Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Jake didn’t seem to mind being compared to a dish of ice cream.” BSC #91: Claudia and the First Thanksgiving (1995)

Happy Turkey Day! It’s a little early, but since many stores are setting Christmas already, I guess we’re not that far off. Let’s go on.
You know I ‘love’ when the BSC addresses an issue, but does it in a mild, preteen-friendly kind of way. This book surrounds issues of censorship. Claudia’s drama class (another one of those short takes classes) writes a Thanksgiving play to put on with the SES third graders. The trouble is, they research the holiday and then write up a play comparing and contrasting the way things were, then and now. For example, the main character is shocked that Pilgrim women are considered the property of men, and she mentions that these days some Native American tribes protest Thanksgiving and consider it a day of mourning. Parents and some of the teachers read the play and protest; many of them feel that the Pilgrims should be applauded for coming to America and ‘taming the savage natives.’ The class decides to censor their play for the third graders and another group of students put on the original play using a middle school cast.
Meanwhile, everyone’s Thanksgiving plans mysteriously fall through, so the BSC families all get together as Kristy’s for the holiday.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: Claudia looks like she’s wearing a snood, with a matching vest.

Oh, Claudia. She starts the book making a pun, but then she ruins it by explaining it’s a pun. It’s like a book I once read where one of the characters made really horrible jokes all the time, but made them even worse by saying, ‘Get it?’ afterward. This pun isn’t even good enough for the ‘really bad pun’ tag.
Now she’s color-coordinating her breakfast with her outfit. That’s okay, because it seems like the rest of her family color coordinated too.
Chapter one is chock-full of outfits! I love it! Although, I can understand it when Jessi shows up at a BSC meeting with her leotard under her clothes (since she runs straight from ballet class), but why does she wear them under her clothes a large chunk of the time?
Ah, math jokes. Stacey loved the Math for Real Life short takes class, but Claudia would have rather had a Learning to Hire an Accountant class.
Some of these short takes classes do sound pretty interesting. The one the eighth graders are finishing is called Learning to Read and it’s about learning how to interpret what you read in the newspaper, such as reading different sources and determining how they slant the news. I learned all of that in journalism class in high school: where an article is placed, how prominently, how the headline is phrased and how things are reported, etc. (For example, there’s an old story that I’m not sure is true about the Soviets back in the day reporting that they came in second in a race and the Americans came in second to last. They didn’t mention that there were only two contestants, the Americans and the Soviets.)
Claudia points out that all the holidays are at the same time, right as the weather gets bad. She suggests moving them to the spring, but I kind of think that there’s a conspiracy involved here. They put all the holidays in the bad weather so that (most) people don’t get depressed as the days get shorter and the weather gets terrible.
Betsy Sobak gets reintroduced in the beginning of chapter two, where it’s insinuated that the BSC has been babysitting for her ever since #19, even though she hasn’t been mentioned in more than sixty books.
Thanksgiving is Claudia’s favorite holiday. I would think it would be Halloween or Easter, just because of all the junk food potential.
The kids in Claudia’s drama class: Stacey, Abby, Erica Blumberg, Rick Chow, and ten others who don’t get mentioned.
Abby gives the movie version of The Incredible Journey four barks, which Stacey follows up with four meows. The BSC comedy team? I give them half a star.
Stacey calls Thanksgiving the Thanksgiving of Doom, but she seems to think it’s funny, because she keeps snickering about it. I’m mostly amused because it’s the second time the Pike family have been invited to sit in the seats for the Macy’s parade but haven’t been able to go.
Kristy asks how many people it would be if you combine all the BSC families that will be in town over Thanksgiving—everyone but Shannon and Logan—and Stacey instantly gives her a number. How does she know? There are variables. For example, will Karen and Andrew be there? What about Jeff and Dawn? Maybe Nannie is going to visit her other daughters, who will be together for the holiday….
Kristy’s idea of a good conversation starter: “Listen, you know Thanksgiving?” That’s a set up for a smart-ass reply if I ever heard one.
