Sunday, June 19, 2016

“Puppies are a lot easier to potty train.” BSC #118: Kristy Thomas, Dog Trainer (1998)

Oh look. Another issue book. I haven’t read this one, but I really hope it’s a lot less depressing than the last title.
Kristy’s family takes in a guide dog trainee puppy. Their main job is to teach the dog to obey simple commands like sit and stay, how to ‘go’ on command, and how to behave in public, so the puppy, Scout, can then go to a formal guide dog school, to learn special skills. Watson got the idea from a coworker of his, whose daughter recently lost her vision after an illness. Deb, who is twelve, is angry and mourning the loss of her sight and freedom, and the BSC decide to ‘fix’ that by trying to make her new friends.
During a sitting job, Deb decides to go to the video store, but her brothers aren’t ready to leave. So while Kristy’s not looking, she leaves on her own. Kristy finds her in the intersection and leads her back to the house.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover. Kristy actually looks super cute here, and the puppy is pretty adorable. (Not as cute as my Scout, but a lot less fat….) And this happens in the book, when Kristy meets a guy with a guide dog.

Ew. Kristy’s making dog puns, and they’re even worse than Abby’s puns. Boo, Kristy!
Then, to make matters worse, Abby points out that, even though they’re babysitters, they’re not supposed to sit on babies. And then makes a horse pun that related right into a very stupid exchange right before that.
Stacey makes a comment about how blind people have to learn to tell coins apart by feeling them, and wonders how they differentiate paper money. Well, first, I have the comment that a lot of people have complained about the 2006 update to money being ‘Monopoly money’ because it was different colors. Well, in other countries, not only is the money different colors but different denominations are also different sizes, specifically for this reason. I’ve seen people with visual impairments who fold different denominations in their wallets in different ways so they know what they have. I’ve also heard that Ray Charles used to insist in being paid in singles so that he knew he wasn’t being ripped off.
Karen asks what happens to the guide dog puppy if it fails its training. I actually knew the answer to that before I read it, because I read a magazine article back in my early teens about a family that raised a guide dog puppy. They updated on the puppy a few months later, stating that the puppy had failed guide dog school, but was now in training to be some type of police dog—either a cadaver dog or a drug sniffing dog or something similar.
Kristy loves Scout’s name because it reminds her of To Kill a Mockingbird. My Scouty is named after that same character.
I love this: after hearing that the Brewer-Thomas family will be getting a guide dog, Mallory and Shannon give Kristy books on dog training. This makes sense, as Mallory’s a book/library nerd, while Shannon’s family probably just had one of those lying around. (Although, couldn’t you picture the Kilbournes hiring someone to train Astrid?)
So Kristy. She brings Scout to a BSC meeting, and it’s not till she gets there that someone else points out that Abby’s allergic to dogs. Shouldn’t she have considered that before? My mother’s allergy to dogs is very serious, and she would have had to leave an enclosed space like Claudia’s room if there was a dog there.
It annoys me how one-dimensional they make most of the characters in these stories. When Jessi finds out that guide dogs can go anywhere, her first response is, even the ballet? Claudia is curious about McDonald’s. I expected them to continue the trend: Mallory to ask about the library, or Stacey to ask about the mall.
Real book: Nate the Great, which Mark is reading for school
Mary Anne is the first to sit for the Coopers. She wants to help Deb, who’s angry and resentful over the loss of her independence. Mary Anne feels very helpless to assist Deb in anyway, but I think she actually did a good job. When Deb knocks over a chair, she rights it and then tells Deb where it is so she can find it and sit in it on her own. And then she lets her vent her frustration.
The Abby groan fest continues: after she inadvertently rhymes a sentence, Mal tells her she sounds like Vanessa. So Abby voluntarily keeps up the very grade-school poetry.
After MA’s experience with Deb, the BSC decides to ‘fix’ her situation by making new friends for her. Kristy’s supposed to be a sort of companion for her for the afternoon—kind of the way Dawn was supposed to be Whitney’s companion once upon a time—and the other sitters decide to bring their charges over to see her so that she could have other people who didn’t know her before to hang out with, people who wouldn’t judge her by the person she used to be. That’s a sweet idea, but again, Deb is twelve. The kids they plan to pair her up with are between the ages of four and eight. Good friends for her little brothers, but for her? The BSC members themselves would be smarter choices. (Oh, Mary Anne brings Ben Hobart along with the other Hobart boys, which is more appropriate. But why is she sitting for him? And he already knows her, since James and Mark are friends, but doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose here as well?)
Karen suggests that Scout could go on safari with a blind person. While that’s technically true, where the hell did she come up with that idea?
HA HA! Kristy nearly makes Karen cry!
Watson say the title quote when Kristy equates raising a guide dog puppy to raising a child.
I feel for Mark and Jed. One of them makes a comment about how Deb gets to watch as much television as she wants, then self-consciously amends that to say she listens to television. They have to keep the floor clean and not move anything around, and since Deb is so angry, they tiptoe around her, trying not to set her off. While Deb is getting help from a social worker, the two of them just have to deal with the changes to their lives.
When Kristy finds Deb in the middle of the intersection, she winds up telling her off. Deb suggests she’d be better off dead, and Kristy tells her she’s not dead—she’s got family and friends who care. Deb says she doesn’t want her friends feeling sorry for her, which is a noble sentiment. But Kristy points out that she then should stop feeling sorry for herself. Easier said than done, but I think it did need to be said.
Small mistake: the word ‘warning’ appears in the middle of a sentence and in the middle of a line in a book, yet it’s written as warn-ing.
That really wasn’t as bad as I thought. I think it’s because the BSC members don’t ‘fix’ or ‘save’ Deb. She still has a long ways to go, her attitude is still intermittently crappy, and she still lacks the independence of kids her age. Nothing’s really solved, but Deb has started on the right track. Much more realistic than most BSC books.
New characters
Deb, Mark and Jed Cooper (12, 8 and 4)—30, 26 and 22
Stacey: black jeans, black cropped sweater, ankle boots
Claudia: hot pink bike shorts, Hawaiian print shirt, hot pink and lime socks, Doc Martens painted swirls of colors. Other than the Docs, this outfit SCREAMS 1990.

