Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook…and Dawn

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club: Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters on Board!

There’s no point in trying to conceal my bias – I think child beauty pageants are creepy and gross. I don’t like the idea of forcing children to compete against one another for really no reason. They’ll have enough competition in their futures. However, I don’t blame the children. I blame the judges who are willing to rank children on an arbitrary scale, and I blame the parents who want to slap ten pounds of make-up on their child to make them look sixteen and, finally, I blame the industry that perpetuates this activity – including the trainers who teach the children how to win over judges, the make-up industry that caters to these parents, and the institution itself.

That being said, this month the BSC gets into a fight over a child beauty pageant, so it’s going to be one of those blog entries.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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“Hey, there’s some girl who is obviously from California peaking from behind the curtain, Janet. Can you do something about her? Just toss a granola bar out the back and she’ll chase it.”

Like most BSC books, it starts with a BSC meeting. Dawn is announced as the new treasurer and she thinks to herself, “I like Stoneybrook, but I’m a California girl at heart. I like hot weather, not cold, and health food, not junk.” The flex is that stark and it is in the part of the book where each member is given a page-long paragraph detailing everything we need to know about each member. I’m starting to skip these. And as for the remarks about California – the hot weather is on point except for Northern California, Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and every other ski resort. We can say that Dawn is a Southern California girl. And have you seen the junk food at Disneyland? Clearly, Californians love their Mickey-shaped donuts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t think Ann M. Martin had been to California before writing these books.

Anyway, Mallory and Jessi are sworn in as members, and the BSC oath, as introduced in this book, goes like this, “I promise to be a good, reliable, and safe sitter, and to be true to the Baby-sitters Club forevermore.” Sounds like a good oath. Mary Anne cries. Claudia and Dawn roll their eyes, which I think is a little rude. She’s just happy for them, and while I may be an emotionless gargoyle, I think it’s wonderful that Mary Anne feels still things.

Back at home, Jeff is having some problems adjusting to the house. Jeff’s teacher calls and tells Dawn and her mother that he got into a fight. Jeff wants to move back to California and their mother reluctantly agrees to work out a deal with their father and their lawyers, which, frankly, is probably the best solution for everyone. Unfortunately, Dawn does not agree.

“You little twerp!” I said to him hotly. “You are a rotten, spoiled baby.”

“Dawn!” cried my mother.

I ignored her. “Can’t you see what you’re doing?” I yelled at Jeff. “You’re breaking up what’s left of our family.”

“No, I’m not,” Jeff replied quietly. “I’m giving Dad some of his family back. It’s time we evened things up. Besides, I have to try this or I might end up in jail.”

Mom and Jeff and I all began to laugh.

This is the tenth time reading this and I still don’t quite get it. I guess Jeff going to jail is hilarious. Probably because he’s a white boy and if certain rapist swimmers won’t go to jail for being rapist swimmers, then this kid in Connecticut isn’t going to go to jail for fighting. Hell, white men don’t go to jail for stealing billions of dollars from the American people – this kid isn’t going to jail. Now that’s commentary!

At Claudia’s house, Dawn and the young Miss Kishi see the advertisement for the pageant. The girls will be judged on “poise, talent, and looks.” “Looks.” “Looks?” They’re eight, don’t be gross. There is a short discussion on how sexist it is, surprisingly not from our favorite health-food vegan California girl, but from Claudia. In fact, Dawn says she did child beauty pageants and won when she was a child.

The rest of the BSC shows up and there is a quick conversation about how sexist pageants are, which I guess is progressive for when this book was written (1988). Kristy says, “I guess a pageant could be sexist . . . but fun.” Well, Kristy, if it’s fun, then we should keep doing it! Men have a lot of fun slapping flight attendants’ asses, we should just keep doing it! You’re disappointing me, Kristy, but I guess we have to have a central conflict in the book and it can’t be Jeff and Dawn, it has to be the BSC fighting over their separate pageant contestants.

Luckily, Jessi and Mallory refuse to participate on the basis it’s sexist. You stick to your convictions, girls. Thank god you’re here. However, Mallory’s sisters Clare and Margo hear about the pageant. Mallory sticks to her beliefs and refuses to coach the girl, so Mrs. Pike asks Dawn for help, to which Dawn enthusiastically agrees.