I love how Charlotte was in second grade in the early books, they always mention her skipping a grade and yet here she is…in third grade.
I love the fact that the eighth graders don’t give a copy of the play to the third grade teacher, the elementary school principal or ANYONE outside their class and teacher until the roles have already been cast. This story would have gone very differently if they had. It’s like all the stories of school newspaper censorship. Legally, schools have the right to censor their students on some levels, although they cannot punish them just for having opinions and voicing them. It’s all very complicated, with several court cases involved. My high school newspaper had what’s called a Tinker Clause in our constitution, promising that the school could not censor our work at any time, but most schools don’t have such things, meaning that the administration is allowed to censor the writing of the students for the ‘greater good’ of the student body.
The title quote comes after Laurel calls Jake’s acting ‘super-duper extra-special,’ which is the name of a frozen treat at the ice cream parlor.
When the BSC asks the Brewers to host Thanksgiving dinner, Kristy says, “It’s only thirty-six people.” There’s nothing funnier than Nannie snorting back laughter and trying to hide it by taking a drink of coffee.
By the way, that thirty-six people doesn’t include Karen, Andrew, Dawn, Jeff, or the ghost of Ben Brewer. But as we all know, he only eats ghost pate and other delicacies in the attic, anyway.
“I wondered what Susie’s mom thought we were painting. Naked Pilgrims?” This made me laugh because I started picturing Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves in the background of the play.
I like how Jessi sums up the A-plot of the story: “They’re scared. It’s easier to believe fiction than fact.” Honestly, the problem isn’t that it’s easier to believe fiction. It’s that the parents and teachers who are upset at the portrayal of the first Thanksgiving grew up being taught one narrow point of view, and like Claudia said in her commentary on newspaper articles, how a source feels about something slants how they report is. (She reflects on this herself after the whole event is over.) Americans have always grown up reading the WASP male point of view, and now that other people want to portray a different view—female, Native American, African American, Muslim, atheist, gay, transgender, or whatever—other people get offended and yes, scared. It’s hard to accept that you haven’t been taught the whole truth your whole life.
I’m also not surprised by the roles our principals play in the fight that breaks out. Stacey’s back stage at the time, so she stays out of it and tries to distract the kids. Jessi’s there for Charlotte and Becca, so she does the same with those two. Claudia goes outside and worries about the outcome. I’m sure NO ONE is surprised that Abby, who was onstage directing, is in the middle of it. Not only is she a loud mouth (ha!), but she’s also sort of a feminist. She’s got that ‘I’m a minority and no one’s going to put me in my place’ thing going that I’m surprised they didn’t play up more with Dawn. I guess they couldn’t think of Dawn as minority too much, although Abby points as much to sexism as she does discrimination of the Jews.
Ooh, I like this too. Claudia points out that the story of Thanksgiving they teach kids isn’t made up; it’s just ‘polished’ to present a prettier picture.
Ms. Garcia uses one of my favorite quotes: “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.” She says she doesn’t recall whom she’s quoting, but it’s most certainly Voltaire.
Betsy, who had played Alice, the girl who learns how women and minorities were treated in the original play, had to be given a new part, so she plays the governor. She doesn’t care that her part is smaller…because her costume now includes a mustache she can twirl. You have to love how easily kids are reconciled to some losses.
This I love. During the middle school production of the uncensored play, protestors for ‘family values’ and ‘free speech’ are siding off against each other as they do in real life all the time, both outside the school and inside. When they start drowning out the actors and actresses, the principal actually comes on stage and yells at them to stop! He says they’re entitled to their free speech, but by agreeing to come inside and watch the play, they agree to follow the rules of common courtesy.
Claudia: “I wondered…whether the people who censored our play and tried to prevent us from exercising our freedom of speech realized that the only reason they could protest at all was because of the same right to freedom of speech.” I wonder this all the time. I hear people complaining frequently that their First Amendment rights are being restricted because they’re not allowed to take other people’s First Amendment rights away. (Kim Davis, anyone?)
