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

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Last year, after learning that my partner’s parents took him to Disneyland while he was a baby, my partner and I decided to take a trip to Disneyland. I went when I was eight, but I hadn’t been back since. In the months leading up to the trip, I did what I normally do before a trip: I researched the hell out of the destination. I found myself steeped in Walt Disney history: the man, the park, the opening day problems. I explored the lore behind every attraction: the inspiration behind the Matterhorn and how it may be the first steel rollercoaster in the United States, the opposing ideas for the Haunted Mansion, the various iterations of the submarine adventure. I already knew the layout of the park before we left. I understood the Fast Pass system. I had reservations at what is considered the best restaurant in the park, Cafe Orleans, and the restaurant Walt Disney considered “his” restaurant, The Carnation Cafe. I was on the lookout for the lamp over the Firehouse Station.

This is not a story that leads up to my disappointment when I got to the park. In fact, the park exceeded my expectations and I found a new obsession in the Haunted Mansion. The Disneyland attention to detail is a real thing, the cast members are wonderful, and the park operations are no joke. I also got to see many parents yelling at their kids, and the juxtaposition of parents yelling at their children at “The Happiest Place On Earth” is, frankly, hilarious.

This is leading to my hatred of boats. Let me explain. The first BSC Super Special is split into two parts: the first part on a boat and a second part at Disney World. I realize that Disneyland is different from Disney World. The book features actual Disney World attractions, and while I did exclusively research Disneyland, Disney World is an important part of Disney Parks lore, and the parks aren’t that different, especially in 1989, without Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios (future Hollywood Studios), both of which had not been built yet.

I love Disneyland, but boy I hate boats. Have I ever been on a luxury cruiser? No. But I haven’t murdered anyone and I hate murder. Did I just compare cruise ships to murder? Yes. I did and I’m proud of it. Pooping over the side of a boat after eating expired shrimp and watching a fifty-year-old couple do a jazz cover of “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar does not sound like a good time to me.

Anyway, let’s get to the book.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

BSCSS01
My Copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters On Board! – Good-bye Stoneybrook! And good-bye, cohesive plot!

Super Specials are, well, super special. A normal BSC book is about 120-pages of one character’s story in first-person narration. A Super Special is about 220-pages of switching POV. It’s still first-person but now each chapter focuses on a new character. Each babysitter (and a few others) get their own story, that may or may not intersect with another story (and if it does, it’s in such a tangential way to make the paragraph pointless, we’ll get to that). So, as I go through the book beat-by-beat, I will put the POV character in italics. Let’s hope this works:

Kristy

Baby-Sitters on Board! starts with Kristy explaining how every member of the BSC, plus relevant family members, got a trip on a cruise to Disney World. I should also mention that while the BSC timeline is nebulous, this book seems to take place before Stacey leaves. One clue is that Stacey is still a part of the BSC, hasn’t left, and Mallory, nor Jessi, is a part of the BSC. However, it is the Pikes who start this chain of events.

Basically, Mr. Pike won a naming contest/got off a crime boss at his job as a lawyer for a large company/mob. They invited Mary Anne and Stacey to go with them to watch over the children on the cruise. Watson, who you’ll remember is Kristy’s stepdad, can’t let this mob lawyer have all the fun, so he spends his riches to ensure that his family and the rest of the BSC comes along, minus Jessi, because she has not moved to Stoneybrook yet. This must take place before #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye.

Anyway, the Pikes, the BSC, Watson, Kristy’s Mom (Elizabeth), David Michael, Karen, and Andrew all get on a plane, where there’s some barf bag talk, and arrive in Florida and we switch perspectives as we board The Ocean Princess.

Dawn

Kristy, Claudia, and Dawn are sharing a cabin. Dawn complains that Kristy doesn’t wear dresses and that’s apparently a problem? I didn’t wear dresses when I was a kid, mostly because of crippling insecurity, but that’s for another entry. Anyway, I don’t think not wearing dresses is some kind of personality disorder.

Kristy and Dawn argue almost immediately because Kristy is a bit of a slob and Dawn is a clean freak – their words, not mine. Surprisingly, Claudia is the voice of reason.

“We’ve almost got the whole corridor to ourselves!” exclaimed Claudia. “Pretty cool!”

“Well, let’s go tidy up our cabin,” I suggested brightly.

Now?” replied Kristy. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Girls, girls,” Claudia jumped in. “Lighten up. This is our vacation, Dawn. We’re not supposed to spend it cleaning. It’s also only the first day our vacation. I hope you two aren’t going to argue for the rest of the week. It’ll drive me crazy.”

It was a quick fight, but it’s really just the beginning. Dawn and Kristy will be trying to avoid one another for the rest of the book.

Dawn goes exploring on her own and finds a cute boy almost immediately. As I recall, most, if not all, of the BSC Super Specials had some kind of romance plot for at least one of the BSC members. This one has two.

Anyway, Dawn’s mystery boy is evasive in his answers and runs away.

Mary Anne

Vanessa, Mallory, and Mary Anne are in one cabin while Stacey, Claire, and Margo share another cabin next door. In a terrible decision by the parents, the triplets and Nicky have their own room. But this chapter is about Mary Anne – the triplets will have their own adventure. For now, Mary Anne asks what the kids want to do.

“Go exploring,” said Nicky.

“Go swimming,” said Claire.

“Go eat,” said Byron, who’s always hungry.

“Play video games,” said Adam

“Look at the ocean,” said Mallory dreamily.

“Find a candy machine,” said Margo.

“Read,” said Vanessa.

“Look for people wearing goofy bathing caps and laugh at them,” said Jordan.

I’m with you, Jordan. Who am I kidding? I would just read at the most stable part of the ship with a motion sickness bag next to me.

Nicky, Vanessa, and Mary Anne explore the ship together, where we get a complete overview of every deck on The Ocean Princess. In the spa, Mary Anne spots an interesting girl.

I was looking at a girl who was standing at the appointment desk, apprently waiting for someone to help her. She had masses of dark, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders and partway down her back, and she was wearing one of the skimpiest bikinis I’d ever seen. Even though she looked just a little older than me, she had a figure that filled out the top of the bikini nicely.

Whoa, Mary Anne. Who wrote this about a thirteen-or-fourteen year old? Roy Moore? (He’s running again – I can make jokes at his expense once more. In fact, everyone should make jokes at his expense. That’s your task for the day – make a joke at Roy Moore’s expense.)

Her name is Alexandra Carmody, and as she and Mary Anne have a chat, she is called away as she says that her parents were killed.

As they leave, Nicky and Vanessa spot a boy climbing out of a raft and they immediately think he’s a stowaway.

Mallory

Mallory does something I did when I was a kid. Something really dumb and embarrassing. After reading Harriet the Spy, Mallory decides to spy on people. Oh, Mallory, I did that shit too after reading that exact book. It amounted to one terrible afternoon where I peeked into a woman’s kitchen three streets over and got chased out of her yard.

For Mallory, she just spies on everyone else and sees Mary Anne talk to Alexandra Carmody, where she learns that she’s an actress, I’m assuming of the Miley Cyrus during Hannah Montana days variety.

She spots Kristy and Claudia talking. Later, a boy named Marc in a wheelchair is very excited to see his room. Finally, she spots a guy with red hair, whom she believes is Spider from her favorite band The Insects. I imagine they are a doo-wop revival group who sings Kingston Trio covers, akin to Shanana. That’s what the kids in the ’80s listened to, right?

Karen

Yes, everyone’s favorite precocious child gets her own chapter! I don’t know why she got her own series (one that Ann M. Martin wrote more books of by the way) because she is, to put it nicely since she’s a kid, draining.

This time, she wanders off on her own, sees Alexandra Carmody at the spa, gets her nails done and has it charged to her room, er, Watson’s room that she occupies.

At a cafe, she orders a Coke and has that charged to her room as well. Er. Watson’s room that she occupies. I’m sorry, but a child should not be able to charge anything to any room because they are not adults. This boat is filled with incredibly irresponsible staff.

Karen gets in trouble when she comes back to Kristy, but nothing really comes of it. Karen learns nothing and the ship staff don’t second guess a tiny child wandering around unattended. The lack of consequences will be a recurring theme.