The first handwriting chapter we have is for Kristy watching over Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. Karen hears about the pageant (from Kristy) and wants to enter. Her talent will be singing and tap dancing, although she has no training. Then Watson and Kristy’s mother return from their birdbath auction.

Jeff is confirmed to be moving back to California after an effusive week for the kid. They argue again, even though they were laughing just a few days before. This really doesn’t have anything to do with the pageant. Although, Dawn is using the pageant to distract herself from Jeff. It doesn’t matter, as it’s a B storyline.

We have an A storyline! Dawn is at the Pikes’ house, coaching Margo and Clare.

Clare and Margo raced into the bedroom they share. Before I could say a word, they opened their closet and began peeling their clothes off. Margo reached for her bathing suit. On the front was a gigantic alligator, its mouth open in a grin full of big triangular felt teeth.

“This is what I’m wearing,” she announced.

“For what?” I asked

“The pageant,” Margo replied impatiently.

Fuck yeah, she should wear whatever the fuck she wants, but Dawn is playing this ridiculous thing straight and asks that they don’t think about outfits at the moment. They switch to their talents. They don’t play instruments, they can’t dance, and they can’t sing. Margo chooses to recite a poem from memory, but she doesn’t think it’s enough. She wants to recite the poem while peeling a banana with her feet, which grossed me out. Then she took a bite from it while reciting the poem and I retched a little.

Mary Anne babysat for the Perkins’ and, of course, the girls hear about the pageant. It turns out that Myriah can both dance and tap. Myriah has also taken gymnastics and theater. When their mother comes home, the girls ask her if they can participate in the pageant, to which she says,

“In any pageant, or in any game or contest, there are winners and there are losers. You might be a winner, Myriah, and that would be wonderful. Daddy and Gabbie and I and even Laura would be very proud of you. But you might be a loser, too. There are going to be lots more losers than winners. And I want you to know that we’ll be proud of you if you lose. We’ll be proud of you for having the courage to be in the pageant, and for the work and rehearsing you’ll do.”

That is a very good way of putting it. No sarcasm here. It’s the best lesson in the book, besides the final lesson, but we’ll get that soon.

When Claudia sits for Charlotte, they decide to give Stacey a call. These were the days when you had to have a calling card and it cost, like, fifty bucks a minute or something, so this is a big deal. After the call, to distract from separation from their best-friend, Claudia somehow convinces Charlotte to join the pageant as well, even though Charlotte “would rather read” (a girl after my own heart).

Mallory and Jessi sit for the Pike kids and Margo is still rehearing “The House That Jack Built” complete with banana. I’m disgusted just by thinking about it. Tarantino I am not. All the children start to argue as Adam tries to screw up Margo and Claire tries to sing louder to cover up the fighting. Mallory attempts to quiet them down but it doesn’t work and the chapter ends with headaches.

At the next BSC meeting, there’s a bunch of pageant talk, especially about the last question. You know, the one where the contestants either shine with their brilliance or become an internet meme.

It’s obvious that Charlotte really doesn’t want to do it, Margo and Claire are the only interesting girls entering because they’re so wacky, and Myriah is the only one who has the stage presence and talent to win. Claire would make any pageant awesome and I have the receipts.

“Margo,” I said, “What is your greatest wish?”

“Global peace,” she replied immediately.

“Yes, but say it in a nice sentence.”

“My greatest wish,” Margo said, looking rapturous and angelic, “is for global peace. That would be very . . . nice.”

I only hoped the judge wouldn’t ask her to explain what she meant. Margo didn’t have the vaguest idea what global peace was.

“Great,” I told her. “Now Claire, if the house were on fire and you had time to rescue three things, what would they be?”

“I would rescue,” Claire began sweetly, “my family members, global peace, and the first extinguisher.”

Ha! If I were the judge, I’d say she wins.

Jeff leaves for California. Remember when you could just walk all the way to the gate before you had to say goodbye? It’s weird to see on television shows and it’s weird to read in books. It’s certainly more dramatic to say good-bye at the gate, your loved one looking back wistfully over their shoulder as they wave and pass into a long hallway away from you. It’s not the same if you drop them off outside as they fumble with their luggage, all while an attendant is yelling at someone, “Hey! This is the drop-off you can’t wait here! Get to the cell phone lot!”

