Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Only one of you can answer it. Trust me." BSC #16: Jessi's Secret Language (1988)

This is Jessi's first book, and it's packed Unrealisticness, maybe? Jessi gets a steady sitting job for the Braddocks, who have a son with hearing impairments. Jessi gets him and his sister to make friends by introducing the neighborhood kids to American Sign Language. 

Jessi has also won the lead role in the ballet Coppelia. Because being super sitter and super ballerina is not enough, she arranges for Matt Braddock and his classmates to come see the ballet and keeps it a secret from her friends. She also makes friends with one of the girls in her ballet class who also has a deaf sister.

Interesting Tidbits

This book is dedicated to Cary. Huh. (Added note: I found this article that explains the origin of the name Cary Retlin: )

One of these days, I'm going to open up a package of cocoa and hold a Jessi book up to the contents, simply because they always describe her as having cocoa-colored skin.

Jessi wakes Becca up in the morning by putting Squirt down on top of her. She says there's no nicer way to wake up in the morning. I hope she changed his diaper first.

Jessi says that Claudia is the most sophisticated eighth grader she knows. Is this because she hasn't met Stacey yet?

Ohhh, so this is the book! A few months ago my friend Tessie was trying to touch her tongue to her nose, and I reminded her that there's a BSC book that said that if you could do it, you'd need a really big bra "eventually (like when you were eighteen)." Kristy is the only member of the club who can do it, and she's flat chested at thirteen, so I don't think that holds up. Not that I thought so before that, but, you know. Also, what if I guy can do it? Does that mean he'll need a really big jockstrap someday? (BTW, it's Dawn who brings up this particular piece of idiocy.)

Jenny P eats pudding from a goblet with a silver spoon, while all dressed up (natch.)

Heh heh heh. Mary Anne, while babysitting Jenny: "We're going to have fun if it kills us."

Jessi. Do not compare being black and being deaf. It just makes you look ignorant.

Real book: The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom. Jessi and Mal tell the neighborhood kids Matt knows a secret language so they'll be more accepting of them. Haley "helps" by teaching the kids all the insults she knows. This leads the Pike kids to make up their own insults.

Another great quote: "I was sure 'bathroom' was one of the most popular signs in sign language. It was probably the first one ever made up." This is in response to the fact that Katie Beth, one of Jessi's dance classmates and rivals, has a younger sister who is deaf. The sister goes to boarding school and Katie Beth and her family do not know how to sign at all. Jessi teaches her a few signs.

Claudia spelling: secrit, langage, babysiting, invinted, entirtane, Micheal, Kristys, baketball, borthers, siting, gost, dicided, litle. She also uses its for it's, scars for scares, and which for witch.

Stupid Karen is serving "ghost pate" at Old Ben Brewer's party. To distract her, Claudia teaches some sign language. So Karen...tells a ghost story in sign language.

When Jessi has news during club "new business," she raises her hand. (This is also before Mal and Jessi feel comfortable answering the phone at meetings.)

Heh heh again. Logan calls during a meeting and talks to MA, who ends the conversation red faced. Later, MA mentions that Tigger learned how to fetch. Dawn: "You're just trying to distract us from Logan." MA: "You're absolutely right."

Really long set up: Kristy's mom wishes she were pregnant, setting up #24.

Matt tells Jessi he loves her and she's his best grown-up friend. She can't decide what the bigger compliment is: love or grown up.

Not much to say about this stinker. Entire chapters go by, and there's just not anything to belittle or make fun of.

Mrs. Braddock's name is Carolyn.

Jessi's family, the Braddocks and the BSC all go to a restaurant/ice cream parlor called Good-Time Charley's (sounds like a strip club). Jessi's sure that Claudia will order a butterscotch sundae, and she does....and mushes it around so it looks like diarrhea. (The book never says diarrhea, but trust me.)


Jessi: leotard and jeans

New Characters

Haley and Matt Braddock (9 and 7)--34 and 32

Next week: if I don't get to the library--and don't hold your breath--it will probably be #48, Jessi's Wish. We're going to go from the hearing impaired to a child with cancer. Why are so many Jessi stories "very special episodes?"