Next: Mystery #34

“Why does the parade need a grandmother?” BSC #117: Claudia and the Terrible Truth (1998)

Hoo, boy. This is a dilly of a book. The BSC doesn’t have a good history of ‘issue’ books, with the stories coming across as either public service announcements or just laughable ridiculousness. I’ve read this one before, but I don’t remember much about the actual issue except for one, very important detail I’ll discuss in the tidbits below.
Claudia gets a regular sitting job for the Nicholls family, who just moved to town. The two boys are very well behaved, but seem to be afraid of their father, whom Claudia doesn’t really like. She soon finds out why the boys are so scared when she learns their father belittles them and sometimes physically abuses them. Claudia tells her mother, who brings it up to Mrs. Nicholls while they’re at work. The Nichollses drop the BSC and hire Erica Blumberg to sit for them. She calls Claudia, concerned, when both boys are bruised and bloody. Mrs. Kishi and Claudia help get Erica, Mrs. Nicholls and the boys out, and Mrs. Nicholls moves in with her sister to get away from him.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: I really don’t want to make fun of what these imaginary kids are going through, but doesn’t the cover make it look like that house should be on fire?

Okay, so Peaches and Russ are going out of town for a week, and they’re leaving baby Lynn in the care of…Claudia?!? Seriously, that’s how it’s described in the book. Only Janine points out that there are also two adults living in the home. (Also, who exactly will be watching Lynn during the day? These books have a habit of ridiculous things like putting babies in daycare for two weeks only or arranging for Claire Pike to go to two sessions of kindergarten in one day.)
Oh look, a page-long recap of book number 116. Now, I haven’t read that one since, like 2012 or so, but I still remember the plot enough that I didn’t need a reminder. Chances are most of the readers had just read that story weeks earlier.
And since baby Lynn is at the BSC meeting, we’re introduced to the members by what they were probably like as a baby. Seriously? Just give it up already.
Our first view of the Nicholls family: the whole house is pristine, and everything is lined up just so, like someone with severe OCD had swept through it. The dad barks orders and the boys are overly worried about displeasing him for any reason or leaving even a little mess. Nate gets extremely upset when he accidentally rips a page in one of Claudia’s books. They also let Claudia win at checkers, as if they’re afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t win. Finally, Mr. Nicholls screams at them because Claudia hadn’t put away the peanut butter when she was done with it and calls his sons dumb slobs. That’s not blatant or anything.
So what was happening with Lynn during the day? Mrs. Kishi was taking her to work and making an employee in the children’s library watch her. Way to abuse your powers as head librarian, Mrs. K.
I like this bit: at the ridiculous B-plot-St.-Patty’s-Day-parade-planning-meeting, Charlotte and Becca roll their eyes at the triplets, finding them immature. Becca tells Jessi that girls mature faster than boys, but I think she overheard someone else say that somewhere.
Karen and Andrew want to play bagpipes in the parade. As if you need another reason to hate the Brewers….  (Actually, I usually don’t have a problem with Andrew. But this is enough to make me want to have a problem with him.)
Here’s what KILLS me about the BSC. Claudia feels that something is off about the Nicholls family, with the way Mr. Nicholls talks down about both his wife and children and the way his children are super-obedient and seem to constantly fear him. But despite the fact that her mother works with Mrs. Nicholls and knows the family, Claudia says she ‘isn’t ready’ to tell her parents about what’s going on there. Yeah, I realize that, at this point, she’s just got a hunch that something’s wrong. She hasn’t seen bruises on the boys or seen their father hit them, but come ON. When I teach new employees how to deal with situations, I always tell them that if something seems wrong, it probably IS wrong. If the hair on the back of your neck stands up, then something is off and you need to trust your gut. Especially because, right after she decides not to say anything, she’s actually present when Mr. Nicholls hits Joey.