Finally, the big pageant day arrives. The girls line up, including a girl named Sabrina Bouvier, who, besides being a distant relative of Marge Simpson, does the pageant thing all the time. It starts with the introductions and Claire immediately starts saying hi to everyone she knows in the audience and is promptly cut off, to which I say, “LET HER SPEAK!” and then I would be promptly cut off and kicked out of the pageant.

During the talent portion, Karen sings, that Sabrina girl sings “Moon River” and is bad, Margo does her banana poem, and Charlotte runs off the stage in tears. I blame you, Claudia. Myriah gives a good answer to the interview portion (“I would say to the people who were making the wars, ‘Now you stop that. You settle this problem yourselves like grown-ups. Our children want peace.'”) and Claire says that her greatest hope is that Santa Claus is real. Karen says that if her house were on fire, she would save her stuffed cat, her blanket, as many toys as she could carry, and finally her brother Andrew or her pen that writes in three colors. Sabrina does the “global peace” answer and Margo goes after and freezes up since Sabrina stole her stock answer.

Myriah ends up coming in second with Sabrina first – just like when Lisa Simpson enters the Little Miss Springfield contest. Of course, Sabrina isn’t struck by lightning, causing Myriah to take up her duties.

The girls learn that while Myriah should have won, Sabrina had the look that the judges like and the make-up of a twenty-five-year-old. Claudia realizes that she forced Charlotte to participate. Jeff calls and seems to be in a better place after moving.

I didn’t hate this one as much as I thought I would. Some of the reasoning for the BSC to participate in the pageant is flimsy, but Mallory and Jessi were always there to point out the stupidity and sexism of the whole endeavor. Beauty pageants are a common storyline from many episodic shows (and book series), from Parks and Recreation to the aforementioned The Simpsons. Just like those properties, the beauty pageant participant usually learns that it’s not about the one with the most talent, but the prettiest.

That being said, I would like to leave you with this:

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #16: Jessi’s Secret Language

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 – A Year With the BSC #43: Swing and a Miss

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #42: Steez Chomping

Once again we have a time problem with this game. Since the ’90s, the term “swinger” has taken on a different connotation. We’ll get to that.

First of all, this week was my birthday and I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into the game this week. On the bed was a small blue rectangle. When I clicked on it, the BSC yelled, “Surprise!” and I got this pixelated treat:

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It’s like when you die and go down a long tunnel with your family smiling at you from the end. They’re all there. Staring at me. While I read their card. Complete with a trademark symbol on their logo.

Anyway, the Special Olympics are underway in Stoneybrook, despite Betsy DeVos’s sabotage. They triumphed, like the kids at the end of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. They raised enough money to save the youth center, despite what the ’80s style villainry (which is mired in building codes and the need for a brand new mall).

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I don’t know if the team should call themselves the “Stoneybrook Swingers.” It might attract a bad crowd. One with hot tubs, leopard print, and early, regretful marriages. I don’t care what two or more consenting adults do in their free time, but a Special Olympics softball game is not the place to ask twenty-somethings to dance and remark that “they look tense and should relax and a few drinks.”

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I don’t know why we need cheerleaders, but fine. If the kids want to support the team in a very outward and loud manner, then I guess this is fine. It’s fine. It’s a little unnecessary, but it’s fine.

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If you didn’t think that Mary Anne narrated this letter ver-ba-tim, you were wrong. Does she literally say, “Love, Dawn. Mary Anne”? She literally does.

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Yeah, sort of. Unless the “Pitcher, left-fielders, you’ll all fall down” line is about the Swingers. Ugh. Just typing that sentence makes me think of creepy couples who live in hotel rooms. Look, if you want to do that, that’s great and I’m happy you’re living life to the fullest. Just don’t hit on people who aren’t in that lifestyle. Don’t y’all have a chatroom or something to meet each other? Like, I don’t know, Swingtown. or Swingnation, or Hot Tub Summer in the City, or something?

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #44: Vaccinate Your Damn Kids

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #23: Grades

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

With Thanksgiving gone, let’s check in on what the BSC did.

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Okay, how the hell did a toddler sit on a pie and everyone just let him? You’re not telling us the whole story here, Jessi. I wonder if the story makes them look bad. You know. A whole house filled with baby-sitters allowing a baby to do something he’s not supposed to. Maybe it makes them look like they’re, at best, inattentive, or, at worst, negligent. You’re hiding something, Jessi, and Bob Woodward and I are going to find out what it is.