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"When I open my mouth, I'll knock them out with the licorice smell." BSC #75: Jessi's Horrible Prank (1994)

Not much plot here, but kind of hard to explain. Jessi's new short takes is on computer programming, and the teacher, Mr. Trout, is a bit clueless and boring. The class starts playing pranks on him, going so far as to rip the toupee off his head. Jessi's not really involved in that, but at the Sixth Grade Follies, where the students make fun of the teachers, she does an imitation of Mr. Trout while wearing a bald cap. He leaves soon after, and Jessi thinks she's at least partly responsible.

Meanwhile, Becca has been obsessed with the Follies and gets a bunch of sittees together and they put together the BSC Follies where they lampoon the BSC. Awww.

Interesting Tidbits

The cover. I think we've all had a class like this one. Maybe not such a stereotypically dorky teacher teaching it, but still. No one is paying attention at all. (Partly because the teacher is teaching on the side board? heh) They are showing SMS's diversity on the cover, except that the girl behind Jessi, who looks darker than she is, is Puerto Rican.

On the second page, Jessi explains the Short Takes Program at SMS as a series of "revolving" classes, then explains that the building doesn't turn around like a revolving door (thank you, I had no idea!) The Short Takes classes always sounded pretty cool to me as a kid, and now the middle school I went to does something similar. All the sixth graders take art, music, information literature (basically, how to research and make a powerpoint) and world cultures. In seventh grade, they take four different classes, including industrial arts. Then, they get to pick from a variety of classes for eighth grade.

Jessi caught a case of the caps. SMS has two teachers that look like Dolly Parton and are known as Dolly One and Dolly Two among students. Jessi explains they're short and large chested, with big smiles, tons of makeup and Major Hair. The funny part is that the two teachers are completely okay with their nicknames. I don't think we nicknamed too many teachers in school, but I do know we were careful never to let them hear the nicknames we did come up with....

Ooh, there's a Mr. Trout outfit! See below.

Claudia wants to pierce her nose and Kristy's completely against it. She says it looks like Bessie the Cow. So Claudia clips an earring onto her nose and moos. Every now and then, these girls actually act their ages.

Huh. In this book, Stoneybrook is "part suburban, part rural, and part ritzy." Wouldn't it have been neat to have them have a client out in the rural area every now and then, or if when Abby had moved in, she'd lived out there?

Jessi's dad calls Aunt Cecelia Aunt Cecelia. I guess it's like when parents call each other Mommy and Daddy.

I thought this was a mistake: "Stacey is one of the BSC's three blondes." But because Shannon is filling in for Dawn at this point, I guess it's correct if you count Stacey, Dawn and Shannon. But isn't Logan blond?

Book name drop: Wuthering Heights. MA's read it three times and the pages are "blistered from teardrops." I read it, but I just found the characters annoying.

One of the sixth graders has Claudia-itis: "Exacly 10 mins. before the end of class, we will all dorp our books on the floor at the same time. Pass this note on!!!!!!!!!" (I counted to make sure I had the right number of exclamation points.) It must be a boy, because it's written in all capitals. (Insert eye roll here)

Mr. Trout demonstrates the folly (get it? folly?) of hiring professionals to come in for a couple months and teach a class. Although Mr. Trout appears to actually be a fully trained teacher. He has trouble understanding what's interesting to the kids (losing their interest right away) and also has no idea what their starting level in the topic is. Jessi says that even when she tries to pay attention, she has no idea what's going on. I wrote DOS command programs in sixth grade, so it's not impossible for these kids to write programs, but it sounds like Mr. Trout is lecturing way over their heads. The only way this class would be truly interesting is if they gave all the kids computers and let them actually write code.

Also, Mr. Trout really brings on his own problems because he never disciplines the students. If he'd taken the very first prank and overreacted, sending the pranksters to the office, the kids would have stopped. Instead, he just ignores the pranks and they keep getting worse and worse.

This made me smile. Jessi's looking for a bag of pretzels and Becca hauls them out of her room, and blames them being there on Squirt.

Heh. Jessi refers to the Pike kids as the Seven Terrors: Chaos, Disaster, Ruckus, Racket, Pandemonium, Turmoil, and Noise. Is it wrong that I wonder which is which?

