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This week in Reading

This week there is great joy and great sadness in the world of reading.  There is so much more that I can talk about, but I’ll stick to the two things that have touched me the most–the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou and the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter.

RIP Dr. Maya Angelou

 

This week we lost one of the greats.  Dr. Maya Angelou will ever be remembered as one of the most noteworthy writers and poets of the 20th century.

I once had the pleasure to meet Dr. Angelou, and I’d like to share that story with you.

The Boston University Barnes & Noble is a five story building in the middle of Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts (USA).  The news that Dr. Maya Angelou would be stopping there on her book tour for Even The Stars Look Lonesome was met with great anticipation.  I was a 19 year old college freshman, and I stood in line to buy my copy of the book.  I followed directions to join the line and was dismayed to find that while Dr. Angelou would be signing on the fifth floor, I was sitting on the floor of the third in what felt like an endless line.  I didn’t know that I should have showed up hours earlier.

I wasn’t the last person in line, but my heart was heavy when the B&N employees started to warn us that Dr. Angelou would only be signing for two hours, and the likelihood of our meeting her was next to nil.  However, if we wished to spend hours waiting in a line to accomplish nothing, we were welcome to do so.  Two hours came and went, and I held my breath, certain that we would be summarily dismissed.  I had made it to the fourth floor, but the floor between myself and Dr. Angelou might well have been miles.

Dr. Angelou had decided to sign for a little longer.  It had been three hours since she started signing and four since I’d started waiting in the line from hell.  (I hadn’t been to a Harry Potter Midnight release at that point–I had no idea what a long line really looked like.)  I don’t know why I persisted, but my stubborn side kicked in and I waited, and inched forward.

I reached the fifth floor and could see the woman I’d first seen in Roots, when we were shown the miniseries in seventh grade, the poet I’d watched at the first Presidential inauguration I’d ever seen–Bill Clinton in January of 1993, the author and rape survivor whose book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings had been required reading at my high school.  I saw one of the few women I looked up to as a role model.  A few steps more and I began to hear her distinctive, beautiful voice.

By the time I reached the front of the line, Dr. Angelou had been signing for more than twice as long as she had scheduled.  She must have been exhausted.  I’m sure her hand was cramped from who knows how many sharpies exhausted by signatures.  Yet she still spoke to each and every person as if we mattered to her–as if we were doing her a favor, rather than the other way around.  She signed my book with my name, the word “joy!” and her signature.

I don’t remember what I said to her, but what she said to me was seared into my brain and my heart.  She told me that every day the slate is wiped clean and we are given a fresh start.

People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”–Maya Angelou.  I know that I am one of a thunderous chorus of people singing her praises.  But she was a woman who deserved every last drop of praise and kindness and love we felt for her, and more.  I don’t know that before or since that cold day in 1997 have I met someone as gracious as Dr. Angelou.

Dr. Angelou reads my favorite poem of hers “Phenomenal Woman.”

A few more links for you

 

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

 

The other big news in the world of reading this week was the launch of the Reading Rainbow kickstarter.  For those of you who have never had the pleasure, Reading Rainbow was a television show hosted by Levar Burton, which launched in 1983.  I was five when it began, and although I was already a reader, it grabbed my attention and helped create a lifelong reader.  Some of the books on the girl’s shelves are books I first encountered on Reading Rainbow.  Elanor, now the same age I was when it first aired, is also a fan.  (I won’t tell you that can bittorrent the entire series because that would be wrong)  Many episodes and segments are available on youtube as well.

A few years ago, Reading Rainbow launched an app.  My husband (who was seven when RR launched–and is a fan, but not nearly as big a fan as I am/was) and I were bitterly disappointed that it was exclusive for iPads.  Last year, an android version launched–but again, was linked to a specific tablet rather than the platform as a whole.  So we have not been able to get Elanor (and Rhi) the app even though we have been eagerly waiting for the chance to throw mon
ey their way for years.

Well, now we can.  Reading Rainbow has launched a kickstarter to get Reading Rainbow onto the web and make it  available to schools.  We have already donated.  I think you should too, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

They met their initial goal of 1 million dollars and at the time of writing this are at 2.6 million USD with 33 days left to go.  But just because they’ve reached their goal is no reason to not donate.

 

I’d like to think that Dr. Angelou would be proud of how people have stepped up to help Reading Rainbow.

Snarking Nostaligic: Prom Dress by Lael Littke

I delayed posting this in hopes that I could find the fraction of a story I wrote in 1994 called “The Curse of the Silver Teddy Bear” about a cursed necklace with a teddy bear charm.  I’m pretty sure I was ripping off Prom Dress, “Friday the 13th: The Series,” and all the other cursed item media I consumed in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Sadly, while I know it still exists, I have not been able to locate it.  I do promise, though, that I will share it in all its terrible glory one day.

prom dressProm Dress by Lael Littke

Originally Published 1989

Robin is too poor to buy a new dress for the prom.  Then she finds a perfect, beautiful dress in the attic of her mysterious employer’s house.  She “borrows” it to wear to the prom…and dances into her worst nightmare.

Then Felicia finds the dress.  The price she pays for wearing it is more than any girl should pay…

But Nicole is too smart to be caught by the dress.  Isn’t she?  Poor Nicole!

And then there’s Gabrielle, Robin’s little sister.  Did she find the dress?  Or did the dress find Gabrielle?

Can anyone stop the fatal attraction of the…Prom Dress?

OHMIGOD you guys—could this book BE any better?  Maybe, but only if it were longer.  I LOVED it.  So much love I can’t stop with the CAPSLOCK.!!!!111!!!!111!!!!1!!

I hope you guys were all fans of soap operas back in the day because this plot has a lot of run-on explanations that only work if you’re willing to pretend we’re in Salem/Pine Valley/Port Charles.

Robin is a new-to-town gold digging social climber dating the hottest/richest boy in school–Tyler.  Tyler drives a red Trans Am, which I think is supposed to compensate for him saying things like “Between your dancing and your working, I hardly get to see you.  Where do I rate on your list of priorities?”