Claudia

Finally, we have our first Claudia outfit! What are you wearing today, Claud?

I got dressed quickly. This was because while I’d been laying in my bunk the night before I’d planned exactly what I was going to wear. I put on my new blue-and-white bikini and over that, a pink sundress with speghetti straps at the shoulders and big blue buttons down the front. Then I accessorized. I tied a pink-and-blue scarf around my waist, knotting it in the middle, added my snake bracelet and feather earrings, wound my hair on top of my head, and finally put on these white sandals with long laces that you crisscross up your legs and tie in a bow.

I was with you until you put on the unnecessary scarf, Claudia. But you know, I always look forward to reading what outfit you’ve put together, so you do you. Just don’t criticize others.

As Dawn and Kristy argue at breakfast, Claudia gets a secret admirer note. It turns out there will be two romantic plots in this Super Special.

Claudia goes to the mainland and tries to sketch and take pictures, but a “figure” keeps getting in the way. Claudia has a stalker! Of course, this is not taken as a stalker and Claudia thinks that it’s exciting. A person following you around and giving you gifts is not romantic or exciting – it’s cause to go to the police! We went through this in #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.

Stacey

Surprisingly, there is no romance in Stacey’s story. There is a young child who looks four but is actually seven. He is in a wheelchair and his name is Marc, the boy Mallory had seen earlier.

Marc and Stacey bond over Stacey’s diabetes, because there are really only two sides to Stacey: boy-craziness and diabetes. And since we already have two stories involving the former in this book, it has to be about the latter.

When Marc’s parents come back, Stacey goes back to her cabin and Margo throws up in a wastebasket. I don’t think the events are related, but you never know.

Kristy

Kristy and Dawn are still fighting and Kristy is really the antagonist here. Dawn just doesn’t want to live with extra multilegged roommates and here’s Kristy just throwing candy wrappers around. So she goes off on her own.

While at the pool, she strikes up a conversation with an old man reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, which happens to be her “nannie’s” favorite book. His name is Rudy Staples and why Kristy can’t find friends her own age is anybody’s guess. Maybe they heard that if you become friends with that Kristy-girl, you’ll invade your cabin and leave pieces of candy wrappers all over your room, and you’ll have to clean up the wrappers until you go insane! They call her the Candywoman. That’s what that movie was about, right? It’s not an excellent horror film about the legacy of slavery or anything, is it?

Anyway, Kristy teaches Rudy-Rudes how to play video games, specifically Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. When Kristy returns to the cabin, the room is, to Kristy’s horror, straightened up! Oh no! Dawn has done the basic human chores that Kristy should have done in the first place! That fair-weather bitch! Kristy asks her mom to switch rooms with Karen, but her mom refuses because Karen and Andrew are attached at the hip and Claudia and Dawn probably don’t want to share a room with a six-year-old. She encourages Kristy to work out her differences with Dawn.

Byron

That’s right! One of the Pike Triplets gets his own chapter! Honestly, they’re pretty much the same person as far as I’m concerned, so Ann M. Martin could literally switch to one of the others and I wouldn’t know.

The triplets, Nicky, and David Michael see a pirate movie and endeavor to find treasure, especially since they are going to be landing on Treasure Cay and the boys see the name as a sign from the sweet Lord above that they’re going to find treasure.

While on the beach, they find some detritus.

“It’s – it’s a treasure map!” I exclaimed. I held out the small yellowed piece of paper. “Look! There’s a diagram and some funny words. They must be in another language. I wonder what language pirates spoke.”

English, if movies are to be believed. And they should be without question. (I saw a woman and her son murder a bunch of kids at a camp for multiple years and the police did nothing. What is this country coming to?)

The boys decide to look everywhere for the treasure, including the boat and Disney World, regardless of the fact that the pirates did not travel on cruise ships and Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. I bet one of them is probably a senator, making decisions about women’s bodies with bullshit science with that kind of treasure logic.

Dawn

Aaaannnddd Dawn and Kristy are still fighting.

Dawn finds the “gorgeous guy” and they go for a walk. His name is Parker Harris. (Never trust a Parker, Dawn, haven’t you seen Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?). The next day (it moves that abruptly), they have breakfast together followed by a Ping-Pong tournament, which includes a match against Kristy and “her old man friend.” Miraculously, Parker and Dawn win the whole tournament because why the fuck not? They end the day at the arcade and they get into a photo booth.

At the end of the day, they decide to spend more days together at Disney World. Dawn decides that Parker is her “first true boyfriend” and she is in love.

Mary Anne

The triplets had been running around the ship and were sent back to their cabin by the ship staff (or mates?), because kids can buy drinks and get manicures, but they sure as hell can’t explore the ship!

As punishment, Mary Anne has to accompany the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael, so really, Mary Anne is punished. Unless she’s getting paid. The book did not discuss Mary Anne and Stacey’s pay. If she’s being paid, it’s not a punishment – she’s doing her job.

The boys tell her about the treasure map and Mary Anne just plays along. In her words, “I have heard of stranger things, so I held my laugh in.” What “stranger things?” And don’t say the hit Netflix series. I have more pop culture references, and I’m not afraid to use them!

Mary Anne bumps into Alexandra, the thirteen-year-old with the rockin’ bod. The girl says that she’s on the trip with her “guardian” and her parents were killed in a car accident, making her an orphan. If I heard that, I would think that Alex is being trafficked and I would call the police. But this is a BSC book, and while the BSC tackles some heavy issues, human trafficking is just too much for the Scholastic audience.

Stacey

While Claire and Margo are arguing over what to do, Vanessa is reading a book called Baby Island. Stacey does not go into detail as to what exactly Baby Island is about, but I wish she did. Is it an island of only babies, which sounds loud, poopy, and short-lived, or is it about an island of man-children who harass women online? It could also be about an island made of babies or an island for Baby from Dirty Dancing. The possibilities are endless!

Claire, Margo, and Stacey go to this famous video arcade that seems to be the only form of entertainment on this ship and see Marc, the wheelchair-bound kid that Stacey met the other night. Marc’s father leaves him with Stacey.

“I’m sure you’re responsible.” He was probalby thinking about my diabetes, and my diet, and my insulin shots, which we had talked about the night I met the Kubackis.

Stace, buddy, you don’t need to tell everyone about your insulin. It’s really none of his business. Not every person you meet needs to know about your endocrine system deficiencies. But I guess this allows Marc to have some fun without his father, so it’s okay.

The kids ask Marc about his wheelchair. He says he “has a bad heart,” which can describe many politicians I know. ZOOM! He also says he can’t go on rollercoasters, like Space Mountain, but he can go on “quiet” rides. Hate to break it to you, Marc, but every Disney ride is scary. Also, I did Space Mountain and it was enough. I do not like careening through space, even if Admiral Ackbar is there (I went during the Star Wars overlay). I’ll take my Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn, thank you very much.

The kids and Stacey go to the ice cream parlor and the see Claudia. They also see Claudia’s stalker paying for her sundae. Then he runs away and Claudia chases after him, and we switch POVs.

Claudia

Claudia chases down her stalker and instead finds a boy who says he saw someone run by and is definitely not her stalker, even though he was right there where the stalker would have careened right into him. Claudia expresses disappointment in not catching him and the boy who is definitely not her stalker suggests that the stalker is shy. He is definitely, definitely not her stalker. Nope. No chance.

His name is Timothy and he is not Claudia’s stalker.

I found myself studying Timothy’s face. It was framed by curly hair. His eyes were dark, wide-set, and fringed with long lashes that I would have given my eyeteeth for. And he was the perfect height for me . . . Wait a minute! What was I doing? I had a Secret Admirer. I didn’t need Timony, too. On the other hand, the admirer wasn’t showing his face. And Timothy was awfully nice. Plus he wasn’t in hiding.

Ignoring whatever the hell “eyeteeth” are, which sounds like something that triggers someone’s phobia, Claudia, you have a stalker/secret admirer who is definitely not Timothy, but you know what? Timothy is showing his face while your stalker, who is not Timothy, is hiding. They are definitely different people. Timothy and Claudia decide to meet up at Disney World.