Favorite moment of the book: Jessi's walking to school with Claudia, Mal, Stacey and MA and she is trying to clear a sore throat by making growling sounds in it (doesn't work, sister, believe me). Claudia says this to her: "Jessi, we are approaching school. Please behave yourself. If you toss a clam on the sidewalk while everyone's watching us, I swear I'll never speak to you again." (Between this and the cow imitation, I totally love Claudia in this book.)

Second favorite moment of the book: Logan is at the BSC meeting, and when Kristy says "order," he orders a burger, as he apparently does every time he comes to the meeting. Kristy tells him it's not funny anymore. Claudia (of course!) then suggests that Kristy find a different way to open the meeting, such as yelling, "Yabba dabba doo!"

I repeat. Claudia is definitely my favorite character in this book. After the SMS Follies is over, ice cream is served in the cafeteria. When Jessi arrives in the cafeteria, all of her friends "mob" her except one. Claudia is over "mobbing" the ice cream.

Ooh, I got one right. Mr. Trout leaves without notice, and a sub named Mr. Bellafatto shows up. In his first five minutes in class, he makes the kids get up and follow the correct seating chart, giving them all their first and only warning. He then sends a kid to the principal's office right after. After that, all the goofing around stops and he has their full attention. Mr. Trout wouldn't have had as many problems if he'd run the class that way.

The BSC follies are actually pretty funny. Here's an overview:
·         Marilyn Arnold as Kristy shouted all her lines and then wandered off to do batting practice
·         Vanessa Pike as Claudia wore a dog bone in her hair, ate junk food throughout the entire skit, and decided a clock would make an interesting hat
·         Carolyn Arnold as Mary Anne cried the whole time
·         Buddy Barrett played Logan and refused to put his arm around Carolyn
·         Margo Pike as Dawn ate carrots through the whole thing
·         Becca as Jessi kept doing ballet warm ups
·         Suzi as Mallory kept writing in a notebook that said Mal's Greatest Story
·         Charlotte as Stacey was dressed fancy and being snooty (heh)
·         Haley as Shannon kept doing singing exercises until she sounded like she was howling

But the best moment of the whole thing was when Vanessa as Claudia answered the phone and said, "Hello, Babysitters Club! Who? The Pike triplets? Sorry, you'll have to call the Monkeysitters Club."

Only question is, how do the kids know exactly what happens at a BSC meeting? Do Mal and Jessi go home and talk about Kristy calling meetings to order right on time and Claudia's candy stash and so on?

In the end, Jessi feels guilty about her role in "driving" Mr. Trout away. Here's my issue with that. She didn't really do anything awful to him. She didn't take part in any pranks (despite the title of the book!) and she never really had a mean thing to say to him or about him. Everyone tells her that her skit in the Follies wasn't the cause of Mr. Trout leaving, but she doesn't believe them. She actually tries to get him back, first with a petition and then with a letter. But she's learning a lot more from the sub than she did from him. Mr. Trout writes her back and says, a) It wasn't her fault; she was a good student and her skit wasn't why he left and b) he's realized that he's not meant to be a teacher and instead he's going to go into research.


Mr. Trout: too big pants that make a puddle on top of his Hush Puppy shoes, tweed jackets, Tattersall shirts with pocket protectors

Claudia: cat's eye glasses, alligator barrette, tie-dyed t-shirt, bell bottoms (mixing eras much?)

Next week: It's a tossup. Let's go for #16 Jessi's Secret Language, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"I know I looked miserable. This was because Dawn said, 'You look miserable, Jessi.'" BSC #36: Jessi's Baby-sitter (1990)

So, the infamous Aunt Dictator--Aunt Cecelia--moves in with Jessi's family when Mrs. Ramsey goes back to work. So Aunt Cecelia treats the girls like babies, and instead of being mature and talking it out, Jessi and Becca get passive aggressive and start playing tricks on her. They're surprised when she doesn't tattle on them. In the end, Jessi talks to her parents and everything starts running more smoothly...and Aunt Cecelia gets even with Becca and Jessi by playing tricks on them.

The subplot actually ties directly into the main plot for once. Jackie Rodowsky wants to enter the science fair by making a volcano. Jessi tries to help him and ends up taking over the project and doing everything for him. After he's humiliated at the science fair, Jessi realizes she's been doing the same thing to him that AC's been doing to her! Wow! So that's why she talks to her parents about it.