Alas, Robin must work because Daddy’s dead and college tuition doesn’t grow on trees.  Apparently, though, new houses DO grow on trees.  Right around when Robin’s Dad died, her mother inherited a house from a family member who also died at the same time which is great because they couldn’t afford the mortage on the old house they’d lived in with her dad, and so they moved because this house was free because there are no inheritance or property taxes and who the hell knows—just go with it.  Dad died, they moved, they’re broke–but they live in a mansion next to an even bigger mansion.

gold diggerHe’s talking about you, Robin

How very lucky for all of us that Tyler ‘s girlfriend needn’t slum it at McDonalds.  In the mysterious mansion next door lives Miss Catherine.  She’s an elderly recluse with a scarred cheek from when her twin sister Rowena threw acid on Catherine’s face because Rowena was jealous of Catherine’s hot boyfriend Michael who never looked at Rowena even though Rowena had all kinds of lustful thoughts for him.  Robin is Miss Catherine’s lackey, and her job duties seem to consist of keeping Miss Catherine company and talking about how hot Miss Catherine used to be before “the accident.”

One day Miss Catherine and Robin get to talking about how Robin is going to be in some dance show doing the Charleston and there might be college scouts there to give out college scholarships.  She has to find her own costume–and Miss Catherine has the perfect dress.  All Robin has to do is go upstairs, find the secret closet, and take out the flapper dresses—being certain to NOT TOUCH the white prom dress that JUST HAPPENS to be the only other thing in that closet.  Don’t even LOOK at it, Robin.

Duh, of course Robin looks at it, and instantly wants it. She’s going to be Tyler’s prom date and if she shows up in anything less than the perfect dress, he’ll dump her because she won’t be worthy of being seen with him or something.

The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.

puffed sleevesWhat girl wouldn’t want to sport this while dancing to Milli Vanilla and New Kids on the block ?

She asks Miss Catherine if she can borrow the Prom Dress.  HELLZ NO, Miss Catherine says.  She got the scar on her cheek while wearing that dress–it’s BAD.    Robin decides that the ends will justify the means and when she borrows the flapper dress, she “borrows” the prom dress.  Did she see a shadow on her cheek when she took it?  Nah, it was just a trick of the light.

Apparently Robin looks smokin’ in the red flapper dress at the Charleston contest.  Tyler tells her that his dad thought Robin was so hot that he’s sending them to a top shelf restaurant before prom, and is going to throw a limo their way.  Robin says she could get used to this lifestyle, and I contemplate that she’s chasing the wrong man–it’s Tyler’s dad who controls the purse strings.

They go to Prom—many more mentions of how the dress is so gorgeous that every girl there is jealous of it and that Robin is so bodacious–and are crowned Prom King and Queen.  But just as Robin is about to take her throne and accept the pinnacle of high school success, the stairs crumble and she falls.  The throne she was about to sit on falls too and lands on her legs and feet, crushing them.

No more dancing for Robin.

Robin is taken to a hospital, where her nurse is a woman named Felicia.  Felicia is a reformed slut who is now in love with a divinity student named Mark.  She wants to grow up and be Mrs. Mark, future minister’s wife.  The first major hurdle in reaching her goal is impressing Dean Goudy at a special dinner he throws for his divinity students.  Apparently the dean evaluates all potential spouses, and if the spouse doesn’t measure up the marriage isn’t going to happen and the student will be penalized for even thinking about dating such an unworthy candidate.  No pressure.

If only Felicia had the right dress…

It was to be a dress-up affair, and the only fancy dresses she owned were bare backed or off the shoulder or spaghetti-strapped.  What she needed was something sweet and demure.

Something like Robin Wilson’s dress.

slutty nun dressSadly, this little number will need to stay in Felicia’s closet.

Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress.  Robin says no.  But during a drugged out dream, Robin’s eyes flicker open and she sees Felicia holding the dress up to herself.

Felicia is looking in the mirror–and thinks she sees a smudge on her cheek.  Gee–is it shadowing or FOREshadowing?  Felicia steals the dress.

Felicia goes to the dinner and is all demure and shit.  But the dress keeps feeling tighter and tighter.  So tight she can’t breathe.  But when she looks in the mirror, the dress looks just like it did–it’s not too tight at all.  But she can’t breathe.  Finally, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to the “bathroom.”  Felicia goes into the Dean’s bedroom and rips the dress off her body.

Oh noes!  Now she’s in her underwear and the dress HAS to get back to Robin tonight because otherwise she’d be a bad person or something.  So instead she steals some clothes from Mrs. Goudy to wear.  But why stop there?  She steals a bag to carry the dress back to Robin.  She tries to sneak out, but Mrs. Goudy shouts that someone is fleeing the house with her BLUE BAG!

Felicia runs for the bus stop and the RIGHT bus just HAPPENS by at the RIGHT MOMENT.  What luck!  She hops on the bus and feels so lost and upset.  Now what can she do?  Telling the truth is clearly out of the questions–it is a FAR better solution to change back into the dress, sneak back into the house, and go back downstairs saying that she had glimpsed a man running off with a blue bag.  NO!  NO!  What she should REALLY do is go to the hospital and return the dress and throw out the clothes and….I don’t know, say that God had taken her from the house to the hospital because she was more needed at the hospital?

Before she can get off the bus, Felicia needs her shoes.  She reaches into the bag for her shoes…and discovers a velvet bag with pearls in it.  I know I leave my expensive jewels in a random bag in my closet instead of a jewelry box or a safe.  Oh NOES!!!

People get onto the bus–and it’s Mark and another guy from the party.  Rather than confess and do penance or say some hail marys or whatever, she says

“Mark.  The man with the cap….  He took it.  He made me take the dress off at the house and he put it in a blue bag that he found in a closet….  He got off a few stops back.  ….  He made me come with him.  He said he’d hurt me if I didn’t come.  He threatened all sorts of awful things.  I didn’t dare call out or anything.  I just did what he said.  I’m sorry he got away.  But I was afraid.  See, I’m still shaking.”

Mark is incredibly dumb and believes her.  He escorts her from the bus, while she plays sad maiden.

The bag is left on the bus.

No more integrity for Felicia.

Nicole is a genius.  Her high school academic decathalon team is taking the exact same city bus to a rival high school for a major competition.  Her foot bumps something under the seat, and she finds THE BLUE BAG.  Inside is the dress and some gorgeous pearls.  It’s just what she needs for the dance that night.  Maybe then her teacher will notice her and become her boy toy and they’ll live happily ever after.

snapeI will open to page 394 any day of the week, Professor Snape….

That night she goes to the dance, and she looks totally gnarly.  She thinks she sees a shadow on her cheek momentarily, and only the dullest reader can’t see what kind of karma is heading her way.

Mr. Waring asks her to dance and they flirt.