“How hard can it be to make a few cardboard shamrocks?” Mallory of all people should know to never say stuff like this. Especially when Jackie is around; after all, the ghostwriters looooove to make Walking Disaster jokes, right?
Claudia’s mom is actually really awesome in this story. When the BSC decide to go ahead and tell her what’s going on, she points out that it’s a serious accusation, then brings up the ‘mandated reporter’ rule.* She takes everything out of Claudia’s hands by saying she’s going to talk to Mrs. Nicholls and a social worker. She believes Claudia 100 percent without question, going so far as to take detailed notes on what she’d seen. And best of all, she holds Claudia when she cries and doesn’t pretend to have all the answers as to why this is happening.
Actually, with a few exceptions, the BSC parents are awesome overall. Richard may handle parenting very different from the Kishis or the Pikes, but can you call any of those parents a bad parent? We definitely get to see BSC parents make bad choices—Stacey’s parents constantly putting her in between them comes to mind—but all the parents (except maybe Kristy’s dad) truly want what’s best for their kids. Claudia even makes a comment to that effect when talking about the Nicholls.
*Mandated reporting, for those who aren’t up on such things, holds that employees in certain professions, such as health care, education and day care, have a legal responsibility to report suspected abuse. I remember being a child and hearing about the Lisa Steinberg case in New York, in which six-year-old Lisa was systematically abused by her illegally-adoptive father before her death. When her teachers were interviewed, they said that she always seemed withdrawn and was constantly covered in bruises. I forget whether she’d been reported to social services or not, but I know that case spurred a lot of reform in many places.
Ooh, Mrs. Kishi is a liespotter! In my line of work, that’s the term for someone who can see the difference between what’s being said, how it’s being said, and non-verbal behavior. For example, you can tell when Hillary Clinton is lying when being asked a yes/no question, because she’ll answer one way and her head will go the other (she’ll gush on about how positive her relationship is with President Obama while shaking her head no.) Mrs. Kishi notes how Mrs. Nicholls is trying to assure her that nothing is wrong at home while she’s wringing her hands.
There aren’t a whole lot of quotable lines in this book, so I gave Claire her second title quote in less than a month.
Someone actually read the BSC bible! Erica, whom the Nicholls hire to sit for the boys after they ditch the BSC, has a history of sitting. She had babysat for Betsy prior to the events of #19, and she mentions taking care of the Newtons in #100. I’ve always wondered why she was never up for consideration to join the BSC anytime they were looking for new members. Claudia calls her level-headed and responsible.
So Mrs. Nicholls agrees to get away from her hubby and says that she’s been making plans for something like that for a while. She gets a restraining order and moves four hours away to live with her sister. Mr. Nicholls agrees to get counseling for his issues. Mrs. Kishi points out the Nichollses problems are far from over, and that admitting he needs help is just the first step. I remember very distinctly when I read this imagining what happened to the family after. Mr. Nicholls does a couple months of therapy and then starts wooing his wife back. She decides he’s changed and goes back to him, only for him to break one of the boys’ arms this time. Mrs. Nicholls leaves him again, only to repeat the cycle a few more times. She eventually leaves for good, but by then her boys are so emotionally scarred that any chance for them to grow up normal is pretty well destroyed.
Think I’m maybe a little cynical?