Interesting Tidbits

The cover: Footie pajamas! And Jessi's wearing an awesomely ugly sweater, complete with matching socks and turtleneck. (If she was wearing jeans instead of a skirt, she'd be Black Kristy.) She's also giving Aunt Cecelia a major bitch face. But my favorite part is how Aunt Cecelia is waving a spoon at Jessi. It's such a cliché.

Totally off topic, but it really bugs me that it's spelled Cecelia. Usually the name is Cecilia, because it's an offshoot of Cecil. I keep typing it wrong and having to go back and fix it. So I'm just going to call her AC from now on.

Heh. Jessi relates her plot from SS#4--how she was put in charge of Becca and Squirt while her parents were out of town, and how she had to call AC because Becca and the others WENT MISSING! Jessi uses this sentence in regard to AC: "She thought something was seriously wrong with our family." Yeah, well, so do I.

Another funny AC comment: "I'd come home to...Aunt Cecelia. (I always imagined scary music playing when I thought of her name.)" I'm hearing the dramatic organ from 60's soap operas.

Jackie R ponders the singular of galoshes while his foot is stuck in one. Heh.

Mallory's brothers are playing Wandering Frog People, which Jessi says is a game they made up. So how come back in #14, Margo and Nicky were fighting over a toy that was really part of the triplets' Wandering Frog People set?

The Ramseys, like Ms. McGill, own a station wagon.

OMG, another banner. This one says WELCOME AUNT CECILIA! And they spelled her name wrong on purpose.

Yay! Jackie and Jessi are building his volcano out of Plasticine. I love Plasticine.

Both Mallory and Kristy are helping their younger siblings with the science fair projects also, but specifically make a point to point out, "I'll help you, but I won't do it for you." As if Jessi taking over Jackie's project wasn't enough of a "moral of the story" face slap.

Stacey mentions not feeling well, which is probably a realllllly long set up for #43.

Charlotte is also working on a science of the old standards about plants listening to music. She has one plant listen to Vivaldi and another plant listen to Duran Duran. ("Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. Duran Duran is neither a Duran nor a Duran. Discuss.") I don't think most BSC readers these days have heard of Duran Duran.

Heh. Mallory and Jessi are trying to make the world's longest gum wrapper chain. Mal wants to make the longest friendship bracelet next. When Jessi asks what the point is, because no one could wear it, Mal's all, "Well, what about the world's biggest pancake? Do you really want to eat something five hundred other people have touched, and skated across wearing butter pat skates?" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the jist of it.) She manages to gross out Mary Anne. Later, she brings the pancake back up again, to ask how they mixed the batter.

Aunt Cecelia grounds Jessi from a BSC meeting because she was ten minutes late coming home from a sitting job...and because she was a sass mouth when AC complains about it. Jessi and her friends all think it's completely unfair, but honestly, I don't think AC was asking too much. She just wants Jessi to respect her rules. If Jessi had been ten minutes late but had then apologized and promised to call if she was going to be late in the future, AC probably wouldn't have punished her.

Mr. Ramsey has a secretary named Ed.

AC confesses that one of the reasons she was so strict and was babying Jessi and Becca so much was that she was concerned that she wasn't as good a babysitter as Jessi. Wait, what? She was intimidated by the sitting skills of an eleven year old? Not to mention the fact that a live-in, adult sitter isn't the same as a kid who watches your kids sometimes. You expect entirely different things out of the two of them. A part time sitter is going to try to be fun and coax the kids into doing things, while a live in sitter is like an extra parent and has to lay down the law on many occasions.

More foreshadowing: Mal's dad's company is going to be doing layoffs. Paging #39!

The story ends on a cheesy note. Let's just leave it at that and I'll spare you the misery.


Claudia: short skirts; tight pants; off the shoulder sweatshirts; leopard skin vest, blouse, blue leggings, five papier-mâché bracelets

Stacey: tight black Capri pants with silvery buttons, long, soft blue jacket; sleeveless blouse

Mallory: jeans, sweatshirt, beaded high tops

Next week: #75 Jessi's Horrible Prank

Monday, June 3, 2013

June: Happy Birthday, Jessi!