Kristy

The group arrives at their Disney World hotel. Although Martin fails to mention which hotel they are staying at, given the minutiae of details for rides, you’d expect a single mention of the hotel. There’s almost an argument after Claudia, Dawn, and Kristy realize there aren’t three beds, but two king-size beds. Claudia continues to play the part of “Reasonable One.”

“We are going to be here three nights,” she said firmly. “So we’ll switch off. Each of us will have a bed to herself one night. And I don’t want any more contamination wars or clothes battles. There are plenty of drawers and coat hangers. We have enough space to pull all of our stuff away, even mine. So let’s do it. And then you two,” she went on, glaring at Dawn and me, “are going to call a truce.”

It’s strange how sometimes when others are lacking a necessary trait, another person will step up and fill that need. Claudia calls out Kristy when she throws a snack wrapper on the ground in front of Dawn. Finally, Kristy and Dawn call a real truce and the conversation turns to if any of them have seen a rated R movie, to which they admit that none of them have. They’re, like, thirteen or twelve, right? I was eleven when I saw my first rated R movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer at a sleepover, starting a lifelong love of horror movies, but my extensive history with horror is for another review about a YA book that is really just an excuse to write and reflect on my own childhood, and I touched on it a little during my review of Stay Out of the Basement).

Karen

They are finally in Disney World – one of my Bucket List places (the others being Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland . . . and I guess Seoul and London and see the Philippines again, but they don’t have a Disney theme park).

Karen, Andrew, Watson, and Elizabeth meet Minnie Mouse. They buy some magic shop trinkets and Karen mentions the enormity of Cinderella’s Castle. If I said that in front of my father, he’d proceed to tell me all about perspective and kill the wonder of an actual castle in front of me.

Karen says that she really wants to ride the Haunted Mansion (which is the best ride at Disneyland, I say as I think about how I made Jon ride the ride five times in a day). At the end of the ride, when the Hitchhiking Ghosts “appear” in her car, Karen freaks out and that’s what she’s thinking about for the rest of her story.

Dawn

Dawn is going on a Disney date with Parker and she wants to look her best.

This is the outfit Claudia helped me to choose: a white tank top under lavender overalls, lavender push-down socks, lavender high-top sneakers, and a beaded Indian belt, which we looped droopily twice around my middle. In my hair we put lavender-and-white clips that looked like birds. I thought they were just any kind of bird, but Claudia swore up and down that they were birds of paradise. Who knows? (I think she was making that up.)

The matchy-matchy ’80s. And what is the young master wearing?

He was wearing this blue-and-white polo shirt, white tennis shorts, and loafers with no socks.

So Parker is dressed as James Spader telling Andrew McCarthy that he shouldn’t date Molly Ringwald because she’s poor. Cool outfit.

Before they go to the Magic Kingdom, they have to discuss parking. That just comes with the territory when you date someone named “Parker.” Then they go to Tomorrowland and ride Space Mountain. Dawn almost throws up, which is exactly how I felt after getting off that ride.

Dawn finds a unicorn charm in the park and she promptly adds it to her great-aunt’s bracelet that she was wearing. Parker’s parents show up and leave his younger brothers with him and Dawn. They ride Big Thunder Mountain and then they go to Tom Sawyer Island, where Dawn realizes she lost her unicorn/great-aunt bracelet. She cries and Parker gives her a peck on the cheek.

Mallory

Mallory separates from her family to do some more spying. She’s in the Happiest Place on Earth with the best rides and she still wants to play Harriet the Spy even though she has learned nothing interesting and has just wasted her time. At least my brief foray into spying only wasted two hours. But let’s see what Mallory writes in her spying notebook – the sordid details that are so integral to the plot and not problematic or boring at all.

Two old ladies walk by. They have blue hair.

A family walks by with a kid in a stroller. The kid is crying.

Another family goes by. The little girl drops her ice-cream cone. Cries.

A big group of people goes by. They are wearing matching T-shirts. They are very loud (the people, not the shirts). I think the people are retarded. Having fun. Lots of smiles.

A family goes by. Both kids crying.

Riveting and not pejorative at all, Mallory. I want to like you, I really do, but this doesn’t help. The less said about this the better.

Mallory does find out something. She finds Alexandra and it turns out that she is not an orphan but has parents who seem to be famous to old people.

Mary Anne

The BSC holds a meeting where they discuss recent events like a “Previously On” written into a show. Kristy brings up giving Watson, Elizabeth, and the Pikes gifts for the trip. After the meeting, Mary Anne returns to her room and finds Mallory.

Mallory proceeds to tell Mary Anne about Alexandra Carmody. Of course, Mary Anne is upset that Alexandra lied to her about being an orphan. Mary Anne decides to confront Alexandra the next time she sees her.

She sees her at Disney World, yells that she’s a liar, and runs away. Great confrontation, Mary Anne. Confrontations always involve the confronter spouting four words and no response from confrontee. Alexandra spends the day trying to explain to Mary Anne, but our BSC member will have none of it.

Byron

So the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael continue their treasure quest, but Stacey has to come along. Stacey says that they can do whatever they want “as long as it was legal.”

They go on some rides. There’s more awkward description of the rides. I wonder if Ann M. Martin didn’t actually go on all these rides and just interviewed children outside the exit, or it’s just awkward because it’s awkward to try to explain the ride experience to someone.

In one place, the pirates set some buildings on fire. The buildings really, really look like they’re on fire, too – all red and yellow and glowing. In another place, you pass under a pirate sitting on a bridge or something and you can see that he has hairy legs! There are drunk pirates, there’s a gunfight between two ships, with the exploding shells splashing the water all around your boat, and there are funny pirates in jail. A dog has the keys to their prison, but he won’t give them up!

I don’t need to go to Disney World and experience Pirates of the Carribean myself! I have this description!

None of these ride descriptions ever come into play. It’s not like that dog had the key to their pirate treasure. The ride descriptions are just added for word count.

After the ride, the boys buy some pirate items. They go to Tom Sawyer Island and they finally find a treasure – an old bracelet with a broken clasp. Stacey tells them that it is Dawn’s lost bracelet.

The boys gift up trying to find treasure, but Byron keeps the map.

Karen

Her last day at Disney World starts with a character breakfast. During the breakfast, a cast member asks if anyone is celebrating a birthday. A young boy comes up and the entire restaurant is forced to sing happy birthday to him. Instead of feeling pity for the boy, as I would, Karen is envious, lies and says it’s her birthday, and before her father can stop her, she runs up and really shows off her narcissism.

I beamed. I loved it. I loved being right in the middle of things, with everyone thinking about me. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my birthday. It was probably my only chance ever to have a hundred people sing to me.

This is the kind of early behavior of someone who says something racist and doubles down on it on Twitter because they get hate clicks and attention.

Watson kind of chastises her but chooses not to punish because they’re on vacation. Karen proceeds to blame her hitchhiking ghost, which is clearly precedent for her to refuse responsibility. After she says the racist thing on Twitter and people call her out, she’ll blame Ambien or something. Also, I doubt Gus, Ezra, or Phineas would ever do something so fucking conceited as to force others to pay attention to them. They get all the attention they need at the end of the Haunted Mansion.

When the family goes out to the park, Karen figures out a way to get lost. I don’t care if she’s popular – I find Karen incredibly draining. She judges her neighbor and calls her dangerous witch just because she looks different. She thinks it’s okay to wander off and charge things to her room with money she doesn’t have. She believes it’s acceptable to lie just to get people to pay attention to you. And when she’s called out, she blames another party, regardless of the consequences. Now she’s lost. If Karen were my child, Alexandra Carmody wouldn’t be the only orphan at Disney World.

Of course, Karen isn’t forced to pickpockets for Fagan – she finds Elizabeth a page later. So, really, Karen learned nothing and will continue to learn nothing.

Stacey

Stacey, Claire, and Margo stumble across Marc and they spend the day with him and his parents. They go on a dinosaur ride and the awkward descriptions continue. They also watched Captain EO, and if you’re not familiar with Michael Jackson’s venture into Disney, there are many YouTube videos all about it. (I recommend Defunctland’s excellent episode.)

