Tuesday, August 4, 2015

“Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do to get this kind of approval was add two plus two?” BSC Mystery #20: Mary Anne and the Zoo Mystery (1995)

A couple of comments before we discuss this lovely piece of ‘literature’:
1.    Have you noticed that the plot lines of the mysteries get more and more convoluted (not to mention stupid) as the stories go on? Here are the summaries of some of the early mysteries: “Claudia thinks someone has been rummaging around in her bedroom when she’s not around and that Janine is being weird. These two things are related, because Janine has been ‘borrowing’ Claud’s clothes and makeup to impress her new boyfriend.” “Jake Kuhn goes missing, and since Kristy was the last person to see him before he disappeared, she puts together a search party and helps find him.” You can’t sum this plot line up in two sentences or less!
2.    In order to avoid actually reading the book, I went through and counted all the mystery books. Mal and Jessi each get one, (no comment…I’ve discussed that already), Abby gets three, and Dawn gets five. That makes twenty-six books to spread among the other four baby sitters. Stacey and Kristy each get seven and Claudia and Mary Anne get six. Claudia’s books are mainly artsy mysteries…paintings and museums and photographs and baking and the like. Mary Anne gets the most random mishmash of mysteries, and this must be the worst.
SMS eighth graders are given an assignment to study animal behavior in groups. Since the students are given free passes to the zoo in order to fulfill their tasks, most of our crew is at said zoo when weird things begin happening. Cages start being opened and animals are escaping. Eventually, Mary Anne and company work out that one of their classmates accidentally got ahold of the master key to all the doors and let one of the animals out, but that gave the assistant director of the zoo the idea and he let the rest of the animals out. The zoo enacts a sting and catches him in the act.
Meanwhile, there’s some irony in the subplot. A small elephant is caged at a local mall and the BSC plans a walkathon to raise money to free it and send it to a zoo…where it will be caged. (Actually, it goes to a wildlife preserve, but it’s still kinda funny.)
(I’m in a mood today, so there may be no interesting tidbits. Read at your own risk.)
Sharon-itis: shoes in the fridge, orange juice in the hall closet
Wow, this book is so boring that you get a full-on summary of both books #4 and #31 in the first chapter.
Dawn also spends part of chapter one musing about the names of the cover-gorillas, Mojo and James. This scene actually happens in the book, when Jessi and Mary Anne take Matt Braddock to the zoo to have him sign to the gorillas. Couldn’t Jessi just have done that and not involved the poor kid?