I could have sworn that Claudia had a birthday near the end of June and that Jessi's was near the end of July. But the final Mallory entry actually listed Jessi's birthday, so I was able to clarify. Before that, I had mentally pulled out a copy of #33 to read this week. Instead, I think I'll be reading #36, Jessi's Baby-sitter, for my next entry.

When I was growing up, I always was envious of Jessi for dancing. Everyone had their one "thing" that made them stand out. Kristy's was sports, Claudia's was art, Stacey's was sophistication/fashion, MA's was having a boyfriend, Dawn's was being a rabbit (as Claudia called it), and Mallory's was writing. At the age of ten, I had to write stories for school and took gym and art classes even if I wasn't sporty or artsy. I didn't want a boyfriend, really (though believe me, in my fantasies I was married and lived happily ever after) and I didn't care for fashion. I had to eat what was given to me, so I couldn't be a "vegetarian" or health nut like Dawn (though I haven't eaten meat since I was seventeen.)

But I'd never taken dance classes, and I had two left feet. I'd always wanted to be graceful and learn ballet, but I never signed up for anything. Jessi always made it all look easy, and with her long legs and fluid movements...I was jealous.

Hope to find a Jessi book I haven't read yet to complete the month, but I think there is only one and I don't have a copy. We shall see how that goes.


"Alan Gray is the Benny Ott of the eighth grade." BSC #14: Hello, Mallory (1988)

So. This is the first Mallory book. It is not, of course, the first book with Mallory in it--she was introduced in one of the original books written back in 1986--but it is the first mention of Jessi and her family, and the first whole book written from Mal's standpoint.

The story is pretty straightforward (but stupid.) Back in #13, which I have not yet chronicled, Stacey moved away and left an opening in the club. Since Mal was always a good help to the sitters, they invited her to "audition." But they must have decided they really didn't want her in the club for some reason, because they give her a ridiculously hard test that they don't even know they answers to (until they look them up) and take her on a trial sitting job, which she flunks. So she and her new friend Jessi start their own club and sit, two for the price of one. Since the BSC sees them as a threat, they invite both Mal and Jessi to join.

The subplot is all about the racism the Ramseys encounter--did you know they were black?--and how Becca is having a hard time making friends. But eventually, the good neighbors step forward, and Becca and Charlotte become BFFs.

Interesting Tidbits

The whole first paragraph is about how Mal has to wear glasses. Does she think she's the only one in the world or something? Just a couple pages later she mentions how Nicky and Vanessa both wear glasses also, so bad vision must run in the family and probably both of her parents have it, and most of her sibs will probably someday need glasses. I guess she just needed something to angst over, before AMM decided Mal needed a nose job.

Real book alert: Mal is reading Freaky Friday, The Incredible Journey, and Dr. Doolittle all at the same time. (Not simultaneously...she's not Dr. Reid.)

Nicky breaks his finger, so the Pikes leave Mallory in charge of her six other sibs while they take him to the ER. I get that it's an emergency, but please. It's a broken finger. There's not much that can be done for it but splint it. Why do both Pike parents need to go? One should be sufficient. (Plus, six kid in the care of an eleven year old? Really?)

The Pike rule is two sitters for more than five kids. Later, in #81, BSC rules would be two sitters for more than four kids. As a kid I'd always just assumed the BSC had kind of picked up the Pikes' rule and made it their own, so what's with the discrepancy?

Kristy writes a notebook entry about the meeting Mal attends. Why? It's not a sitting job. (BTW, Mal says the notebook is very fat, and this is only book 14. Can you imagine that notebook by the end of the series? It would probably be a whole pile of the extra thick notebooks.)

After all these years, I finally had to figure out what a squiggle pin is. I had to Google it, and it is not at all what I was expecting. I don't remember anyone ever wearing pins like that, and yet the BSC wore them all the time in the 80s. (On a side note, Google kept diverting me to squiggle pens, and I found a really humorous article about them.)

Jessi tells awful jokes...or at least, the kind of joke that is only funny once. Most of the ones she tells in this story were the kind that are funny when you're in second grade or so.