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We had our first snowfall in Reno and I wanted to go to southern California. I’m with you, Dawn.

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Claudia needs to stop comparing herself to her sister. And maybe she should spend less time on art. Now hear me out, stop throwing things. You can’t get into a good art school if you can’t get past middle school. I don’t want to grade shame you, but it does seem like a fixable problem. You at least got a 60 if you got a D, so there is some room to improve. Just saying. And if you don’t stop throwing paint on me, you won’t have enough to paint a life-size replica of the BSC, or whatever you do. I’m not a painter, I don’t know what to do with paint.

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Cool story, Kristy, but I think they would stop him from “coming up and swinging” if he didn’t have many home runs. The moral of the story should be that you should make up for your shortcoming by being better in something else. Claudia doesn’t have that problem. Her problem is that she keeps comparing herself to her sister and criticizing Janine when all Janine wants to do is help her. (See: Claudia and Mean Janine. I’ll get around to writing it someday.)

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #11: The End of Summer

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

We start this week with some parting words from Dawn.

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This game must have been published after California Diaries: Palo City the fictional town that Dawn moves to later in the series. It’s sad to see her go, especially since she’s one of the better BSC members. (She does what she wants to, and wears what she wants without criticizing Mary Anne and Kristy’s outfits, unlike another member I know, Claudia.)

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Interesting prompt, Stacey. The end of the summer can be bittersweet. On one hand, you lose a bit of your freedom, but on the other, you’re going to school and bettering yourself – both for yourself and for humanity as a whole. While the end of summer-

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What the hell are you on, Abby? What the hell is Grandparents’ Day and why are you wondering what day it’s on in the BSC Notebook? What was I saying? Something about summer? Ugh, forget it. Now I need to look up what the hell Grandparents’ Day is.

 

 

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #7: How, Mary Anne, How?

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

The BSC is finished talking about summer camp and are focused on Abby and Stacey’s trip to Sea City with the Pikes.

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It’s troubling that Abby thinks there’s a possibility the BSC won’t miss her. She’s the newest member so she might be unsure of her position in the club.

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Dawn just came back from California, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to do another trip, even if it’s just a car ride and not a cross-country plane ride. I don’t blame her.

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Mary Anne is nice. She’s the nicest member of the BSC. That’s sweet advice, Mary Anne, but what do I do when my friend starts spouting fundamentalist dogma she got from our favorite bigot and crazy man the 45th president? How do we evolve as humans if we don’t hold each other accountable? How, Mary Anne, how? Because I genuinely don’t know and I am open to suggestions from preteens.

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #5: Good Job, Mallory

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Oh, boy, this has this been a weird week for our second favorite eleven-year-old babysitter. It started with a letter from Mallory Pike.

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I didn’t realize when I entered Parable of the Sower as my favorite book, it would be read by an eleven-year-old who uses horse stationary. Sorry, Mal. But maybe it was fine, because she’s going to recommend it to Jessi . . . who is also eleven. This is the problem with a grown ass woman playing a game from the ’90s intended for her ten-year-old self.

Dawn writes in the journal to remind us of the current babysitting dilemma the BSC is dealing with.

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And Mallory thinks she has the perfect solution.

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Really, Mallory? Forcing children to watch something called “Tubb the Tuba” may have manifested a new set of problems? Look at my shocked face. And then she tries to play it off on me. “Don’t you think so?” Excuse me, don’t drag me into your problems.*

 

*I understand this is just a prompt to get kids writing, but we’re all pretending that these events are actually happening in this world and that Stoneybrook actually exists. Play into the fiction and stop taking things too seriously, would you? Until next time!

Rereading My Childhood – A Year with the BSC #2: Stay Out of It, Dawn

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

One of the things that the game asked me was the name of my favorite candy. If I had known they were going to ridicule me via letter, then I wouldn’t have told them.

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Hey, hey, Dawn? No one wants to eat that. Why would I want to eat something like that? Does that sound good to anyone on the planet?

Also, Claudia babysat for a pair of children, and for a second, I thought they couldn’t spell their own children’s names.

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For the record, those names are pronounced “Shawn” and “Corey.” Unless Claudia spelled their names correctly and their parents are the ones who can’t spell.

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

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

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

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

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.