Next: #118

“Mary Anne had never imagined herself hanging around outside the boys’ bathroom.” BSC Mystery #33: Stacey and the Stolen Hearts (1998)

I actually kind of like this mystery. Why? Because it’s something that could actually happen. As opposed to when Stacey actually helped the Secret Service catch a counterfeiter (M#10) or appeared in the world’s worst horror movie (M#24).
Pete and Stacey create a Valentine-Gram fundraiser, which is a pretty standard school fundraiser. The problem? The bag of valentines goes missing, and then someone starts posting facts gleaned from the bag to embarrass various students. The BSC suspects Cary, naturally, along with a variety of random students. It turns out that Cary didn’t steal the bag, but he did post all the notes around school. The culprit was actually Alan, who’d asked to get a valentine back and had been refused. He returns the bag and the valentines are (almost) all delivered.
The B-plot is so stupid, I almost didn’t write about it. The BSC throws a ‘festival’ for V-Day for the kids, because the kids are all bummed out about the holiday. It has snacks and crafts and everyone’s required to make a valentine for every other person who goes to the festival. In other words, it’s exactly like nearly every elementary classroom’s party. It’s pretty par for the course these days that, in elementary school, valentines are required for every member of the class, there are heart shaped cookies and crafts, and romance is pretty much not allowed.
Interesting Tidbits
Not only is Stacey appropriately V-Day garbed, she’s overly horrified by the hearts all over the lockers. I tried to read them, but all I can discern is a few capital letters. Very disappointing.