School would be out soon; that would end the student-teacher track they were stuck in right now, which of course would never allow dating.  Mr. Waring’s strong code of ethics would never allow it.  But, after graduation, they’d be free to date.  Nicole could help him get over the terrible pain of losing his wife and child, and they could be married.  She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.

Nicole was thinking happily of a wedding gown very much like the dress she was wearing.

Just then, Nicole sees her frenemy talking to someone and pointing at her.  Proving she’s the Girl Computer with the giant brain, she makes the obvious intellectual leap that the cops must be here for her.  They must have figured out….somehow…that the dress and jewelery weren’t hers.  She runs away and bumps into a very tall pedestal.  The bust of Einstein falls off and smacks her in the head.

Poor Nicole, no more brains–it’s amnesia town for you.

Luckily for Felicia, Nicole is brought to her hospital.  She’s able to put the dress back into Robin’s closet.  She confesses everything to Mark and surrenders the jewelry back to Mrs. Goudy.  Mark dumps her lying ass.

Felicia and Robin have a heart to heart about the evil of the dress.  Felicia thinks they should destroy it–her first smart choice of the book.  Robin persists in being a moron and says it must go back to Miss Catherine.

Robin tells her little sister Gabrielle to take the dress back to Miss Catherine.

Did I mention that Gabrielle thinks that Tyler is totally choice?  Gabrielle loves to play piano and Tyler sometimes accompanies her when he’s waiting around for Robin.  So she jumps at the chance to get a ride home from him, and asks him to come play piano with her.  They could even do a duet FOR ROBIN when she finally comes home.

sister's boyfriendThat boy is mine, yo

Robin finally comes home and it’s so sweet how Gabrielle and Tyler have clearly practiced playing together over and over and over and over.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to playing together that they’re going to do a paid job playing together.  Playing PIANO—stop with your filthy minds.

Robin takes the garment bag with the dress inside it back to Miss Catherine and confesses.  Miss Catherine begins to laugh hysterically and confesses that it was her evil plan all along!  BWAHAHA–she’s not even Miss Catherine….she’s ROWENA.

“I cursed every stitch of that dress.  I started it for myself, you know.  I thought Michael was going to ask me to the prom.  But I had the birthmark, you see, and Catherine was the beauty.  That was the most important thing in the world to her, just as Michael was to me.  I saw them sneak around together, and when he asked her to the prom I finished up the dress for her, because I knew it was the last time she would ever be beautiful.”

Rowena jiggled up and down.  “When they came home, I threw acid on her face.  But not on the dress.  I didn’t want to ruin the dress.  She was wearing a cloak, so it didn’t get on the dress.  I didn’t want to hurt the dress.  I did it right there, in the foyer, on our little stage,” Rowena gave her a mirthless laugh.  “And after that she was even uglier than I was.”

And just look–there goes Gabrielle to her job, with Robin’s boyfriend….WEARING THE DRESS!!!  Rowena taunts Robin to just let her go, that the dress will punish her sister just as it did Rowena’s so long ago.

Robin suddenly develops a backbone and ethics and struggles to her feet, even though they’re both in casts and she’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, and even standing hurts with the fury of a thousand suns she struggles to the door, screaming even though Gabrielle and Tyler can’t hear her.  As she gets to the door, throws it open, and screams her sister’s name one last time just as Gabrielle is about to get into the Trans Am, and passes out from the sheer pain of it all.

She wakes up in the hospital—her fall stopped whatever tragedy was about to befall Gabrielle.

Rowena was taken away and the full story comes out.  After her stay in a mental hospital post-acid throwing, she was released into Catherine’s custody.  The two women went away and were recluses.  “Rowena” died in a fire, tragically.  “Catherine” came back to the hometown and the old house.  But “Catherine” was really “Rowena”–and the scar was from her gouging out her own birthmark so that it would scar and look like the acid burn.  She was the EVIL TWIN!

evil twinEVIL TWINS….EVIL TWINS EVERYWHERE.

The book closes with an epilogue all in italics.  A woman buys the dresses for her second hand store.  A girl named Natalie goes shopping at said store, and sees the dress.  She’s an aspiring actress and it’s perfect for the upcoming audition.  But it costs too much.  So she slips it into her bag and steals it.

Tomorrow she would wear the dress!

The book ends, and I stand up and applaud.

This.

Was.

AWESOME.

 

Next week we’re back to Stoneybrook.  It’s time for Mary Anne’s book….I wonder if we’ll hear about how her mother is dead?

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #3 The Truth About Stacey

Thank god it’s a BSC week.  I need to get the taste of that horrible Sweet Valley book out of my mouth.  Say what you will about the BSC (and we can and will say plenty) at least there was never this horrible level of fat shaming and manipulation that we saw in SVH.

the truth about staceyThe Truth About Stacey

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published December 1986

After being super pregnant for two books, Mrs. Newton is about to pop.  Kristy, being the forward thinker that she is, assumes that Mrs. Newton has no plans for Jamie when she goes into labor.  Obviously, the baby will be born during sanctioned sitting hours so they can ride to the rescue.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the phone call where Kristy tells Mrs. Newton all of this because Janine bursts in, and is all a-tizzy.  This is out of character, but I think this is supposed to be an extension of her and Claudia’s bonding moment in book 2.  Janine found a flyer for the “The Baby-sitters Agency.” OH NOES! Their sitters are age 13 and up and can babysit MUCH later than the BSC girls can!

Kristy converts the BSC meeting to an EMERGENCY meeting (they have a lot of emergency meetings in these early books—If I recall that slows down pretty quickly-maybe because soon we have Dawn’s California zen attitude calming them down…or the reefer fumes coming off her hippie clothes do).

Who ARE these Baby-sitters Agency girls?

“Those two aren’t babysitters any more than I’m the Queen of France. … They have smart mouths, they sass the teachers, they hate school, they hang around at the mall. You know, that kind of kid.”

I’m impressed that Claudia managed to effectively slutshame them without ever actually mentioning boys. These are BAD GIRLS. You just know how this is going to go down.

Kristy calls the BSA, pretending to be a seventh grader named Candy Kane, who needs a sitter for her little brother Harry because she has a date with her boyfriend Winston Churchill. She’s offered three sitters, one of whom is a HIGH SCHOOL GIRL.  I’m dying of laughter over here.

 

bsc logo meme

Kristy is like the Don Corleone of Stoneybook. This second babysitting organization can’t be allowed to survive. After all there’s only like 10 families with kids (apparently) and the nearest town next to Stoneybrook is 20 miles away. Clearly, there isn’t enough business to go around.