While the children eat, Stacey speaks with Marc’s parents.

The Kubackis glanced at each other. There was an embarrassing silence. Then Mr. Kubacki said in a low voice, “Marc is going to have major surgery in a couple of weeks. Heart surgery. It’ll be very risky.”

I figured out what he wasn’t saying: that Marc might not survive the operation. I was stunned. “Does he know?” I managed to ask.

“He knows about the surgery,” replied Mr. Kubacki, “but not the risks. There’s no need for him to know that. We took this vacation together . . . just in case. And we want him to be happy. If . . . anything happens, this is one of the good times Mrs. Kubacki and I will be able to look back on.” Mr. Kubacki reached for his wife’s hand.

That’s heartbreaking. I’m not going to be snarky here.

Claudia

Claudia gets a letter from her stalker that says she is “as beautiful as ever.” But she can’t pay attention to that! She has a Disney World date with Timothy – the boy who is definitely a separate person from her stalker.

Timothy has a secret! Is it that he’s Claudia’s stalker? No, of course not. Those are two different people! The secret is that his older sister is Alexandra Carmody – the orphan liar with famous parents.

Mary Anne finally lets Alexandra explain why she lied and the answer is reminiscent of another character’s warped logic.

“To get attention,” Alexandra replied matter-of-factly. “And to make life a little more interesting. For the same reasons Timothy spies on people and hides in coiled-up rope and stuff. Makes things interesting. When you’re the children of Viv and Vernon Carmody, you tend to get lost in the shuffle. You have to find ways to . . . to. . .”

And then Mary Anne just accepts that answer and they all laugh about it. This is not a great message for impressionable youth. The way to get attention is to lie about your parents’ deaths or lie about your birthday or makeup lies about your neighbor. Basically, the way to get attention is to lie.

Also, Timothy reveals that he was Claudia’s secret admirer/stalker all along! I never saw that coming! I thought they were different people! Talk about a Shamalayan-level twist!

Then they kiss during fireworks, once again teaching young kids that the way to a girl’s heart is vague stalking.

Kristy calls a final BSC meeting whey they reveal that they are going to take all the pictures they took during the trip and collect them into a proto-scrapbook before the term was really coined by white suburban moms with too much time in the early 2000s.

Kristy

Dawn and Claudia are saying goodbye to their respective summer romances/stalkers. Mary Anne says goodbye to Alexandra Carmody. Kristy gives Rudy her grandmother’s phone number and address. And on the plane, a man approaches the triplets and Nicky.

“Pardon me,” he said with an accent.

The boys looked up at him.

“You are from Holland, yes?” said the man.

All five boys shook their heads.

“American?” asked the man in surprise.

“Yup,” said Adam.

“Oh. My mistake. I saw the copy machine diagram. With words in Dutch. I think you are from Holland, too. I am Dutch.”

“Copy machine diagram?” repeated Byron. “Dutch?”

“Yes,” said the man. He pointed to the paper. “My company, it manufactures copiers. That is a picture of – how do you say? – the insides of a machine.”

“Oh, brother,” mutter David Michael as the man went on his way.

Cool treasure map, boys.

Two months later, the BSC learns that Marc survived his surgery.

Whew! That was a long one!

The thing about Super Specials is that they feature all the BSC members and have an overarching story that may or may not intersect with the other members’ stories. The overarching story is usually just a way to keep them all together however loose that connection may be. In this book, it makes sense to put them all on a boat together, but the extra part with Disney World seems a little unnecessary and I didn’t like reading the passages about the ride events. They don’t really come factor into the plots and just seem extraneous. It’s like Disney paid for this extended product placement, but not enough to make sure the rides contribute more to the plot.

That being said, some of the stories I liked and others I hated. In order of worst to best, this is how I feel about each member’s story.

Worst – Karen: I never understood the appeal of Karen and I still don’t. Why does this brat get her own series? She’s selfish, she doesn’t think about others, she just wants attention, she doesn’t put effort into anything, and she doesn’t learn anything. She just does whatever she wants and there are no consequences for her.

Claudia: Why is Claudia attracted to her stalkers? First the phantom phone call stalker and now this boat stalker. It would be one thing to have a stalker – that is a scary thing that women deal with. But the problem lies with these stalkers getting rewarded with dates and kisses. I want to like Claudia, I really do. She’s the only Asian-American member (maybe the only Asian-American in all of Connecticut, besides her family), and as an Asian-American woman, I want to like her, but it’s hard when she’s macking on shy boys who engage in questionable behavior.

Byron: They were running around with Dutch copier instructions. How am I supposed to be into that?

Mallory: This story makes me remember my spying days after reading Harriet the Spy – and I’d prefer not to remember that afternoon.

Mary Anne: Her story is interesting enough. I was curious about Alexandra Carmody for most of the book, but her third act reveal wasn’t that satisfying. She was doing it for attention? It would be better if she was trying to hide the fact that her parents are famous because people only want to get close to her parents or something. Anything rather than “I want attention.”

Kristy: Okay, so she starts a fight with Dawn and then hangs out with an old man.

Dawn: Okay, so she starts a fight with Kristy and then hangs out with a young man.

Best – Stacey: Even though it seems like the first thing Stacey says is, “Hello. My name is Stacey McGill and I have diabetes,” this is still the best story in this inaugural Super Special. We have a new sympathetic and likable character in Marc. Stacey does some actual baby-sitting. She gets to facilitate a friendship between Claire, Margo, and Marc. It’s heartbreaking to hear that this kid is going to undergo risky surgery and this Disney World trip is a way for his parents to create good memories in case he doesn’t make it. I was relieved when I read he made it.

I enjoyed my first foray into the Super Specials, but there is room for improvement. I remember the other ones being better, and we will see if that’s the case as I continue this series.

Next Time On The Baby-Sitters Club #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook . . . and Dawn

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 – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement!

Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)

And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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It’s more like “nights” of the living dummy than one night.

Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.

Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.

The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.

Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.

“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.

“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.

“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”

“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”

“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.

“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”

“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”

Kris didn’t laugh.

Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.

Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.

After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.

“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.

“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.

“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”

“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.

“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”

Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”

Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.

Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”

Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.

First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.

Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.

Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.

We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?

“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”

What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”

Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.

Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.

“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.

She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.

“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”

“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”

“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”

It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.

Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:

“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”

“But, Lindy-“

“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”

Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?

Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.

This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.

Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.

They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.

R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement! (which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”

This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

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 #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 – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye

Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?

That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory – Really, kids? You care about her hair? Not her distended torso and little legs?

Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.

Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.

This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.

My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.

Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?

My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina  crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.

She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.

Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.

Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.

But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.

“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.

“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”

I shrugged. “What about her?”

“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.

I nearly chocked. “So?”

“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”

“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”

Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”

You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.

Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.

During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”

“I have. But I remember your name.”

“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”

“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”

She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:

“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”

Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.

Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.

Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.

Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.

During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.

Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.

“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”

“Who’s Pavlova?”

“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”

“What?” I asked.

“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”

That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.

But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.

It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.

Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.

While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.

Becca made another bubble, and another.

At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.

Becca made a fourth bubble.

A little girl stepped onto the porch.

Becca made a fifth bubble.

The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.

“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.

“I know,” she whispered.

The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-“

“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.

Amy turned around. “Mom?”

“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.

It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.

She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”

Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.

Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.

Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.

“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”

Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!

Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.

As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-sitters on Board

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 #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 – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

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

Hey! Hey you! I see you there, browsing the internet while 12-year-olds steal income through babysitting. Why would people choose a 12-year-old over a capable adult like yourself? Those 12-year-olds have something you don’t – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook. For today only, its secrets will be revealed and you too can make a dollar an hour babysitting in your neighborhood! Don’t let this financial opportunity slip through your texting fingers!

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

(THESE SPOILERS ARE TOO VALUABLE TO MISS OUT ON)

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook – I wouldn’t call this a complete guide – more like a partial pamphlet that cost too much money even by today’s standards.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook by Sonia Black and Pat Brigandi promises you that “everything you always wanted to know about the business of babysitting is right here in this book.” Literally everything you want to know about babysitting is in this 62-page book. It’s so short, it’s more of a pamphlet, and most of the pages require you to fill in the information yourself! You can learn everything about babysitting in about fifteen minutes, then stick it to those 12-year-olds when you steal their babysitting jobs.

