Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“Leave it to Claudia to identify a candy wrapper from ten feet away.” BSC Super Special #6: New York, New York! (1991)

Before I begin, a very distinct memory of this book. The main thing I took away from this as a child was that there were food vendors on the streets in NYC and you shouldn’t eat their food. I remember this clearly because there’s a whole couple paragraphs near the beginning that consist of Stacey reassuring all the parents that their children (most of whom just went to New York, without any adults, TWICE in last week’s book) would be just fine. One of the things she says is that none of them would want to eat from a food vendor, and Claudia whispers “I would” under her breath. I’d never been to New York when I first read this, so I was picturing all kinds of awful things.
So, the plot? It’s a two-week school break and everyone’s going to NYC to stay with Stacey’s dad and the Cummingses. Individual plots:
Claudia and Mallory: are taking an art class with a ‘famous’ artist, who seems to prefer Mal’s labored work to Claudia’s artwork. Eventually, Claudia realizes that he’s putting so much pressure on her because he thinks she has real potential but not enough focus, and he finally praises her. Mal realizes she’s not really an artist but it doesn’t matter because she just wants to draw mice and mushrooms and illustrate children’s books.
Stacey and Mary Anne: agree to babysit some British children and show them the sights. Think they’re being followed by a kidnapper until they find out it’s really just the kids’ bodyguard.
Dawn: is afraid of everything until she meets a cute boy who gets her to go out and see the city.
Kristy: finds a dog and tries to keep it, but ends up finding it a good home.
Jessi: finds a boy and tries to keep him…oh wait. That’s not right. Anyway, she gets her first kiss and has her first ‘boyfriend.’
Interesting Tidbits
The cover? Why, I’m glad you asked. First thing to note is that Dawn and Mallory’s pictures from the redone covers come from this book. And Dawn’s wearing a denim shirt with jeans. AGAIN. Forget Kristy having a uniform. Speaking of Kristy…what’s with the pegged brown pants and oversized turtleneck combo? Not attractive.