Stacey goes home and feels depressed. To pass the time, she gives a lengthy exposition about the last year of her life. How her diabetes was discovered, what diabetes is, and how it wrecked her life.

Before diabetes, Stacey lived on the Upper West Side of NYC with a view of Central Park from her bedroom. I hate to bring realism into this, but her parents have to be millionaires for that to be true (especially as she also attended a private school—which is good for 30+K USD a year on its own). I think Martin just wanted to paint all of us the ideal NYC life—because she knows that just like Mary Anne, we’re all dreaming of living in NYC. I’d love to know what a real New Yorker thought of the huge disconnect between Stacey’s NYC life and real NYC life—or if they just shrugged it off because it’s fiction?

After the diagnosis (which came after several embarrassing things, including wetting the bed at a sleepover—which would absolutely be mortifying for a tweenager), her parents morph into psychotic helicopter parents. At first Stacey doesn’t necessarily manage the diabetes well, fainting at school and getting hospitalized a few times. They also don’t want anyone to know that Stacey has diabetes. The way they handle this makes me think they’d be best buddies with Elsa and Anna’s parents.

(watch all the way, including past the credits)

Stacey and her bff go from friends to enemies overnight. In part, obviously because Stacey has cut her out and is lying. Stacey was thrilled to move to CT and get a fresh start. Now she has friends because of the BSC and she’ll be damned if she loses them because of a competing babysitting agency. Which is incredibly flawed logic from the 35 year old perspective, but makes sense from a 12 year old.

The next day there is yet another emergency BSC meeting.  This is the first appearance of Kristy in the chair with the visor and clipboard that becomes iconic within the series.  However, Kristy is uncharacteristically hysterical and says they should do free housework, drop their rates and bring kid-kits to every appointment.  AND they will hire some older kids, too.  The only idea any of them like is the kid-kits (which also become iconic), but they reluctantly agree to bring in older kids.

Stacey babysits Charlotte Johanssen.  On the way to the playground, they stop at a candy store.  In what I think is a really wonderful and genuine moment, Stacey is tempted to buy some.  Her diabetes is new, after all, and she remembers candy vividly.  As they’re walking, they run into Liz Lewis who hands them a balloon advertising The Baby-sitters Agency.

balloonsevil incarnate

Kristy was worried.  She took the balloons as a personal insult.  It turned out that she’d run into Liz that afternoon herself.  Only Kristy had had the nerve to tell Liz who she was–president of the Baby-sitters Club, and therefore Liz’s number one rival.

Upon reading this, I hope against hope that Kristy is about to break out the Jets jackets and Liz the Sharks and that they’ll break into some kind of snazzy dance based gang fight.  JAZZ HANDS!

One day after school Kristy and Stacey go to Kristy’s house to find Jamie Newton eating cookies with Mrs. Thomas.  Mrs. Newton had a game plan!  Score one for responsible adults!  This of course leads to discussions about how long babies take to be born and what time each of the BSC girls were born.  We get the reminder that Mary Anne’s mom is dead dead dead.  Thus she can’t find out what time she was born because obviously her dad wouldn’t know?  (Luckily Mimi knows and tells her, circumventing her having a conversation with her father.)

Jamie feels a sense of camaraderie with Honest Toddler, and is pissed off that his parents have afflicted him with Infant Sibling Disease.  Kristy decides to throw him a big brother party and invite neighborhood kids.  We get our first appearance of Mallory Pike, who can’t seem to decide if she belongs with the little kids or the baby-sitters because she is destined to spend the series not fitting in with either.  Mrs. Newton calls during the festivities to tell them it’s a girl.  Jamie is not whelmed.

But it isn’t just the appearance of a baby sister that has Jamie Newton upset.

“Something else will be different.  There will be lots of changes.”

“What else will be different?” I asked.

“Kristy can’t baby-sit me anymore.”

“What do you mean?”  That cold feeling crept into my stomach again.

“Mommy called a girl and said ‘We need an older sitter for the new baby.'”

Look, I’m all for 13 year old sitters for my 2 and 5 year olds, but a newborn?  Nope, you’re going to have to be 17/18 at the very youngest and 22+ by preference.  How much you want to bet this entirely rational, responsible, good choice is going to blow up in Mrs. Newton’s face?  Any takers?

Stacey tells Kristy what Jamie had said.  Kristy narrows her eyes and says “this means war.”

this means war

At school they see the BSA girls handing out flyers and they snag one from a boy (because boys don’t babysit, duh).  Kristy calls a triple-emergency meeting at her house after school because it’s her day with David Michael.  For now–what if her mom turns traitor like Mrs. Newton?  It’s TOO RISKY to talk about things at school.  Kristy would make a great drug kingpin.  Queenpin.  Whatever.

Stacey’s parents are going to take her to go see some new holistic new-agey doctor who will cure her diabetes through nonsense.  She tries to tell her parents she thinks the idea is full of shit and gets a stonewall of “we’re your parents and we want what’s best for you.”  Stacey is rightfully skeptical of this, and asks Charlotte’s mom about this Dr. Barnes character and has her worst fears confirmed–Her idiot parents are taking her to a quack.

If the BSA is going to use flyers to advertise for new members, then the BSC members are going to wear sandwich boards to advertise for new members.  As they do, they learn that they are the only baby-sitters worth a damn in the town.  Everyone else watches tv and is horrified at interacting with children.  UGH, children.  Everyone but Kristy fails…but she has two new members.

That these two new members are pals of Liz?  No problem!  They had a falling out!  THIS IS NOT SUSPICIOUS AT ALL.

But before the next BSC meeting, the girls go over to visit the Newtons.  They all have presents for the baby and Jamie.  However, Kristy uses this as an excuse to call out Mrs. Newton for being a traitor.  Mrs. Newton gives a reasonable explanation for why this is her choice for now.  She’ll get hers.

At the BSC meeting, the two new girls get assigned jobs for that weekend.

what could possibly go wrong

Shocking news.  The new girls don’t show up to the meeting on Monday.  Kristy gets irate phone calls to ask why the hell the girls didn’t show up at their jobs.  Kristy decides to confront the girls at school the next day–and gets upset when they laugh in her face.  I never saw that coming.

A few days later Stacey sees Jamie Newton and he’s mopey.  His sitters neglect him and worse.

Jamie nodded.  “With a–a cigarette.”  He said “cigarette” as if it were a dirty word.  Neither of his parents is a smoker.