The first thing the book instructs you to do is to be prepared. How do you prepare? You read another book, of course! Page two states, “read up on child care and babysitting.” “But you said that this book has everything I wanted to know about babysitting!” you say. Shut-up, stupid! I’m the expert here – I read the book, and the first step is to read another book.

An important step is meeting the children.

“Be friendly but don’t overwhelm the kids with too much friendliness.”

That’s right, keep the relationship friendly and fun, but also professional and cold. Ask them their names and potential business prospects, but no smiling. You are an adult. Don’t smile at children.

Your “Kid Kit” is a special pack of tools to deal with children. You can fill it with anything you like, but playing cards, crayons, musical instruments, and a portable tape recorder are the book’s recommendations. This book has a whole page where you can write your own ideas. Pro tip not in the book: some things to avoid in your Kid Kits are fireworks, knives, meth, and guns. No guns because the house guns should be just fine.

The book also goes over some “Do’s and Don’ts.” “Do arrive on time or even ten to fifteen minutes early for last-minute instructions from the parents.” This one might be difficult for those of you who like to waltz into English 102 twenty minutes into class, but you need to work for that dollar an hour – there’s always a punctual 12-year-old stalking you, waiting for their chance to swoop in when you’re late.

One “Don’t” is “Don’t argue with the kids.” Even if they insist that Hemingway’s contribution to literature is minimal at best, despite popular literary opinion, and you know that Hemingway paved the way for word economy in literature, you shouldn’t stand there and argue with the children. We all know they’re wrong; we just have to hope they grow out of their ignorance and respect Hemingway’s biting, concise prose.

This comprehensive pamphlet that in no way tells you to read another book at the beginning also goes over fun games for the kids! They suggest a wide range of activities including cards, Simon says, red light, green light, and jacks. Add your own! For example, I’ve added, “Just let them play with their phone.”

Are the children bored with their phones? Then tell them a joke! This book suggests some top-notch Knock Knock jokes to get those kids howling. But this special offer will tell you the best ones for the low low cost of nothing!

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dwayne.

Dwayne, who?

Dwayne the tub, I’m drowning!

Murder and speech impediments are always hilarious. How about this one?

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?

Shelby.

Shelby, who?

Shelby comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes!

Hahaha! Vaguely obscene pioneer songs are a great way to relate to modern children.

After the jokes, force the children to do what the book calls a “Creative Play.” The children perform for you using their dolls and toys as characters. Remember to adequately review them in the local newspaper. “Little Timmy’s Big Bad Wolf was pedestrian, but it can hardly compare to the amateur directing of Susie. Her casting choice of a Bratz doll as the second Little Piggy proved to be a wrong move that was amplified by the cartoonish background and bare set design. This reviewer will think twice about attending another performance by the Thompson Family.”

Need something to feed the kids? During this special offer, I will give you two actual recipes from this book.

Peanutty Apple Snack

Carefully cut out the core of an apple.

Fill the center with a mixture of peanut butter and raisins.

Cut the apple into sections and munch away.

And here’s the other recipe, sure to get those kids hopped up on sugar and on their way to helpless addiction by combining two things with no nutritional value:

Chocolate Soda

1 ½ cups of milk

½ cup of chocolate syrup or instant cocoa

½ cup of club soda

4 scoops of chocolate ice cream

Put the milk, syrup and 2 scoops of ice cream into the blender and carefully mix well.

Put 1 scoop of ice cream into each of two glasses.

Pour the mixture into the glasses until they’re ¼ full.

Then pour in the club soda.

This makes two “cool” drinks.

If you are babysitting for more than one child, choose your favorite one and give them the Chocolate Soda. If the other children protest, say, “Maybe next time you won’t flub your lines during the Creative Play.”

After the children are asleep, the book suggests you clean the house. If you’re still going to be paid, you should work.

“Do a little extra, such as straightening out the kitchen.”

After your stellar job, remember to charge for maid services.

Oh no! It’s an emergency! The book goes over nightmares, injuries, visitors, and fights –  in that order. Nightmares are definitely more important than injuries. Just remind the child that nightmares aren’t real! That’ll shut ‘em up so you can go back to your side job cleaning. As for injuries,

“If the child stops crying in a few minutes and goes back to what he was doing before, it’s probably not a serious injury. But if after a while the child is still crying hard or holding the injured area in a peculiar way, call for help.”

That’s right – if a child is injured, wait to see if they eventually stop crying. Even if it looks like their leg is not attached to their torso, wait to see if the kid stops crying and hops back to playing. Everything is fine if the child stops crying. He’ll stop crying. We all stop crying eventually.

Page 29 is an order for the babysitter to keep track of their jobs, pay, and clients. In this handy guide, the last thirty pages are dedicated to record keeping. The forms include important information: Day, Date, Time, and Notes, complete with lines to fill out this information! Can’t make this in a standard word processor.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook is in no way a blatant cash grab that explicitly tells you to read a different book for better information. This is 29 pages of information in 20-point font followed by 30 pages of blank lines! You can’t get this great babysitting information anywhere else! (Except every other book longer than 60 pages on babysitting at your local bookstore.) This book is not an attempt to capitalize on a book series that was growing in popularity. This is an opportunity to stick it to 12-year-olds while making some money.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

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 – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

I was apprehensive about doing Fear Street. I have fond memories of the series, and it was included in my attempt to buy back my childhood – scouring thrift stores for books. Long before I decided to write this essay series (“Rereading My Childhood” – in case you forgot), I read Fear Street: The Stepsister. I hated that book. When I say “hate,” I mean I wanted to throw that book into a fire. I loathed every character – the sister main character who is entirely too paranoid, the inconsiderate stepsister, the fake actual sister, the dismissive mother, and the worst character in teen genre fiction history – the misogynistic father who serves no purpose other than to say creepy comments to his step-daughter and harass the mother. He should have been the killer. He should have died. However, he was not. In fact, the “twist” wasn’t really a “twist” but something so obvious I called it on the third page, making it pointless and frustrating. After reading that book (and I won’t do a Rereading of it – the thought of spending my time writing about it makes me want to destroy my computer so I have an excuse not to do it), I wasn’t sure if I could read the rest of the Fear Street series. Are they unreadable to anyone over the age of thirteen?

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

I liked it! Like The Stepsister, this one also features a pair of sisters who don’t get along. Unlike The Stepsister, it doesn’t feature a gross stepfather and a dismissive mother. The mother in this book is a good character, and neither sister is outwardly evil. We see our protagonist’s flaws while speaking to her sister, and her sister exhibits some petty behavior. This one also has several twists, some better than others, but the biggest one is so insane I never saw it coming. It’s not a “deus ex machina,” so I wasn’t angry. Overall, this is a solid Fear Street book that centers on some great and flawed female characters.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My Copy of Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine – First of all, one of these sisters is supposed to be homely, but I see two pretty girls. Secondly, what pair of teenage girls who hate each other have matching sleeping gowns? And lastly, what is up with their hands?

Fear Street: Bad Dreams starts with a prologue in which a nameless character is murdered by her sister in her gorgeous canopy bed. It’s a creepy scene. There’s something in the shadows of the room. It’s her sister! Her sister with a knife! Her sister kills her – like straight-up knifes her. R. L. Stine is not fucking around. At least, not at the beginning.

Now we’re in the first chapter. The chapters are similar to the ones in Goosebumps – short. It seems Stine’s affinity for short chapters didn’t end with Goosebumps. The short chapters are back and shorter than ever!

We meet the Travers sisters – Maggie and Andrea and they do not get along. Maggie believes that their mother holds Andrea to a lower standard than Maggie, despite their close ages, and Andrea is jealous of Maggie’s inherent advantages in the looks department. Maggie is described as an effervescent, red-haired gorgeous teen, while Andrea is listless and dull. However, Andrea is a snob and resents moving to a poorer neighborhood after their father died and their mother was unable to maintain their lifestyle.