There was no Claudia spelling in this book until chapter 14! Atenshun, clints (clients), parteis, Thankgiving (I have been trying to type it that way all through this entry!) and peple.
I’m trying to do some math here again. (Oh, please shut up. I can hear you groaning across time and space.) All the sitters and all the siblings of the BSC come together at the Pikes while all the adults go to Kristy’s to cook. Let’s stop and think about logistics for a moment: It’s a potluck, so each family brings a dish or two. This is who is at Kristy’s house:
Elizabeth, Watson, Nannie, Mrs. Stevenson, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, Aunt Cecelia, Richard, Sharon, Mr. and Mrs. Kishi, Ms. McGill, Mr. and Mrs. Pike. That’s 14 adults in one kitchen using one stove and one oven. Madness! Some of them should go over to the Stevensons’ since they live right there and all.
Meanwhile, here’s who is over at the Pikes’, being sat for:
The triplets, Vanessa, Nicky, Margo, Claire, DM, EM, Becca, Squirt. That’s only eleven kids…with the following sitters:
The BSC, Anna, Charlie, Sam, Janine. That’s a great ratio of 1:1…that’s made even better when Dawn shows up part way through. (Although, why is Dawn there and not Jeff? C’mon, people! I need more Jeff in my life.)
Honestly, the babysitting’s not really babysitting for the most part. Abby and Anna are baking with a few kids, while Mary Anne’s helping make decorations with a few others. Charlie, Sam and Janine are pitching in quite a bit. Sam even helps Vanessa with her poems.
Sam sets up a turkey hunt for the triplets, who have to clean their room. This cracks me up…he tapes the turkey origami to the broom, knowing that sweeping’s the last thing they’ll do after they’ve fully cleaned. (Actually, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it at all, except Mal forces them to finish up by dusting and sweeping.)
Come to think of it, why wasn’t Nicky cleaning too? After all, he shares a room with his brothers. Maybe he’d already made his bed and put away his toys.
Dawn comes in the middle of events and Claudia doesn’t even notice at first; she just hands Squirt to her. (Based upon the language, he peed all over Claudia right before that.) She shrieks so loud that everyone comes running and gives her a giant hug. Abby comes up behind them and, in my favorite line of the book, says, “You’re not Dawn, are you?”
Janine points out that some vegetarians won’t eat ‘anything with a face’ and then wonders whether oysters have faces or not. Oh, and then she tries to explain to Claire how to set the table, only to be thrown when Claire asks her ‘why’ the knife blades go in toward the plate. (I don’t know either, other than to guess that it’s safer if the knives are sharp.) Janine finally just says, “Because, that’s why.” Sounds like my mom.
Yes! A moment later, Claudia observes the adults setting an adult table as well, and overhears Watson tell Sharon the same thing about knives. (She does not, however, ask him why.)
I think the dining is a little haphazard at this dinner: instead of the BSC sitting together and various kids arranged age appropriately (Becca, Vanessa, DM and Nicky at one table, for example), Claudia ends up at a table with DM, Sam and Margo.
Ha! In the reader letter at the end, AMM says that her oven once caught on fire on Thanksgiving and the fire department had to come put it out. I wonder if she was cooking or if that was when she was growing up. I bought a copy of her biography but have only skimmed it so far.
Claudia: baggy yellow pants, red Doc Martens with yellow and orange laces, leaf-pattern shirt over red and yellow tie dyed waffle weave shirt, yellow and white scarf in her hair, and pumpkin earrings
Mrs. Kishi: navy dress and pearl earrings
Mr. Kishi: navy pinstripe suit
Janine: navy skirt, navy sweater and pink shirt
Stacey: blue turtleneck, black cropped wool jacket, black jeans, black boots
Mal: jeans, red plaid flannel, sweatshirt
Jessi: purple leotard, jeans, lavender sweater

Next: It’s super, and it’s a mystery! Other than that, I’m leaving it dangling.

1 comment:

  1. My main issue with the censorship books is how the people wanting censorship are usually so over-the-top they're straw men, and unrelatable. I don't want to relate much with people who censor everything, but had they actually felt a little human I think the books would have resonated more. "Hey, this could happen to me" rather than "Well, that was absurd and has as much basis in reality as getting stranded on an island off the coast of Connecticut during a freak storm while I'm competing in a sailing race days after learning how to sail."