“Gosh,” I said.  “Anything else?”

“Sometimes they talk on the phone.  They talk longer than Mommy and Daddy do…Stacey?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s a boyfriend?”

Ann M. Martin left no bad babysitter stereotype untouched, did she?  There are NO sitters worth a damn in Stoneybrook except the BSC.  (And maybe Kathy, if she’s still watching David Michael two days a week…unless she turned traitor and joined the BSA?  This is never addressed.  I don’t know if we ever see Kathy again.)

Then Stacey babysits Charlotte and finds out that she’s been getting babysat by bad girls too.  Who only babysit her for the money!  Stacey is indignant at the idea, forgetting that she babysits in part to buy clothes.  With cuddles and kisses, apparently because stores don’t take money.  While Dr. Johanssen is a traitor who hires BSA girls, she does come through for Stacey with a letter for her parents.

What (Stacey) told us got the club ready for the final battle in the war against the Baby-sitters Agency (entry in BSC notebook by Mary Anne)

The BSC girls are walking home and find Jamie Newton on the sidewalk outside his house with no coat and no supervision.  The girls tell him to go back inside and only play in the fenced in backyard, and to wear his coat and mittens. See, I told you Mrs. Newton would get what was coming to her.

When Mrs. Newton comes home, they go over and tell her what happened.  They’re scared of being seen as tattletales, but are relieved when Mrs. Newton believes them.

“Mrs. Newton,” Kristy said suddenly, “I know you’ll want to call Cathy about this afternoon yourself, but could you let us talk to Liz and Michelle?  We have a score to settle with them.”

sharks and jetsLike this, PLEASE!!!!!

I’m so disappointed to tell you that there is no dance fighting.  The girls defeat the BSA with trivia.  What’s Jamie Newton’s favorite sandwich?  What’s Charlotte Johanssen’s favorite game?  What does it mean when Nina Marshall rubs her ears?  What is Nina allergic to?  SEE?  They’re better babysitters and now Liz knows it, too.

Stacey and her parents leave for New York.  Oh noes!  They’re going to stay with Laine’s family.  Stacey will have to face off against her frenemy.

Stace has to go to the witch doctor and get endless, expensive tests.  After a day of this, she sits her parents down and introduces them to reality.  She likes real doctors and has made her own appointment with the help of Dr. Johanssen.  Her parents agree to meet with him, who explains to them that Stacey already has good doctors and is doing a great job of managing her diabetes.  Her biggest problem is her parents (revisit the “How Frozen Should Have Ended” video above again).  At least they agree to back off.

Stacey, flush with triumph at taking control of her health issues confronts Laine.  Laine didn’t know what was going on, was upset at being blocked out, and when another kid suggested Stacey was contagious she believed him.  Stacey explains that she almost had to stay back and that the attention she was getting wasn’t exactly positive.  They make up and all is right with the world.

However, in obsessing over her relationship with Laine, Stacey never once talks to Claudia as a BFF.  This is particularly interesting as it is a HUGE plot point throughout the books that Stacey and Claudia are best friends.  This strikes me as weird.

Once back in Stoneybrook, Stacey learns that the parents have taken down the BSA.  Apparently they had this crazy idea of asking their kids about what the new sitters were like, and once they found out, they started calling one another.  Everyone, mark it on your calendar–this may be one of the only moments adults in Stoneybrook act like adults.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.18.50 PMKristy decides to let them live since they’re no longer competing with HER.

I’m torn on this book.  The BSA/BSC war is hilarious.  The way that Stacey’s parents treat diabetes like HIV is just stupid.  However, the way that Stacey advocates for herself is really admirable, and I think that’s what a lot of people respond to.  On one hand, this article discusses this book as an important part of the author’s journey of acceptance with his own diabetes.  On the other, I asked my friend S, who is also a type 1 diabetic about the book and she said “However my vague recollection is of scary view of diabetes that would freak me out if I read it again now and based on those memories the girls won’t be reading them.”  You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Next week: Prom Dress by Lael Littke.

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #2 Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

This week we’re going back to Stoneybrook!  Pull out your hidden junk food and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30 pm.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.28.20 PMClaudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

by Ann M. Martin (not ghostwritten)

Published October 1986

Kirsten Dunst’s first job was modeling for the little blonde girl on this cover.  She says “I was a child actress/model.  I did it strictly for the money.” Given her enthusiasm, I’m guessing she has the cover framed and illuminated in the middle of her living room.

*****

Claudia wishes she could be in her room reading a mystery and eating candy, or dreaming about Trevor Sandbourne, or painting.  But no, she had to do her Math homework because her parents are facists.

At least Mimi is the one helping her and not Janine the NERD.

Mom has no accent (neither does my father, who also came to the United States as a small child) but Mimi has this pleasant, rolling accent that reminds me of a ship at sea.  And she is polite, polite, polite never speaking a harsh word.

Cultural sensitivity wasn’t really a thing in the 80’s, huh?

Mimi helps her with her homework, and sits for Claudia’s painting . They chat about the mystery book Claudia is reading and Halloween.

Claudia asks Mimi why she and Janine aren’t besties.  Mimi tells her that it’s because she’s a bitch who avoids and complains about her sister–except Mimi’s polite polite polite about it.  But that someday they’ll be friends.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.47.08 PMI wouldn’t hold my breath.

Claudia calls Stacey.  Claudia is all swoony over Trevor, the poet.  Stacey is still gaga for Sam Thomas (Kristy’s older brother).   Boys are sooooooo dreamy.

The next day at schools the girls have a three page discussion about a boy named Alan Gray.  They go on at length about a trick Kristy played on him and how now he feels the need to bother her all the time.  So they’ll be hooking up by the end of the book.

Mary Anne is “flipping through the Stoneybrook News.”  Because seventh graders casually read the newspaper when hanging out with their pals.  She shrieks, and drops the paper.  OHMIGOD you guys–Phantom Phone Caller On Rampage In Mercer!  Mercer is the closest town to Stoneybrook!

“Well it’s still 20 miles away,” I said

Wait, what?   Are they surrounded by 20 miles of virgin forest?  It’s Stoneybrook, CT, not Storybrooke, Maine, FFS.

The Phantom Phone Caller calls the house to see if anyone answers.  If not, he goes and steals their jewelry.  He apparently doesn’t take anything else, so your diamond encrusted chairs are safe, millionaires.