They reach their new house on Fear Street and Maggie’s dog, Gus, runs out into traffic, and we have our first cliffhanger. The dog is fine, of course. Stine knows better than to kill off a dog at the beginning of the novel.

The family enters their new house, and in one of the rooms, the one designated to Maggie, is a gorgeous canopy bed.

“Say, Mags,” Andrea began. “Mags, you know how I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned bed like this one, right?” Andrea bit her lip.

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

Sure enough, Andrea demanded, “Can I have it?”

Can I have it? – Andrea’s four favorite words.

Andrea stared at Maggie, pleading with her eyes. Maggie lowers hers to the bed.

What should I tell her? Maggie asked herself. What should I do?

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

If Maggie had known the horrors that awaited her in the old canopy bed, her answer might have been different.

But she had no way of knowing why the bed had been left behind.

Ooh, ominous, and a proper cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Mrs. Travers decides that since it came in Maggie’s room, and since Andrea choose the larger room, that Maggie should keep the bed. To which Andrea wails, “But that’s soooo unfair!” Mrs. Travers is completely fair, but I can imagine a girl who has been coddled her entire life thinking that she should get the canopy bed and the bigger room.

Maggie complains to her inconsequential boyfriend Justin about the house, saying it looks like The Addams Family house. (Don’t drag that house – it’s a museum. It says so in the theme song, and I would love to live in a museum.) I say “inconsequential” because he doesn’t do anything. He could be cut from the book and it would have no effect on the plot, and he’s the only dude. I wish Stine cut that sausage out so the book is a pure clambake, but we live in a world in which every story has to have at least one dude. At least he’s relegated to the “girlfriend” character like women in, oh, just about every movie ever. #progress #feminism

That night, Maggie has her first nightmare involving a blonde girl, and she wakes up screaming after a chapter break. Her mother suggests that she is overcome with stress, which is a reasonable reaction, no sarcasm at all. Stress does some crazy things to people, and nightmares are a common symptom.

The next morning, Justin comes over with sponges. How romantic. They make out, and we get a daytime scare.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

Maggie’s heart was thudding in her chest. She gave Justin several quick kisses on the cheek.

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

No, it’s just Andrea asking for a camera. Whomp-whomp trumpet noise. This makes Andrea seem like a voyeur, like she was going to say, “Don’t let me interrupt you – I like to watch.” That would be creepier than anything in this book.

Just two pages later, Justin can’t breathe! He’s in peril!

Oh, no. He’s just having a little goof at Maggie’s expense. End of Justin’s contribution to the book. Good riddance. Begone! Go back whence you came! A football or something.

Maggie and Andrea are on the swim team and are competing with two other girls, Dawn and Tiffany, for one of two spots on the 200IM. That’s a thing, right, Stine?

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

She pushed harder, harder – as she came to the end of the breaststroke. But then she made a poor turn at the wall.

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

Freestyle was her strongest stroke. But she had only two laps to catch up.

She felt as if she was skimming over the water. The shrill cheers and screams in the gym reached an ever higher pitch. Nearing the far wall, Maggie passed Andrea – then Tiffany.

The passage wrapped me up in the excitement. This was actual suspense – not that boring white boy feigning peril. More like this, please.

Maggie comes in first, followed by Dawn and then Tiffany with Andrea bringing up the rear. After the race, Maggie sees Dawn floating facedown in the pool. Danger? No, of course not. She’s just practicing breathing control. Then the girls laugh until the end of the chapter, where Maggie has another nightmare.

Andrea wakes her up and Maggie blames the bed for her nightmares.

Andrea stood up. She ran her finger down one of the bedposts. “See? I told you-you should’ve let me have this bed. It’s bad luck. And it’s giving you nightmares.”

Maggie stared at her as if she hadn’t heard. “The bed . . .” she said. That was it! She reached out and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Andrea, you’re right! The girl in the dream, the girl in trouble? She was sleeping in this bed!”

“That’s spooky,” Andrea admitted. “And she got . . .”

She let the question trail off. Maggie finished it for her. “Stabbed,” she murmured softly. “With a knife. Over and over. Don’t you see? I knew it was too good to be true,” Maggie moaned unhappily.

“What was?”

“The owners just leaving this beautiful bed behind. There had to be something wrong with it.”

Andrea insists the stress is getting to Maggie. Hey, Maggie? There’s a simple way to prove the bed is causing nightmares: give the bed to Andrea and see if she gets the same dreams. This isn’t complicated. Yeah, maybe your sister gets a neat canopy bed, but she might also get nightmares where nothing happens. You pass on the nightmares or you realize it’s stress and can deal with it – either way no more nightmares.

Maggie doesn’t do that. Instead, she implies that Andrea wants Maggie to be less stressed so Andrea can swim in the 200IM. They fight after Maggie’s shitty inference. Up until this exchange, Maggie has been tolerant of Andrea’s pettiness, but in this chapter, we get to see that Maggie isn’t completely innocent. Andrea was showing genuine interest in Maggie’s well-being, but Maggie had to throw in some backhanded comment. Andrea can act immature, but Maggie doesn’t act like an adult either.

The next day, Dawn falls down some stairs and breaks her arm. She thinks Maggie pushed her like Nomi in Showgirls. Maggie goes home and falls asleep on the couch. Then she goes outside and falls asleep there. She wakes up and some weird old man is staring at her.

His name is Milton Avery, and in true deus ex machina form, he and his wife tell them about the murder that happened in the house.

Mr. Avery continued. “There was a girl about your age – named Miranda. Pretty girl with blond hair.”

Miranda!

Maggie knew instantly that Miranda had to be the blond girl in her dream!

“Did Miranda live in my house?” Maggie asked eagerly.

“She and her family lived in your house, yes,” answered Mr. Avery.

“Milton, that’s enough,” Mrs. Avery spoke up.

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

“She was killed,” the old woman blurted out. “Murdered.”

“She was stabbed,” Mr. Avery said in a hushed whisper. “Stabbed right in her own bed.”

Yeah, that was pretty obvious from the prologue, but thanks, Old Man Avery, for peeping at seventeen-year-olds, I guess. He’s probably banned from the local mall.

Maggie dreams more and mistakes common household items (a curling iron) for various murdering paraphernalia (a knife). Her mother sends her to a therapist after Maggie yells, “I’ll never calm down!” That’s a totally normal thing to say there, Mags. That’ll work.

During swim practice, Tiffany wins the 200IM. Coach pulls Maggie aside and encourages her to work things out internally, within herself, and externally, with her sister. Maggie leaves Coach’s office and finds Tiffany covered in blood. Tiffany was stabbed! But she doesn’t die so that makes the current death count for this book just one unfortunate sister during the prologue. I understand not killing off Dawn – it’s an early incident in the book and Dawn is Maggie’s best friend. Tiffany, however, is a completely expendable character who we never see again.

The novel culminates in an attic showdown, but it starts during a barbeque with the teen peepers.

I’m tired enough to go to sleep right now, Maggie decided.

I have to get to the end of the dream. I have to put this nightmare behind me.

“I’m going to get some more soda,” she lied, getting up from the table.

Everyone was staring at her. Her mom started to her feet with a worried look.

“I’m just going to the refrigerator, Mom,” Maggie said. “Chill out.”

She smiled at everyone, but she smiled too hard – which only made her feel like a lunatic.

I can imagine this unhinged, wide smiling. It’s unnerving. Maggie goes upstairs to sleep (how she planned to deal with her mother when she didn’t come back after getting a soda, I have no idea), but the canopy bed is, just like, gone. That night, Maggie finds the bed in the attic with a person asleep in the bed.

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

“Gena,” the girl replied. “Wasn’t I in the dream?”

“I-I don’t know,” Maggie told her. She edged toward the attic stairs.

“I’m Miranda’s sister,” the girl said angrily. “Why wasn’t I in the dream?”

After Gena murdered her sister Miranda, she lived in the attic! This bitch lived in the attic Hugo from The Simpsons style, listening to everything happening in the house. She was appearing in corners. She was stealing knives. She pushed Dawn down the stairs. She stabbed Tiffany. Why?

“But I’m going it for you, Andrea,” Gena replied, sounding hurt. “She’s mean to you. She’s mean – like Miranda.”

