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.

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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 #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.

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #48: Turn On the TV

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 #47: The Long Game

Looks like Mary Anne has some complaining to do!

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Okay, if you force them into games, they’ll just resent you and hate the games more. If they want to watch tv, just let them watch tv. Jessi weighs in on this issue.

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Well, not everyone wants to dance all the time, Jessi, that’s not better.

Look, I was a part of that generation that watched too much TV and I remember news reports about how much TV kids are watching. My school even had a “Turn Off the TV Week” at my school and it was heavily promoted. (I thought it was mandatory and I went to my teacher, in tears, about how I didn’t want to miss my shows. My teacher told me I didn’t have to participate. Thank you, Ms. Sawyer, because it was “The Dark Phoenix Saga” on X-Men: The Animated Series, and anyone who knows anything knows the importance of Jean Grey’s relationship with the M’Kraan Crystal.) The only thing watching too much TV has done is that I can play along to TV theme song games on YouTube and do a pretty good job.

The new issue is if kids watch too much YouTube or play on their phones too much. The only difference is that I never had access to creepy pornography or bullshit flat earth videos while watching Fox Kids at four in the afternoon. I did have to learn the difference between TV and reality like everyone else. My father pointing to the TV and saying, “TV,” and then waving his arms around him and saying, “Reality,” is still etched into my brain like the theme song to Duck Tails. So, really, the issue is figuring out a way to teach kids the difference between the things they see on a computer screen and the things they see in real life.

And we need to just get rid of Flat Earthers. I say send them all the Antarctic to find that stupid wall they keep talking about with no internet access and don’t let them back until they figure out they’re idiots or they find their stupid wall. And take the border wall with you!

Next Time on A Year With the BSC #49: Neither a Simone Nor a Biles Be

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #47: The Long Game

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 #46: This One’s Weird

The BSC is back and they are writing a lot! Good timing, since I have this week off from school. Next week, it’s summer classes, but let’s not worry about that right now and try to rest after a very annoying semester. (I was on a good streak, it was time for a semester to be a clunker.)

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That’s a little harsh, Jessi, he’s trying his best.

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Claudia! You misspelled your friend’s name! You should spend your time learning to spell her damn name rather than making a poster for someone who recovered from an illness usually relegated to five-year-olds. You need to get your priorities in order, Claud. Also, I feel like Abby can ask Kristy herself.

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Gosh, Kristy, if you don’t want Abby at your game, just say so. No need to be so shady.

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Geez, Abby. I know you’re angling for VP, but the brown nosing is just embarrassing when it involves puns.

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Looks like Kristy fell for it, although I can’t imagine Kristy is dumb enough to fall for Abby’s machinations. Maybe Kristy is playing the long game. She’s planning to get Abby comfortable so she can use her athletic abilities, but sometimes the ire seeps out, like in that shady post from before. Kristy is still human after all.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #48: Turn On the TV

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 #38: Zip Codes and Tickets

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 #37: The Kid Sucks

The entries are sparse this week. They must know I’m on Spring Break (whoo) and I shouldn’t have an excuse to add those “Previously On” and “Next Time On” at the bottoms of all the pages. Or they’re gearing up for a huge journal-a-thon just as I’m doing finals and I have six papers due.

Anyway, Dawn sent me a letter about messing up zip codes. Since the letter had my actual zip code in it, I decided not to post it. Sorry. You’re not missing much. She just laments that she gets the Stoneybrook and Palo City zip codes mixed up, even though I’m pretty sure that they start with completely different numbers.

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I checked the BSC calendar for Shannon’s birthday since I could have sworn it already happened. It does not have Shannon’s birthday posted. The other babysitters are there, but Shannon isn’t. Her birthday is apparently March 17th.

I also got a phone call from Jessi. They want to have a dance to raise money for their Kid Kits and she suggested I make some tickets with the BSC Ticket Maker. And send them to . . . the ether? I’m not falling for that one again.

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They all made cards? With the BSC Card Maker? It was just the recycling symbol over and over again.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #39: Time Travel

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #35: A Phone Call

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.

In the middle of Claudia’s room, there is a phone. Today, the phone rang!

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It was from Mary Anne! She had a tip for me: if I plan on playing outside with my baby-sitting charges, I should have a key so I don’t lock myself out.

Okay. I guess I can’t argue with that logic, but I feel like that’s a given.

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Sorry, Jackie, but the only George Washington I can accept on stage is Christopher Jackson.

I know it’s not fair to compare a child to a professional, but the more I can talk about Hamilton, the angrier my History professor gets, and the happier I get, because I am a troll.

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Claude, I think you should worry more. You should worry so much more – maybe you’ll actually study.

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The only vacations I want to take are to fine Disney hotels and theme parks around the world. How about it, Disney? Looking to sponsor a blogger? I’ll write about y’all every post. How about three mentions and I can get some tickets to Disneyland? How about just some Haunted Mansion merch? No? This is a Wendy’s? You’re kicking me out? Can I get a spicy chicken sandwich before I go?

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #33: Hearts for Old Farts

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.

You know what we don’t do anymore? Watch a movie just because an actor or actress we like is in it. I can’t think of a single person whom I would consider my favorite actor. There are definitely actors whom I would never want to watch in a movie ever (*cough*Louie CK*cough*), but there isn’t a single actor I would watch no matter what they were in. There are actors I like, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, other people not named Chris. But the ’90s were a different time – we had favorite actors.

This is all to justify the random name I entered when the game asked me who my favorite actress is.

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Did I enter that Amy Poehler is my favorite actress? Yes. Would I watch anything she’s in? Baby Mama proved that the answer is no. Although, I like Abby’s idea – I should have put down Lisa Simpson. Or, more accurately if we talking about fictional characters on animated television shows, Tina Belcher.

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How big are we talking? As big as the map that the kids of Stoneybrook made for Stacey when she moved back to New York? I don’t care how blind the elderly are, that’s just too big.

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Yep, you wasted bandwidth on this .jpg.

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No, I have chocolate and Edible Arrangement related plans for Valentine’s Day. At least, I do if my partner knows what’s good for him.

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That’s actually surprising, Kristy. For me, it’s Halloween. It’s the only time I can easily get Halloween decorations. Or, as I call them, decorations. If I could, I’d have a spooky tree ghost over a graveyard of zombies all year round, but the “city” thinks that it’s “inappropriate” to have bloody body “parts” in the middle of “July.”

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #32: Get Out Dat Hole!

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.

This week, Jessi asked an important question regarding meteorology.

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Yeah, furry rodent, we gonna have more winter? You are our only source for weather prediction and I demand answers! The government shutdown is over, so you have to go back to work and tell us the weather.

Turns out the groundhog didn’t see his shadow and we are going to have an early summer. Which is either a nice change, especially for the people in the midwest or is a stark reminder that we’re destroying the planet with our gas and we’re going to get used to hotter temperatures . . . hotter temperatures than we’re used to.

And to answer Jessi’s question: dogs.

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What the fuck is a “birthday tree” and why haven’t they told me?

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Oh! It’s an actual tree! That’s a sweet gift, actually. If only they had said something. They could have in the journal. It’s not like Dawn is here to read it while she’s out there in California. It does suck that Dawn doesn’t get to be a part of the BSC during her birthday and we couldn’t hear from here on this day. Dawn-o-philes have the short straw, don’t they? I wonder if Ann M. Martin couldn’t write for someone from California and that’s why she unceremoniously left the series. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

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I don’t know, Abby. Maybe she is bonkers and you don’t realize it because you’re bonkers too.