Claudia gasps because a few nights ago, the phone rang and no one was on the line!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.04.11 PMHe wants your handcuff earrings and key necklace, Claud

EMERGENCY BSC MEETING Y’ALL.

The girls decide that the best way to handle a suspicious situation is to stack cans in front of the door or window on the inside, so you’ll know if he’s entered the house

Then there is the elaborate phone message system

  • If you think he’s in the house CALL ANOTHER BABYSITTER and say “have you found my red ribbon?”
  • The other sitter will say “No, the blue one.”
  • If you know he’s in the house and your are in danger say “Now I’m in for it”
  • If you’re not sure there’s trouble say “That’s okay”

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.19.28 PMBEST.  PLAN.  EVER.

 

We can’t get too hung up on this whole Phantom Phone Caller/Home Invasion thing–The Halloween Hop is coming up.  Claudia wants Trevor to ask her.  But–sigh–he doesn’t even know she’s alive.  “Faithfully” by Journey swells in the background.

Chapter 5 is all about a sitting job at the Newton’s, but there’s no entry.  I don’t know why I care, but I do, and I thought you should all know.  Everything is going okay until Claudia sees lights going on and off in the house!  The phone rings, but stops before she can answer it!  Then there are footsteps!  Claud peeks through a convenient hole in the fence and looks straight into another eye!  OHMIGOD IT’S THE PHAN—Kristy.  It’s just Kristy.  Kristy was looking for them, and the lights going on and off were all her, going through the Newton’s house looking for Claud and Jamie.

Not to bash your ribbon strategy, ladies….but maybe you should add lock the front door to your list of burglar management strategies?

Another night Claud is babysitting at the Marshall’s.  She creeps herself out and calls Stacey.  They’re talking about the Halloween Hop and boys when…

I definitely heard footsteps in the garage.  “Stacey, Stacey,” I said urgently.  “Have you found my b-I mean, did you see my–Have you found my…my…”

“Your red ribbon?” whispered Stacey.

“Yes!” I gasped.

“Yes, I did.  I mean, no, I found–I…”

“Did you find my blue—Oh, no, Stacey, someone’s at the garage door.  I can hear the knob rattling!”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“Claudia?” called a deep voice.

It was all I could do not to shriek.  “He called my name!” I yelped to Stacey

“Claudia,” said the voice again, “we’ve misplaced the house keys.  Can you let us in, please?”

That red ribbon plan doesn’t seem to work well under pressure.  Also, between two adults who presumably used a car to go somewhere (since Stoneybrook is surrounded by 20 miles of forest), why don’t they have a house key?

GASP!  Just as Claudia is about to leave, the phone rings, but when Mrs. Marshall answers, there’s no one there!  Does Claudia mention The Phantom Phone Caller?  Of course not.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.30.30 PMAt least this guy had the courtesy to talk to you before he committed a crime….

Kristy babysits Karen and Andrew.  Karen has new theories about Morbidda Destiny and her spooky spells.  At bedtime she insists Kristy read her new book “The Witch Next Door.”

Watson, I’m going to judge you for this.  If you’re trying to convince Karen that Mrs. Porter isn’t a witch, buying her a book called “The Witch Next Door,” isn’t going to help matters.

Watson’s house is huge (still waiting for the first time they call it a mansion), and Kristy is jumpy.  She gets a hang up call and then calls Claudia…but doesn’t even think about using the ribbon code.  She doesn’t remember it.  Ladies and gentlemen, your Founder and President.

Then there’s a tapping at the door!  IT’S MORBIDDA DESTINY!!!!!  Or, you know, Mrs. Porter, who is returning Boo Boo after the cat was eating a mouse on her porch.  Although Boo Boo’s so vicious that Mary Anne was explicitly warned not to touch him, he’s obediently sitting in Mrs. Porters arms.  Guys, Karen is on to something.  Mrs. Porter is a witch.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.44.16 PM

“He bothers me just by living!  Alan Gray is so horrible whenever he’s around me, that he’s all I can think about.” —- Kristy

Stacey suggests that Kristy ask her hot older brother Sam for help with this whole Phantom Phone Caller thing.  Kristy retorts that she’d never ask him for help.  He’s girl-crazy!  I mean, my god, last week he took some green-tipped hair, lace gloves with the tips cut off Freshman to the movies!  It’s just not a BSC book without Kristy being thoughtless.

Stacey starts to cry because didn’t Sam like her? (Remember how he called Stacey a “foxy chick” and she called him a gorgeous hunk?)  Stacey, this is only the first of a zillion older men you’ll have your heart broken by.  Get used it to it.

Claudia moans that the dance is only four days away and Trevor hasn’t asked her to go.

“I think you should talk to him,” said Kristy.

“I think you should ask him to the dance,” said Stacey.

I gasped.  “No way!  This isn’t the Sadie Hawkins dance.  I can’t ask a boy to go with me.”

“In New York we did it all the time.”

“Well, this isn’t New York, this is little Stoneybrook.  And I am not asking Trevor Sandbourne to the Halloween Hop.

Stacey should take her own advice and ask Sam out.

Claudia should remember that second wave feminism brought about women CEO’s, astronauts, and the ability to ask a boy to a non-Sadie Hawkins dance.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.04.46 AMMary Anne pouts as she’s reminded, yet again, that she doesn’t live in NEW YORK CITY.

Shit just got real, people.  The Kishi’s neighbors the Goldmans were just robbed!  Goldman because Martin was being ironic years before hipsters discovered irony.

Shocker, Mary Anne is suspended from baby-sitting.  Given that the robbery was right across the street, I’m surprised Mary Anne is allowed to go to school without her dad.

That night–in yet another babysitting job without an entry at the start of the chapter–Kristy and Claudia babysit for Jamie and his hellion cousins.  Same M.O. as book 1–the parents leave, and the cousins go nuts.  Kristy, being Kristy, puts two fingers in her mouth and gives an ear piercing whistle, which puts an end to the shenanigans.

Suddenly things get scary…not one, not two, but three phone calls without someone on the other end of the line.  Several bangs as trashcans are knocked over.  A shadow runs away from the house!

The girls thankfully skip the ribbon nonsense and call the police.  The cops show up and go looking for the intruder, and show up minutes later with Alan Gray.  Kristy has a lot to say about this.

“Alan Gray, you darn, sneaking rotten–“

….

“Alan, you are a rat!” she exploded.

They find out that every call without a person on the other end of the line at one of Kristy’s sitting jobs was Alan.  He knew where she was because he kept peeking at the BSC notebook.

“Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”

….(he mumbles, baby sitting charges tell him to speak up…

“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”

If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head about then.  But Kristy just said, “Oh gosh is that all?  Of course I’ll go with you….Thanks.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.20.44 AMAlan Gray knows how to woo a woman

After the sitting job, Claudia is in her room eating junk food (because of course) when Janine knocks on her door.  She saw the police cruiser on her way home.  Claudia is touched by her concern, and they talk.  Janine hides candy, too!  Bonding moment!  I’m sure that this will make it all worthwhile when the Kishis have to have their home fogged to kill the ant infestation.

The next day at school, Claudia is approached by Trevor, who has gathered up his courage and asks her to the Halloween Hop.  He was behind all of the calls when Claudia was sitting because Alan told him where Claudia would be.  Martin wasn’t getting paid enough to give him a different plot.

Claudia, much like Kristy, is completely unfazed by the whole stalking thing.  She happily agrees to go to the dance with him.  I feel the urge to stage an intervention and explain healthy and unhealthy relationships to all four of them.

The Halloween Hop was terrific.  Now I know we’re in a fictional universe–no middle school dance is ever terrific.  Ever.

Claudia got an 86 on her math test!  Her parents are so proud that they skip explaining that a B is an Asian F.

The Phantom Phone Caller was found trying to rob a mansion in that town 20 miles away (10 books more and it would’ve been in Watson’s neighborhood).

Life is great.  Several babysitters have earned in the neighborhood of 15 dollars over two weeks worth of baby sitting, and they clink their diet sodas together.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.31.26 AMTo attend the Alan Gray/Trevor Sandbourne School of Seduction call 555-2934

Advanced courses taught by Edward Cullen

Next Week–Sweet Valley High #4-Power Play (aka that one where the fat girl becomes thin and popular–I have a lot of FEELINGS about that book).

Snarking Nostalgic: Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel

BSC fans–don’t worry, there will be more BSC snark (Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls is next week).  Due to the wealth of terribly written tween/teen books from the time period, though, I’m going to alternate in other books.  Let’s not spare Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, or other books that deserve a snarky review.

This week? Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel (at Amy’s suggestion).  If you worried that every moment of fatigue and every unexplained bruise meant you had cancer, you’ve read this book and/or the rest of Lurlene’s oevre.

I’ve decided to try to do single entry snark instead of a chapter by chapter retell.  Please give feedback in comments.

 six months to live coverSix Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel

Originally published 1985

Our book opens with a doctor telling Dawn Rochelle she has cancer.  Oh, good–let’s not bother with establishing characters or trying to make us interested in them, and get right to what we’re here for–Dawn has cancer.  Cue parental shock, including

“We thought it was just the flu,” her father gasped.

I may not be the parent of a child who has/had cancer, but I am a parent.  And anyone who wants to run tests on my kid explains what the tests are and what they’re looking for first.  Are her parents dumb, or in denial?

A kid!  That’s what I am, Dawn thought.  She was a kid, just two months over her thirteenth birthday…a seventh grader…cheerleader for Adams Junior High…daughter of Pete and Meggie Rochelle…kid sister of Rob Rochelle…super fan of Michael Jackson…collector of teddy bears…a resident of Columbus, Ohio…and now, a victim of cancer

This tells you all you need to know about what kind of ride we’re strapping in for.  This is exactly how 13 year old children talk.  Unless they’re from THE SOUTH–but we’ll get there later.  If you want a drinking game to get through this book (or any McDaniel book)–and you might–take a shot every time a child uses weirdly out of date language.  I feel like Lurlene was about as hip to teenage culture in the 1980’s as I am to the teen culture of 2014.

Dawn has to go to the hospital RIGHT NOW.  This afternoon.  Her pediatrician who apparently sent blood samples to the lab without consulting anyone (HIPPA violation!) has also “made arrangements” for her to get admitted right away.  He is drunk with power.  Her parents are speechless, and Dawn is asking all the questions, which is totally how my children’s doctor’s appointments go.

Suddenly, she felt like a white rat trapped in science experiment…caught in a maze of mind-boggling proportions…a maze with no exit…a rat with no future.

I’m not editing the quotes.  The ellipses are as written.  Drinking Game #2-Take a shot every time you see one.

Dawn’s father wants a second opinion, in a startling show of parental involvement.  Her mom pooh-poohs this, saying they’ll get lots of opinions at the hospital.  I don’t think her mom understands how hospitals work.

Dawn sits and is emo, wondering what she’ll tell people.  Kid, you’re not Stacey McGill, and cancer is a lot harder to hide than diabetes.

Then this happens

Rob…Dawn pictured her brother.  He was so big and broad across his shoulders—

Dawn, don’t make me invoke The Flowers in the Attic Law.

They get to the hospital and the nurse tells her that she has a roommate, Sandy, who’s “a real doll,” and that “everybody likes her.”  Dawn is has angst about the idea of a roommate because how dare the cancer floor of the hospital be full of cancerous kids.

The oncologists visit the room and introduce themselves to the family.  Pages of explanation about cancer.  I’m betting this is why so much of Lurlene’s fanbase were hypochondriacs.  The oncologist then tells her she can be an outpatient, and she then spends roughly 50+% of the book (more or less) in the hospital.  For all that her descriptions of how cancer and chemo work seem pretty correct (minus advances in tech over the past 20 years) Lurlene’s understanding of “outpatient” could use some work.

“Dr. Sinclair,” Dawn’s mom asked quietly.  “What if we decide to skip all this therapy and just take Dawn home?”

The blue-eyed doctor surveyed her and said “That would be very unwise, Mrs. Rochelle.  Untreated, ninety percent of all leukemia victims die within the year.”

Guys, I don’t want to ruin the moment of supreme parental stupidity, but raise your hand if you can smell the foreshadowing.

Dawn tells us that “Dr. Sinclair hates cancer.”  Unlike all those other oncologists who just love them some cancer?

She brushed her long, auburn hair and tied it up in a pony tail.  “So,” she told her reflection, “in a few weeks I may be bald.”  It bothered her a lot.  It had taken her years to grow her hair past her shoulders.

If I taught a literature course, I could use this book as an example of what heavy handed foreshadowing looks like.

 

The mysterious Sandy comes back from chemo sick, pale, and sleeping.  We’ll meet her and her hillbilly accent bright and early tomorrow morning.

The girls become insta-friends in the a.m.  Dawn comments on how Sandy looked like shit the night before.