“For me?” Andrea cried. “What did you do for me?”

“I did everything for you,” Gena replied softly.

“I did everything for you, Andrea,” Gena continued, ignoring Maggie’s terrified cries. “I hurt those two girls for you. So you could be on the swim team.”

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

‘Oh, no,” Maggie gasped. “She’s the one who hurt Dawn and Tiffany. I don’t believe it.”

“And I pushed the knife into your sister’s pillow, Andrea,” Gena confessed proudly. “You know. To give her a little scare. To get her ready for tonight.”

“But I don’t want you to kill her!” Andrea wailed. “Who are you? What is going on? How did you get into our house?”

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

She lowered her gaze to Maggie. “It’s time for mean sisters to die.”

Andrea is forced to save her sister and together they defeat Gena, tying her up and, I’m assuming, handing her over to the local law enforcement. (Does Shadybrook have a police force? They must be busy with all the disproportionate murdering and attempted murdering.) Miranda and Gena are a reflection of Andrea and Maggie. By actually confronting what their relationship could be, they are able to overcome their issues and become better sisters.

Admittedly, the twist came out of nowhere. I conjecture that the prologue was added later, but the addition rendered the teen-peepers-exposition-Averys useless.

The Averys could be cut. The boyfriend is extraneous. Tiffany should have been killed to show how close the danger is to Maggie. Despite this, I still had a great time reading it. I think my opinion is a bit skewed. The last Fear Street I read (The Stepsister) made me livid. Frankly, I was happy with the flawed female characters, and I was even happier there wasn’t a terrible, misogynistic, creepy male character. I was happy with the twist that came out of nowhere, but at least I didn’t predict it on page three. If the rest of the Fear Street books are at least as good as Bad Dreams, we’re in for a glowing series of reviews. I don’t think that will happen, but at least I’m committed, and if I hate the book, you’ll read all about it.

We’re going back to Stoneybrook next week, but the next book in the series isn’t a normal one. I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook next time, and that should be a quick one!

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

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 – Goosebumps: Monster Blood

Most of my teachers had some kind of twenty minute quiet time after lunchtime recess. At around 11:30, my entire class and I piled into the hallway and stood in line (if you wanted hot lunch). We paid the lunch lady our $0.75 each at the front or used one of those punch cards the kids with pre-paid lunch had. We grabbed our food, sat down, and ate as fast as we could so we could get outside and run around like little idiots as quickly as possible. After a full thirty minutes of mindless laughing and cavorting with our fellow classmates, the bell rang and forced us back into the green walls of the school, away from the sun and into tedium. Then our teacher made us read. At least we got to choose the book.

“Read one chapter of a book,” she demanded.

We had a book. We had a popular book. It wasn’t cool to read unless you read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.

“Read one chapter of a book.”

I see why these books were popular – there are 128 pages in Monster Blood and 29 chapters. That’s an average of four pages a chapter.

“Read one chapter of a book.”

That was easy and only took a minute.

Of course, I wasn’t that child. I had cold lunch, so I had to sit by myself on the other side of the cafeteria. The school separated “hot lunch” students (those who paid money) and “cold lunch” student (those who brought their lunch from home). All my friends brought money to school (eventually, I started asking my mother for money just so I could sit with my friends), and we had to sit in specific seats that a fifth grader designated for us (it wasn’t a bully situation – the school lunch ladies bestowed onto them that power). I enjoyed the thirty-minute recess because I could read whatever I wanted, instead of what my teacher wanted me to read. When the bell rang, it was more of a relief for me. It was time to get up from the ground, brush off the dirt, and read inside – a minor location change. I didn’t mind a long chapter and I never stopped reading after only one chapter. I read until I was the last one still reading and my teacher had to ask me to come back to the boring real world.

I don’t remember the small chapters of Goosebumps, but I remember the cliffhangers. For a while, I was convinced that every horror book had to have a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter and each book. Some writers haven’t grown out of this, as evidenced by adult novels with knives and guns and scantily clad women victims on the covers. R. L. Stine’s cliffhangers are on full display in Monster Blood. There are some good ones with genuine danger – mostly at the end of the book. However, the most prevalent ones are the frustrating ones where it turns out to be a someone making a sandwich (really) or a dream sequence. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t going to like this one until I reached the end. Everything goes bonkers. The cliffhangers involve actual danger, and the short chapters are a minor inconvenience, rather than a jarring interruption.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GB: Monster Blood
My copy of Goosebumps: Monster Blood by R. L. Stine Okay, a couple problems. 1. It’s not a monster blood drive, it’s more like a monster canister. No monsters are giving blood, and there isn’t a monster disaster and they need blood. And 2. It’s more like a ball or Flubber than a runny substance.

We start with Evan Ross and his dismissive mother. Mrs. Ross is dropping off her son at his Great Aunt Kathryn’s spooky house. Aunt Kathryn is a deaf septuagenarian who raised Evan’s father. Evan doesn’t want to stay with her because he thinks she’s “weird.” That’s no reason to not want to stay with someone, but I guess Evan’s apprehension is not unfounded – she does pose a danger to our young protagonist. What this book says about weird people is not particularly hopeful, especially for weirdos like me. (I didn’t call myself a weirdo. I accepted my weirdness. I was proclaimed a weirdo when I wanted to read instead of play tag and enjoyed the quiet time after lunch recess.)

At the end of the first chapter, a mere seven pages later, we have our first cliffhanger:

And as she said this, facing Evan with her back to the house, the front door was pulled open, and Aunt Kathryn, a large woman with starling black hair, filled the doorway.

Staring past his mother, Evan saw the knife in Kathryn’s hand. And he saw that the blade of the knife was dripping with blood.

End of chapter one. Even a child wouldn’t be fooled by this obvious cliffhanger. Stine is not going to kill off the protagonist and his mother in a brutal stabbing at the beginning of page eight. Although, if that did happen, it would be surprising.

“I was slicing beef,” she said in a surprisingly deep voice, waving the blood-stained kitchen knife.

I’m reminded of a slasher flick from the early aughts whose name escapes me in which a yellow-haired lady was spooked by a coat rack. She literally bumps into a coat rack and screams. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, but I remember that coat rack. I think I audibly cried, “Oh, come on!” when it happened. I felt the same way at the end of these fake-outs. As bad as the beef slicing is, there is another one later that made me want to put down the book and go back to the Baby-Sitters Club, where Martin doesn’t try to fake me.

I don’t see as many fake-out scares in horror movies anymore. The fear comes from an actual threat. I just want to take a moment and tell modern horror movies that don’t do bullshit scares that I appreciate their efforts.

While Mrs. Ross speaks with Aunt Kathryn, the old woman grabs Evan’s arm and jerks it around. Evan complains that she hurt him and Mrs. Ross completely dismisses her son’s concerns. I get that Evan is a whiny kid, but if he thinks the woman was rough with him, she should listen to him and admonish Aunt Kathryn. If Aunt Kathryn is worth anything, she’d apologize and promise to try to be softer with her nephew.

Mrs. Ross doesn’t do anything. She’s a terrible mother. There. I said it. She drops her kid off with this woman she barely knows so she and Mr. Ross can look for a house. I think Evan should have some say in the house they choose – after all, Evan is going to live in it also. Of course, if she were a better mother, we wouldn’t have this book.

She leaves and Evan explores his temporary living quarters. He finds a library of science books and assumes Aunt Kathryn was once married (hey, Evan, women can like science, too, buddy). Then a demon attacks him at the end of the chapter. No. Not a demon. No actual danger. It’s a cat – Aunt Kathryn’s cat named Sarabeth. At first, I read that as “Scarabeth.” I wish it was “Scarabeth.”

Evan takes his dog (Trigger) out for a walk and a hand touches his shoulder. End of chapter. The hand belongs to a neighborhood girl named Andrea, but she hates that name and prefers “Andy.” I liked that she went by Andy and liked to joke around. Evan quickly sexualizes her and describes her clothing every time he sees her, but as a character, I found her bravery and sense for adventure interesting.  This stark difference between the two made me wish the book was about her instead of Evan. Intrepid Andy and her new-kid-in-town sidekick Evan.