That said, several of our favorite sitters are being mighty touristy here. Of course Mary Anne would wear shorts that say I heart New York, even if no one else in the universe would ever want to wear those. Jessi’s shirt (New York Ballet) is a gimme. And someone had to wear a Statue of Liberty hat and a Hard Rock shirt. I don’t really believe that trendy and sophisticated Stacey would actually wear that outfit, even in 1991. And Mallory’s really failing at the bunny ears.
Oh boy! Oh Boy! OH BOY! Because this is the super special Claudia is responsible for, there’s four whole pages in her handwriting at the beginning! Which means tons of her spelling, right? Let’s see…hapened, serius, braging, lesons, scluptures, jewlery, desplay, exibits, clases (multiple times), Conneticut (I get that, because that’s how I used to spell it), waht, whitch, whant, profesional, havn’t. This is the point where she points out she’s not a good speller, near the end of page one!
More spelling: glorous, grils (girls), realy, lessins, confuzed, insted, indignintly, freind, parnets, personilly, studing, welcom, gues, exited (excited), infromation, illistrate.
You know where the BSC is going? New Yurk! Maybe you should learn to spell the name before you go there, sweetie. (More spelling errors: guidbooks, arond, lyricks, siad, batterys, answerd.)
There are several jokes/moments that I so did not get as a child when I read this. First one comes from in the middle of Claudia’s handwritten intro, when Mary Anne is singing “New York, New York, a wonderful town!” And Stacey interrupts her with the correct lyrics, which I didn’t know at the time were “New York, New York, a hell of a town!” She gets cut off before she can swear, though.
A little bit more Claudia spelling and we’re into chapter 1: beleive, havnt, studing (again.) The last one makes me laugh because Claudia is talking about studying under this artist/teacher she has a crush on, and it looks more like studding that studying. (BTW, the teacher’s name is McKenzie Clarke, but she keeps calling him HIM.)
Who has random two week vacations during the school year? Around here, you’re lucky if you even get a full week for spring break. We had so many snow days the past few years that the kids in a couple school districts just got Friday and Monday off.
So things are no longer ‘dibble’ but instead ‘chilly.’ Not really an improvement, but I’ll go with it.
Claudia’s excuse for describing her friends is to imagine how they’re packing. Stacey would be packing leggings and “baggy black and white and red tops” which sounds totally appropriate for the era. Kristy would have jeans, turtlenecks and t-shirts. Etc.
Of course, everyone has to come to the train station to see the BSC off. I think it would have been more realistic if each girl had come with a single parent, who then waited to make sure they safely got on the train. But all the Pikes come, and all of Kristy’s five thousand relatives (and the dog) and Mary Anne actually brings Tigger in a carrier…even I wouldn’t do THAT. So everyone at the train station is staring at them. This is when Stacey promises not to let anyone ride the subway alone or eat a hotdog from a street vendor.
Kristy’s full of crazy cracks any time you take her to New York. First she quips that the exterminator in Mr. McGill’s apartment was spraying for sewer rats rather than roaches, and then when Stacey takes a deep breath in and says, “I can almost smell…” Kristy finishes for her: “New Jersey?”
The second thing I didn’t get as a kid: Mary Anne references all the things that have happened at the Dakota, such as Rosemary’s Baby being filmed there and famous people dying there. This was before I became obsessed with the Beatles; I don’t think I even knew who John Lennon was in 1991.
I understand being wary if you grow up in a small town and go to NYC without an adult, but two things here. A) Dawn’s from LA, not La Rose, Illinois (population, as of about ten years ago, 300). She might be from the suburbs, but she’s not from some small Podunk town in the middle of nowhere. B) They paint her as such an idiot, to the point where she screams when the doorbell rings. You all know Dawn’s not my favorite sitter, but I’m actually embarrassed on her behalf reading this.
The little British diplomat kids’ attire cracks me up. I realize that I lived in a small farm town when I lived in England, and none of the children in my school had “upper class” backgrounds, but when we were out of our school uniforms, we wore sweatpants and jeans and corduroys and mostly, faded, old dresses. Nothing even vaguely similar to these kids’ outfits.
Kristy and Dawn have this kind of antagonistic relationship when they’re in New York. Kristy just really loves to pick on the fact that Dawn is a big scaredy cat. This time, she suggests that a building under construction could fall on their heads, leading Dawn to be scared of scaffolding. Yet she agrees to babysit her when she’s too scared to leave the apartment.
The title quote comes from Dawn’s assertion that she saw a giant roach; Claudia corrects her with the knowledge that it’s in fact a 3 Musketeers wrapper.
Claudia spelling time again! (Chapter six is another Claudia, despite the fact that we haven’t heard from Mal or Jessi yet. I don’t think I noticed as a child how much less attention the two of them got.) Malory, awhil. She’s also very exited on several occasions and says she’s too exited to wright more.
If it’s Fine Arts League of New York, why is it written Falny instead of FALNY? (Okay, so I’m a pedant. But in this case, I’m a correct pedant.)
Kristy actually enjoys walking around Central Park without babysitting. This is shocking. I thought everything was better when you’re surrounded by a huge group of children?
Oiny. Heh.
Kristy wants Jessi to create a distraction (so she can sneak the dog into the Dakota) by fainting, which, of course, Jessi refuses to do. I’m reminded of a Daria episode with a similar moment: Jane: Use your womanly attributes. Daria: Gotcha. I’ll give birth.
Dawn’s guy (Richie Magnesi, the son of Mr. McGill’s downstairs neighbor) has a tail (in his hair). That would not be a selling point any further.
Yet more Claudia spelling: calss, feild, bildings, intresting, skatting.
I loved the Saturday Night Live reference at Rockefeller Center (“Live from studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, it’s Weekend Update!”) And I’d forgotten all about David Letterman’s network move until I read that he used to film there also. (I also had no idea who David Letterman was in 1991; I was so out of the cultural references loop at that age!)
I’ve figured out what’s bugging me about Claudia in this book. It’s the fact that she’s such a good artist that she’s used to hearing praises for it all the time. I get her being upset when McKenzie Clark is criticizing her work, even when she admits she wasn’t paying attention to (and therefore, not following) the directions. No one likes to be criticized, even when it’s warranted. But she’s not satisfied when he’s watching her work and not commenting at all, either. And then she takes it out on Mallory.
Jessi’s embarrassed that Laine walks her over to Quint’s house. I’m completely on Laine’s side on this. You always want someone to know where you are when you’re with new people. Jessi needs a little bit more of Dawn’s caution.
Quint doesn’t want to study at Julliard because the neighbors all make insinuations. They call him ‘sissy-boy.’ I think it’s the closest I’ve ever seen in these books to a gay reference. I can’t say much; I’ve only known one boy who ever did ballet, and he actually is gay. He used to get a lot of gay jokes when he was younger and he actually stopped doing ballet because he was suicidal for a while. He got a lot of therapy and he’s now sixteen and out and proud; even took another boy to homecoming last year.
One thing that this book does get right: Alistaire and Rowena say things are “brilliant” a lot.
Have you ever noticed what a drama queen Mary Anne can be? I think this sentence sums it up: “Mary Anne had decided that the man in the sunglasses and rain hat was on a mission to kidnap Alistaire and Rowena and create an international incident, which, among other things, would destroy the reputation of the BSC.” Because everyone blames the thirteen-year-old sitter when children get kidnaped as part of international intrigue.
The World Trade Center. There’s a reference you don’t get in more modern books.
I almost used this as the title quote: “Tell them what? That we’re being followed by a bad dresser and that they should alert the fashion police?” This is in reference to the man in sunglasses and rain hat (the kids’ bodyguard) who is following Stacey and Mary Anne everywhere. I get two things out of that: 1. Every time it says rain hat I picture The Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George. 2. Tessie and I used to play a video game named Midnight Rescue that had an unnamed title character that we used to call The Bad Dresser. We used to spend a lot of time purposely making him run into walls. Let’s see if I can find a picture of him on Google…