The "test" the BSC gives Mal is ridiculous. First they ask "When does a baby cut its first tooth?" Mal answers eight months, because that's when Claire got her first tooth. Kristy says the "correct" answer is seven months, which is malarkey. I didn't get a tooth until I was closer to a year old, and one of my nieces cut a tooth at four months. Next they want to know the difference between creeping and crawling. How much you want to bet not a single one of the girls in that room knew the correct answer before they looked it up in a book? (Creeping is hands and knees; crawling is scooting on the belly. I've remembered that ever since I read this book the first time.) She's then asked what a tourniquet is and when you remove one. Finally, Mallory is asked to draw the digestive system. (Later, when they discuss the results of the test, Claudia calls it the divestive system, so you know how well SHE would have done on that test.)

Claudia spelling! Malory, experyence, Maria (twice), Gabie,aboat, grils, Elzabeth, Gaby, Melory (twice), yonger, exited, heres, whith, scemed, befor. She also uses to instead of too.

When Mal babysits for Gabbie and Myriah Perkins with Claudia, she makes a couple of small errors, like letting the dog in when they were told to leave him in the back yard, and asking the girls what they want to eat instead of looking in the kitchen and announcing a healthy snack. She also spills milk and drops a glass. But she cheers up Gabbie when she's sad with a creative pajama party idea, and the rest of the job goes well. Still, when asked to rate the job on a scale of one to ten, Claudia gives her a three.

Claudia mixes up soy sauce with soy formula. Idiot.

Humorous. Chapter 8 starts with the following sentence: "There are a lot of things I do well, and one of them is mope."

I love the "racism" in the Pike family. Mal is afraid to say the word black in front of Jessi. When Jessi comes over to the Pikes' for the first time, Claire asks if she's there to clean the house, because the only other black people she remembers were house cleaners.

Jessi makes fun of the BSC's name. She says it's like naming a restaurant "The Restaurant," which is sorta true. But then she and Mal name the competing club they start Kids Incorporated, which sounds way worse.

While Dawn is babysitting for her, Suzi Barrett uses all the disposable diapers in the house to fix her "horse," aka the table. Dawn makes her take them off the table leg and refold them. These days, Dawn would have lectured Mrs. Barrett about using disposable diapers instead of cloth diapers, to boot.

Mal breaks up an argument between Nicky and Margo by ordering them to go downstairs and catch a dinosaur.

When Jessi and Mal are sitting for Becca and Squirt, Becca is making gigantic bubbles with a special bubble wand. Another little girl across the street wants to come play, but her mother won't let her. Instead, Charlotte comes over, complete with banana bread and a dinner invitation from Dr. Johanssen, and says that her mother says there was a girl there who could be her friend. Do you think Dr. Johanssen was more concerned about Charlotte making friends, or with trying to make the neighbors feel welcome? It almost sounds like she ordered Charlotte to go be nice to Becca. Luckily, they get along well, so it works out for them.

Dawn and Claudia get pretty nasty when they squabble. Dawn lectures Claudia about eating Ring-dings and says she'll get fat and have pimples. Claudia turns around and says that if she'd ate health food, she'd turn into a pale, skinny Dawn. Kristy ends the argument by telling them to shut up. Nice, huh?

When deciding whether or not to join the BSC, Jessi mentions how the neighbors have treated her. She says that things are starting to settle down in school, and says that Benny Ott has stopped shooting rubber bands at her. The sixth graders ask if boys are still weird in eighth grade, which leads to these answers:
            "Definitely." (Kristy)
            "Sort of." (Dawn)
            "It depends." (Claudia)
            "Not really." (Mary Anne)

Mal gets a second chance to sit with Claudia, and this time, instead of shaming her in front of the children, Claudia sits back and lets her do the sitting.


Mallory: red jumper with her name across the front (REALLY?), white blouse, and of course, tights with little hearts on them (I must admit that when this book first came out, I still loved tights with hearts. But I was seven, not eleven.); jeans, sweatshirt reading "I'd rather be writing my novel", sneakers

Kristy: sneakers, jeans, pink turtleneck, pink sweater

Claudia: short, tight pants, ballet slippers, t-shirts with sequins; overalls, hightops

Mary Anne: yellow sweater, squiggle pin (see above), short skirt of sweatshirt material, yellow tights, ballet slippers

Dawn: baggy jeans with the cuffs rolled up, shirts with the tails out, big belts

New Characters:

Jessi, Becca and Squirt Ramsey (11, 8 and 1)--36, 33 and 26

Laura Perkins (newborn)--25