Andy takes Evan to a toy store run by a misanthrope who seems to especially hate children. Hey, guy, if you hate children, don’t open a toy store. When a child expresses interest in something, he won’t sell it to them. Evan finds a container with the words “Monster Blood” on it. He is willing to buy it, but the owner says it’s “not good” and won’t sell it to the boy. If he knew there was something cursed with the monster blood, that would make sense. It would force Evan into theft or some other plot point. However, the owner acquiesces and sells the container to him without much coaxing. I don’t know why the man didn’t just sell it to the kid. I don’t know why R. L. Stine spent some much time with this man. The store closes later in the book and we never see this guy again. It’s no surprise to me why the store shut down.

Evan takes the monster blood and Andy to Aunt Kathryn’s house. He shows his old Aunt the container. She rolls it around and gives it back to him without any troubles. They pop it open and it falls out like Flubber. It bounces around and they take it outside to play with it some in a charming scene that ends with Trigger swallowing a large chunk of it. They wonder if it’s poison.

The next chapter starts three days later, so I guess Trigger is okay and the monster blood isn’t poison. Evan brushes his hair and thinks obsessively about a phone call he received from his parents sometime between when Trigger swallowed monster blood at the end of chapter eight and nine. I honestly thought his parents weren’t going to return and used “house hunting” as a ruse to lose the kid and start new lives in Europe as jewel thieves.

Later, Evan meets the neighborhood bullies – two hulking twins named Rick and Tony. Andy intervenes before the twins can attack Evan, but they steal her bike. They go back to his house and find Trigger suffocating. He rips off the dog’s collar and the kids notice that Trigger has doubled in size.

Chapter thirteen starts with Trigger running after Rick and Tony as Evan tries to catch up with his dog.

Suddenly, as Evan watched in horror, the dog raised up on his hind legs. He tilted his head to the sky and let out an ear-piercing howl. Not the howl of a dog. A creature howl.

And then Trigger’s features began to transform. His forehead burst forward and enlarged. His eyes grew wide and round before sinking under the protruding forehead. Fangs slid from his gaping mouth, and the uttered another howl to the sky, louder and more chilling than the first.

“He’s a monster! A monster!” Evan cried.

Oh, boy, this is getting good!

And woke up.

Fuck you.

A harmless dream. Except that something still wasn’t right.

The bed. It felt so uncomfortable. So cramped.

Evan sat up, alert, wide awake now.

And stared down at his giant feet. HIs giant hands. And realized how tiny the bed seemed beneath him.

Because he was a giant now.

That makes sense. The monster blood made Trigger larger, so, logically, it would make him bigger. I see wacky giant-child shenanigan afoot.

Because he had grown so huge, so monstrously huge.

And when he saw how big he had become, he opened his mouth wide and began to scream.

Oh man! A cliffhanger! Is Evan now going to wreak havoc on his crazy aunt? Will he get revenge on the bullies? I can’t wait for the next chapter.

His screams woke him up.

This time he really woke up.

Oh, fuck off! Slams book down. Walks out the door. Leaves her life free from dream sequences. Starts a new life book-free in the mountains of Oregon. Is a lumberjack now.

I was livid. Something interesting was finally happening and I was interested to see how Evan deals with his new demon dog. It was all a dream. Fine, whatever. Then I wanted to see how Evan acclimatizes to his new size in what would be a wonderful, yet obvious, allegory for puberty. Maybe he could overcome the neighborhood bullies and stand up to his mother (“how could you leave me with a crazy woman and not ask for my input regarding a house – I live there, too!”) – it’s all part of growing up.

No. I get a dream fake out.

I wanted to give up. I wanted to put the book down and give my review without having read the rest of the book. But I kept going. I kept reading. I recently read the first Goosebumps book Welcome to Dead House (long before I decided to write these, I’ll get around to it). I loved Welcome to Dead House. It was the kind of spooky book that got me into horror as a child. I had to give him a second chance. And, well…

The ending is okay. It’s an improvement over the dream fake outs, but my expectations were pretty low. Let’s get to the ending, but first, we have some quick events to get through.

Evan and Andy take Trigger to the veterinarian. I don’t know who paid for the visit. I can’t imagine the kids footing the bill and there wasn’t a scene where they abscond with the dog – like a vet visit and dash. Aunt Kathryn has nothing but disdain for Trigger, so she’s not paying. The vet says that Trigger is healthy, but he is a little large for the breed. Nothing to worry about.

The monster blood gets bigger and spills out of its container. The twins actually beat up Evan. Andy helps with Evan’s injuries. They knock over the monster blood. Andy goes home. Evan stumbles around the garage. He falls into a bathtub filled with the monster blood. Andy shows up. They haul the monster blood in a garbage bag back to the toy shop. The toy shop is shut down. They drag the monster blood back. Trigger is the size of a pony.

Got it? Now we’re at the end.

The monster blood spills out of the garbage bag and turns into a huge ball. It starts to move like it has a mind of its own and consumes everything it touches. As it bounces around, it swallows the bully twins, and corners Aunt Kathryn. We are treated to this twist:

Andy’s hands tugged at the sides of her hair, her eyes wide with growing fear as the seething green blog made its way steadily closer to Evan’s aunt.

“Get out!” Kathryn repeated shrilly. “Save your lives! I made this thing! Now I must die for it!”

What a twist! Although, if she made it, why didn’t she stop Evan when she rolled the monster blood container in her hands? Evan believes that’s when she cast a spell on the monster blood, but Aunt Kathryn points at Andy and says that the young girl made her do it. End of chapter.

She wasn’t pointing at Andy, but Sarabeth, the cat. Then something batshit happens.

All eyes were on the cat as it rose up, stretched, and grew. And as it grew, it changed its shape.

Became human.

With shadowy arms and legs in the eerie darkness.

And then the shadow stepped away from the darkness.

And Sarabeth was now a young woman with fiery red hair and pale skin and yellow eyes, the same yellow cat eyes that had haunted Evan since he’d arrived. The young woman was dressed in a swirling black gown down to her ankles.

She stood in the doorway, staring accusingly at Kathryn.

“You see? She’s the one,” Kathryn said, quietly now. And the next words were intended only for Sarabeth: “Your spell over me is broken. I will do no more work for you.”

The fucking cat had control of Aunt Kathryn and was trying to kill Evan with her spell on the monster blood. Sarabeth orders the blob to kill the children, but the large and in charge Trigger pushes Sarabeth into the blob. It shrinks, throwing up the twins and the robin it swallowed.

The mother returns. I thought she was going to leave him there. Frankly, with how dismissive she is, Evan might be better off with his new and improved Aunt Kathryn. Then we are treated to this after Evan and Andy vow to keep in touch:

“Could I ask one small favor?” Andy asked.

“Yeah. Sure,” Evan replied, curious.

“Well, it’s going to sound strange,” Andy said reluctantly. “But can I . . . uh . . . can I have the little bit of Monster Blood that’s left? You know. Sort of as a memento or something?”

“Sure. Okay with me,” Evan said.

They both turned their eyes to where it had come to rest on the carpet.

“Hey-” Andy cried in surprise.

It was gone.

There are three more Monster Blood books in the Goosebumps series.

Most of the end of chapter cliffhangers are ridiculous. I understand making smaller chapters to accommodate a child’s attention span, but Stine does this in Fear Street also. I haven’t read his venture into adult novels, but I can’t imagine he’d stray from his unnecessary cliffhangers. Just make longer chapters, dude.

Despite the frustrating cliffhangers, I’m happy I finished the novel. Even though the ending comes out of nowhere, I enjoyed the fast pace and crazy twists. This isn’t as good as Welcome to Dead House, the first in the Goosebumps series. (Again, I promise I’ll get around to that one, which will be a glowing review.) I’m still looking forward to reading all the Goosebumps books, even if some of them aren’t the caliber of children’s literature that I remember.

And speaking of Fear Street, next time will be my first review of my favorite post-Goosebumps horror series. I’m reading Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine.

Next Time On: Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

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

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

Listen to the episode on Rereading My Childhood – The Podcast!

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s okay,” said Karen.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” echoed Andrew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

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!

BSC009
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.