Ahh. There we go.
Another perspective on Dawn. She’s afraid to go out in New York…until a “cute boy” takes her out. Suddenly it’s not so scary anymore! This does not say good things about her in my opinion.
Um. Speaking of potentially-gay boys, how does Richie know where all the Laura Ashley stores are? Why would he care about that? (By the way, my store sells Laura Ashley bedding. It’s all covered in stuffy floral granny prints. Yet Dawn seems to love Laura Ashley. It hardly seems California Casual, does it?)
Stacey has this crazy idea that one of the British kids is carrying microfilm for a smuggler who is trying to get it back. A) She sounds like Mary Anne (a fact MA herself confirms on the next page) B) Isn’t that the plot of “Family Ties Goes to London” or whatever it was called? Someone slips something into the backpack of the youngest son (who is, like, five) and then chases them all over trying to get it back.
Another Claudia chapter. Plenty of misspellings, but the only new one is wirth.
I cracked up laughing when Kristy said, “or, as Watson would say, in a tizzy.” I used that word in one of my fanfics, only it was a different stepdad using the term: “Only Richard would use the word tizzy.”
Real book: A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry. Another one of those “death” books I became obsessed with when I gave up the BSC. (I’ve also read everything Lois Lowry ever wrote anyway.)
Mal’s actually jealous of Claudia’s sugar-filled lunch: fluffernutters, Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, Fritos. Claud says it’s okay because she’s drinking apple juice and there are raisins in the cookies.
Yes, Jessi. I’m sure that Quint’s parents were worried that their son and an eleven-year-old girl were about to tell them they were getting married. That’s a very logical worry. (If Jessi had been around for a few more weeks, it would have been funny if she’d thought they were worried that she was pregnant.)
Last Claudia spelling (ultra-mega-sad face) Roeena, Alistare, evning, fantastick, shoping, restraunt, ourselvs, limmossin. Oh, and they spent the hole day in NY City.
I really hate it when my computer autocorrects Claudia words, but at least it’s proof that she’s not too terribly far off track. Sometimes, at least.
Another banner (this one printed off the Pikes’ computer).
Oh, I have always remembered this: When they pick Kristy up, all of her family (even Sam and Charlie, who in real life would have been mortified) were wearing shirts that said BREWER on the back and THOMAS on the front.
This is hilarious: Janine: “It’s totally, um, what’s the word? Oh, yeah? Totally awesome.” It’s sweet that she tries and too funny that she fails.
Claudia sends a letter to Mac saying he would be really proud of her. (I don’t know if he’ll agree after reading the letter. She actually says he would be prowd of her, among other things.)
A couple of other notes from the “random letters” section at the end of the story. Mal writes a thank you note to the Cummingses and asks if they know how many bathrooms are in the Plaza hotel. She then follows this up by saying, “If not, don’t worry. I bet Mary Anne knows.” If she doesn’t she can certainly find out!
Quint may be the only boy in this whole series to not write in capital letters.
Claudia should be so proud. Alistaire also spells it New Yurk. He says that Rowena “licked the toy store.” I’m sure it tasted terrible.
And that is the end of Claudia’s New York “dairy.” She finishes it on this appropriate thought: “Mom even thought my speling had improved but I am not so sure.”
Ooh! This is a first! The previous owner of my book “Taylor,” according to the front page (although based upon the handwriting, that may have been the last name of a teacher) actually sent in the contest entry in the back of the book. I never did that in any of my books, and none of the others I’ve picked up second hand have had that either.
New characters
Alistaire and Rowena Harrington (7 and 4)—31 and 28
Alistaire: white sailor suit with navy trim, knee socks, black “not Mary Janes but they Look Like Mary Janes”; gray pants, red suspenders, red bow tie, white shirt
Rowena: white sailor dress, white tights, red Mary Janes, red hat; gray skirt, red suspenders, white shirt, red headband

Next week’s book is a surprise.


  1. I admire your tenacity with Claudia's spelling mistakes!

    Also, the Bad Dresser looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Weird.

    1. I definitely see some similarities. It was the same time frame, too, so maybe it was just the awesomeness of really bad 80s attire....