, including “blackboard-washer, messenger, roll-taker.” The most coveted role is taking care of the class pet Snowball, which is what Jackie is running for. However, he doesn’t think he’s going to win because he’s up against Adrienne Garvey.

“Well, she never erased holes into her workbook pages, and she never gets dirty, even in art class. And she always finishes her work on time. And she never forgets her lunch or trips or spills or anything!”

Oh, Jackie, if competency was a requirement for winning an election, we wouldn’t have had a crime-family run carte blanche with our sacred institutions. What you need is a cult that will believe everything you say with some propaganda help from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Anyway, Kristy instructs him to prove his responsibility and campaign for the role. She tells him to put on a nice shirt and write speeches. Later, while he is trying to prove that responsibility, he spills some dog food and wants to clean it up, but Kristy doesn’t let him. He tells Kristy that she’s a “bossy baby-sitter.” 

“You buttoned my shirt when I wanted to do it myself, you wouldn’t let me vacuum up the mess I made, and now you’re going to plan my campaign for-”

Jackie is distracted and forgets what he was talking about, but it sticks with Kristy. She wonders if she’s really as bossy as everyone insists. Well, yeah, Kristy. It’s your whole personality. Bossy and sporty. It’s like you don’t even read the beginning.

The next meeting is grim. The club goes over the rules for the upcoming election with the level of precision usually reserved for fighter pilot safety checks. Mary Anne cries. Jessi and Mallory worry about the club again.

On the day of the elections, one of the hamsters is acting weird. Jessi calls her mom and they take it to the vet. While waiting for the vet, Jessi realizes that she won’t be able to make the elections. Luckily, this issue is no big deal because Kristy offers to move the elections to the next day. We almost had a conflict there! See, it really didn’t have any effect on the plot.

Turns out the hamster is pregnant. Jessi is quite excited about the new little hamsters. The book conveniently glosses over the fact that the hamster will probably eat most of them later in the dead of the night, so Jessi shouldn’t be quick to pick out her favorite one. Maybe give it a few days.

Before the BSC conducts elections, they talk about the hamsters. But it’s no time for frivolity – we have an election to hold! Who will be the new president? Will Claudia, the worst at math, be the treasurer in honor of Stacey? 

None of that. Nothing changes. Everyone votes for the same people to have the same position as before. The club thinks this is hilarious. I am ambivalent because I am more focused on the pregnant hamsters and problematic cat names.

Everything goes back to normal, but Becca gets to keep one of the surviving hamsters – her first pet! The Mancusis were quite pleased with Jessi’s baby-sitting performance, which is no surprise given that Jessi is one of the most competent characters in this series.

I still have a problem with the books that revolve around the BSC’s infighting – it’s a tired trope perpetuated by terrible men who want to see us women tear each other apart. That being said, I can’t hate this one. It has a lot going for it: 1) it has cute animals, 2) Jessi and Mallory don’t argue, and 3) it’s about Jessi. And let’s face it: Jessi is the most pleasant one.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #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.

BSC016

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.