YAY! Stacey finally cut off her perm. For someone so (allegedly) stylish, she’s at least five years behind the times, there.
Apparently Ethan scores a gazillion on the hunk-o-meter. Very mature, Stacey. She describes him and I’m totally picturing him as a borderline-Emo artist.
We meet the BSC by what kind of Valentine they send. I swear, some of these intros are so cheesy, they have to stretch quite a bit to make them work.
Heh. When Kristy makes fun of Stacey’s fish sticks, suggesting they look like gopher nuts, Stacey shoots back that it’s actually monkey snot. Not only does this gross Kristy out, but all I could imagine when Kristy said gopher nuts was gopher testicles…Now I’m grossed out.
Should I transcribe all the Valentine-Grams? Sure, why not. This first one is to Claudia from ‘an admirer’ (aka Josh): Sometimes roses are white/And sometimes violets are too/I’ve been as high as a kite/ever since I kissed you. BLECKK!
The first note that’s plastered all over school? Cokie sent her latest boyfriend 12 valentines, and he sent her none in return. It also says that Cokie called him Sugarbear.
Cary has an alibi for the time of the theft—he was at the dentist. He even offers to provide Stacey a sworn affidavit from the hygienist. Everyone say it with me: I love Cary Retlin.
The second note is similar to the first, only it’s addressed to Jacqui, the ‘bad’ girl Stacey used to hang out with, who has a big thing for Robert and sent him several valentines.
Abby takes Logan’s joke, and when Kristy calls the meeting to order, she asks for a BLT. I rolled my eyes, but Kristy’s response was pretty good: “That joke is so old. Last time I heard it, I fell off my dinosaur.”
Suspects: Brian and Rose Marie, this couple who got together through Claudia’s matchmaking service in #71 (I had totally forgotten about them); Alan; Pete; Robert; Cary; Cokie. The only way to narrow the list down? You got it. The BSC divided it up and played spy/detective.
Claudia spelling: franckly, dissapointed, brot, gess. She also uses there for their, ferry for fairy. And she spells Brian as Brain. (This makes me laugh. I have a cousin named Brian, and my one uncle went to Disney for his honeymoon. He brought back mouse hats for all the nieces and nephews with our names on them, but Brian’s said Brain.)
The title quote comes from Mary Anne’s stakeout of Pete. Mal and Jessi also do the same thing of lurking around the potty, but Jessi calls it Lavatory Listening. (The book says the two of them were hiding in a stall. Were they sharing a stall? That’s going to get noticed. Now I’m picturing an episode of Degrassi the Next Generation in which three boys were reading the directions to a penis pump while sharing a bathroom stall…)
Valentine thief strikes for a third time, plastering the halls with valentines exchanged between Rose Marie and King.
Oh boy, a Logan notebook entry! It’s not actually that interesting, except that he tells Kristy she’s right, and Stacey thinks Logan is pretty much now Kristy’s new best friend because of that.
Stacey explains what a focus group is, which is boring. However, the items she makes up to describe focus groups are pretty awesome: Maxi-Clean for Small Dogs, Spring-Fresh Mitten Deodorizer, and, my personal favorite, Chocolate Covered Fish Zingies (which apparently snowboarders think are ‘totally awesome.’)
Becca, about Valentine’s Day: “I like to send cards to my friends, but that doesn’t mean I want to marry them.” No, of course not, Becca. You’re in third grade. When you start pulling their hair and calling them Puke Face, then you want to marry them.
Valentine-gram from Jim Poirier (who?) to our favorite, Sabrina Bouvier: Dear Sabrina, I knew from the moment I saw your beautiful eyes and perfect nose that you were something special. Will you go out with me?
The Scooby-gang gets their first and only clue, which breaks the case open: when Cary copies the Jim-to-Sabrina VG, part of his hand and stripy sleeve appear on the paper. This is not up to his usual standard of sneakiness. (Earlier in that same chapter, Stacey tries to sneak information about his dentist out of him. He figures it out and gives her his dentist’s name and tells her to look him up under ‘alibi.’ Of course, because HIPPAA or however it’s spelled does not exist in the BSC-universe, the dentist’s receptionist gladly verifies that Cary was indeed there during the crime.)
While trying to figure out who’s wearing stripes, the characters check the cafeteria: “It was strange to be looking only at people’s clothes and not their faces.” Of course. You can’t fully judge someone unless you check their hair and makeup in addition to their fashion.
“The BSC version of the SWAT team.” BSCSWAT…if it were a TV show, I’d watch it.
Claudia is actually the one who makes the Cary connection: not only is he wearing stripes, but he offered an alibi for the time of the crime before they ever told him when it happened. It’s like this situation we had at work: an employee was accused of going into a single-stall bathroom with a customer. When I interviewed her and told her what she was accused of, she said, “I never even go into the men’s room unless I’m cleaning it.” I’d never told her it was the men’s room she was accused of going into.
“Should we syncopate our watches?” Ahh, Claudia. (By the way, Stacey is wearing a Swatch. Hee hee!)
My random thoughts about the boring Valentine’s Day party? Jake and Laurel show up without Patsy. There’s no age minimum, though, because Ryan DeWitt and Marnie Barrett are both there. (Besides, the BSC usually sets a minimum at five or younger, to prevent Claire Pike tantrums.) Adam Pike made a really gross, bloody card that Stacey assumes must be for one of his brothers. Mathew Hobart asks MA to be his Valentine, despite the fact that all his friends say she’s too old for him.
Stacey winds up going to Alan’s house, and suggesting that he tell whoever took the bag of VGs to bring them back. She was originally very angry with him, but Cary had told Stacey that Alan stole the bag to retrieve both a note he’d written and prank notes that had been written to him. Alan realized a bunch of girls—including the one he’d written to—were writing prank love notes to him and stole the bag to avoid the embarrassment of the girl discovering he liked her. I think just about everyone’s been teased or bullied at some point or another and can relate to Alan’s pain. Stacey, who was ostracized due to her diabetes at her old school, definitely should be able to.
Rose Marie: olive green sweater, denim miniskirt

Next: #117