Logan tried to get Mary Anne and Dawn to go to the movies with him, and when they say maybe, he offers to pay. It really looks like a threesome to me….
Why do they always point out that it’s so great that Watson lives in a mansion? When Karen and Andrew live with him, there are ten people in the family (four Thomas kids, those two, EM, Nanny, Elizabeth and Watson.) That’s the exact same size as the Pike family, and they survive with a four-bedroom house. My mom is one of six, born nearly as close together as the Pikes (when the youngest was born, the others were 7, 6, 5, 4 and 2) and they had a two bedroom house and turned a former laundry room into a third (tiny) bedroom.
Even though Stacey’s not in the club at this point, we still have to hear all about her. They’re talking about how she’s been ignoring the BSC members and how Shannon’s been filling in as much as possible. Kristy wanted to consider replacing Stace…the audience definitely knew that a new club member was coming, since they’d had that ‘Name the New Babysitter’ Contest. (I’d filled out an entry but never mailed it, partly because I didn’t want to win the prize and partly because I knew my entry would never be chosen anyway. It was far too trendy and didn’t rhyme. All the twin names in the BSC universe either rhyme or share the same first letter.) I think readers were supposed to believe that the new sitter would replace Stacey.
Kristy suggests the new science project will be a step up from dissecting frogs…like dissecting muskrats. Shannon says she’d actually like to dissect a muskrat, because it would be an improvement over what her science class is doing….studying paramecia.
Ha! The science teachers try to build enthusiasm about the zoo project by…dressing in costume and jumping out of a car.
The title quote is Dawn’s response to a chimpanzee that can add. Later that same chapter, she knocks on Mary Anne’s head and says, ‘hello?’ as if she’s trying to figure out if Mary Anne’s brain is working. It's not often that Dawn makes me smile, but this worked.
The teams for this lovely animal behavior project? Well, I’m glad you asked. Mary Anne is paired up with Alan Gray and Howie Johnson; Claudia, Logan and Dawn make up another group; Kristy is paired up with a girl named Lauren Hoffman and, of course…Stacey.
Mal offers to write up a story about Babar the elephant for the school newspaper, but considering Jessi was sixth grade correspondent, shouldn’t she be the one to write that?
Logan apparently does Steve Martin imitations: “Excuuuuuse me!” Does he have a headband with an arrow on it, as well?
Kristy’s team is studying dogs, which seems easy enough…except that Stacey doesn’t own a dog. I get that Kristy’s mad at Stacey, but it’s pretty bitchy of her (and Lauren, whom I don’t remember being in any of the plots...perhaps she hates Stacey for some reason, too?)
Edith the Emu, part of MA, Alan and Howie’s “Fur, Feathers and Flippers” project, escapes from her cage. MA happens to be right near the head of the zoo (but not near the emu cage) when that happens, so she gets to hear all about it. How convenient.
MA also calls Edith “least likely candidate for a breakout.”
Stacey is as much a subject of conversation in this book as Babar the elephant, the zoo project, or the mystery.
Alan is outraged that soda costs a dollar at the zoo. That seems really cheap to me, actually.
It’s funny having Alan and Howie along in solving this mystery. It’s like the prerequisite episode of a kid’s cartoon when the bad guy has to work together with the good guy to solve a problem.
When Becca’s friends come over, she refers to them by full name. How many Haleys and Charlottes does she know that she has to specify? I know when we were growing up it wasn’t uncommon to have Jenny K and Jennie M in one class, but we rarely had to do full names.
I love Squirt. He’s hit the terrible twos and is behaving very badly. Everything is MINE and he steals things just to get a reaction and get chased. Sounds normal and age appropriate.
The most boring part of this book is the fact that Alan and Logan have a running rivalry going, each claiming his group is going to win the extra credit and prize for having the best report. (Honestly, these reports sound ridiculous. The kids aren’t allowed to use any source but the info kiosk at the zoo. If they watch the animals the same time of day a few days a week, they won’t get to see that much.)
“Everyone likes chocolate cake.” Everyone, Mary Anne? What about Dawn?
When Jessi takes Matt to the zoo, he asks Mojo the gorilla who opened the emu’s cage. She responds with the word food. This would make sense if the person who opened the emu’s cage was a) the same person who opened the other cages and b) someone who routinely fed the gorillas, but neither of those is really true.
The suspects: A couple wearing matching sweat suits (because that’s a crime. Or because they’re discussing how much various primates cost); Alan and Howie (because they were standing in a patch of red berries and stains from the berries were found in the vicinity of several cages that were opened); the zoo’s director and her assistant (who have been fighting about the crimes).
Claudia spelling: disasstur, sunday, thoght, hapen, wold, weer, reddy.
How is the first part of the mystery solved? Mary Anne goes to use the info kiosk to learn about the bears and discovers it doesn’t work. The kiosk keys look exactly like the cage keys (what a stupid idea) and she figures out that she has the missing master key. She, Alan and Howie pooled the contents of their pockets and MA’s purse in order to get enough money for a soda, so she realizes she must have switched keys with someone else. After accusing Alan, she discovers that Howie accidentally let the emu out in an attempt to test the key, which he found on the ground. He’s not responsible for the giraffe or gibbon cages being opened.
The track suit pair turns out to be a wealthy couple considering opening their own private zoo…hence why they were discussing how much the animals would cost.
Let’s stop for a minute. Mrs. Wofsey, the director of the zoo, wants to enact a sting operation on her assistant (who’d been caught in a lie and was the most likely suspect.) She’s determined not to involve the police because all the evidence is circumstantial. Um, the police’s job is to find evidence. I’ve seen an episode of Forensic Files where the victim of an ongoing crime enacted a sting operation with a video camera. The police couldn’t use her video and had to redo the same setup with their own camera. Therefore, any evidence gathered in this event without police involvement probably couldn’t be used in a court…
…especially when half the people involved in the stakeout are thirteen year old eighth graders. MA, Dawn, Claudia, Logan, Alan and Howie are actually stalking the suspect. Oh, and then there are actually zoo employees in the gorilla enclosure…disguised as the gorillas!
Claudia is actually a decent detective. She can follow the suspect no matter how he disguises himself because she noticed he has a distinctive gait.
Seriously? This is how the book ends: “So Logan and I are planning a trip to the zoo next weekend with Alan and Howie. Not!” I may throw up.
Dawn: purple and white baseball jersey, jeans and a purple visor
Howie: all black (for the sting operation)
Alan: camo pants, t-shirt, ball cap (for the same)
Next: #84


  1. The BSC and their classmates solve a mystery about escaped animals at the zoo. Meanwhile, a subplot involves the BSC and their charges holding a walk-a-thon fundraiser to donate to helping a caged baby elephant be relocated to a wildlife preserve.

    Boom. Two sentences.

  2. "Logan apparently does Steve Martin imitations: “Excuuuuuse me!” Does he have a headband with an arrow on it, as well?"

    He might, if he's a wild a crazy guy.