“I know.  The first time, my daddy got so upset that he almost took me out of the hospital that night!” Sandy said.  She gave a smile of remembrance and said, “My daddy’s like that.  Cant’ stand to see anythin’ hurtin’ his little girl.”

So this is the first book in a five book series about Dawn Rochelle.  Unless the rest of the books are about Dawn’s ghost haunting her sexy sexy older brother, I’m guessing she makes it out alive.  Anyone want to place odds on Sandy?

Also–if you need to get drunk really fast because this book is getting painful try Drinking Game #3 –do shots the second anyone from WV ends a word with in’.  You’ll be unconscious within pages.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.17.26 PMI’m pretty sure this is what Lurlene was picturin.’  If you cross the line into WV, the redneck fairy smacks you on the head and takes away your “ing”s.

A “psychotherapist” breaks up all the bonding to teach them how to do “Imaging.”  Dawn pictures an army of teddy bears fighting her cancer.  Sandy is skeptical, which I interpret as a decrease in Sandy’s odds of makin’ it out of this book alive.

Dawn then asks if she can pray for God to take the cancer away as well.  Which, fine, except I’ve done my homework on McDaniel and let me warn you she’s got a hard on for The Bible and Traditional Gender Roles.  That Sandy doesn’t ask about prayin’ or pray with Dawn is just another big red flag.  Why was I shocked that she dies when I was a kid?

Dawn’s friends come and visit her and it’s awkward, which seems pretty true to life.  There’s actually a great exchange between Dawn and Sandy after (if you can overlook the stilted language and the hick accent) about how regular people just don’t get it.  My elder daughter was quite sick when she was a baby, and after she got out of the hospital, we joined a mom/baby group.  It was all kinds of awkward and uncomfortable whenever her illness was the elephant in the room.

Just as the emo music swells, the topic of boys comes up.

Sandy has been kissed by a boy (seriously, Sandy, why not paint a target on yourself?) and that it was “real sweet, like he meant it.”  I’m glad that Sandy understands that he meant it because I’m an erotica author and I have no clue what that means.  Is that code for tongue?  That he took you to the county fair first?  That he got a hard on?  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?  Now when my husband kisses me, I wonder how I’ll know if he means it?

Dawn wishes that Jake had kissed her because he probably won’t when he sees her and that no one will ever want to kiss her.  To which I reply—five book series.

Dawn and Sandy go through all the medical stuff together (because everyone in the cancer ward has a roomie whose cancer is identical in every way to theirs?).  Dawn meets Sandy’s parents, and realizes that “Mr. Chandler was very angry about Sandy being so sick.”  Unlike those parents who do the cancer dance with the cancer loving oncologists that populate the rest of the oncology floor?  Dawn is DUMB, people.  I wish she was the one who was going to die in this book.  Anyway, back to Sandy’s dad, who looked into cancer clinics in Europe and Mexico instead of sendin’ her to Columbus, OH.  As a kid I thought he was actually looking into cancer clinics.  Now that I’m 35, I know that’s just code for “hospices.”

Violation #2 of The Flowers in the Attic Rule

“You’d give me your bone marrow?” Dawn asked Rob shyly once they were alone.

“Absolutely!” Rob said, chucking her on her chin.  “I gave you the chicken pox, didn’t I?  I can spare bone marrow for you, too.”

“Thanks,” was all she could whisper.  She felt deep gratitude for the love he was showing her.  Rob…so big and strong…and healthy.

Rob is big and strong and healthy, guys.  See, Lurlene?  No use of ellipses!  It CAN be done!

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.48.07 PMRob Rochelle as described by Lurlene

Fun times in the hospital ensue.  Arts and crafts.  Popcorn fights!  And then to despoil the beauty of those times, Dawn loses her first lump of hair.

Sandy is losing her hair, too.  Sandy’s hair was waitin’ for Dawn’s to fall, so they could shed together.  Lurlene has a hair fetish, guys–we get a description of Sandy’s hair and all the hair paraphernalia Sandy owns.  Dawn’s mom shows up with a beautician friend who cuts their hair and brings along a bunch of wigs for the girls to play with before they each pick one.

Then comes the portion of the book devoted to cancer treatments and all the ways it despoils Dawn (and Sandy’s) poor bodies.  Remission feels a million miles away.  Everything will be emo awful forever, guys.  The spends pages giving us excruciating detail of everything poor Dawn goes through, and then tells us that Sandy suffered the same agonies (literally–pages of Dawn, one sentence on Sandy).  Thanks for clearin’ that up, Lurlene–I was startin’ to think Sandy might have the fun kind of cancer.

Just when it can’t get any more melodramatic, Dawn gets a fever.  But not a fever…a FEVER.  The ICU kind of fever, and she’s rushed away.  People kind of float in and out, and then Lurlene tells us about a drugged out dream Dawn has while high, where her favorite teddy bear comes to rescue her.  Then she’s better, so the bear was a metaphor?  Except just before she wakes up, he turned into the boy she wanted to kiss, so Dawn is a closeted furry?  I…just…don’t…know…what…Lurlene….means.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.05.59 PM

Aw, Sandy drew Dawn a picture of her Imagin’ picture–a teddy bear army defeatin’ cancer.  The girls are so happy to be reunited.

“And we’re going to celebrate with a reunion every year after we go into remission.  So start planning on it!”

I wouldn’t, if I were you.

Sandy Chandler and Dawn Rochelle toasted each other and their futures with styrofoam cups filled with warm pop while the hospital routine settled in around them.

Lurlene likes to refer to her characters by first and last name.  At least half the time Dawn is referred to as Dawn Rochelle.  Which is oddly formal.  There was a boy I went to middle school with whose name was Chris Rodney and we all called him that, but I don’t think that’s common.  It took re-skimming the book for me to realize that Rochelle wasn’t part of her first name.

Guys, Sandy is in remission and she’s goin’ home!  Yay!  Dawn is upset, but at least the letters from Sandy start to arrive a page or so later.  Sandy tells Dawn that her parents are treatin’ her like she’s made of glass.  I get that, and I think it’s pretty normal, although it probably does suck from the kid’s perspective.  The boy that kissed her like he meant it doesn’t seem to mean it anymore and avoids her.  Lurlene is actually painting a realistic picture!  I’m sure that will give way to melodrama soon.

The Psychotherapist (I think?  maybe a nurse?  I don’t care about the main characters, much less the secondary ones) tells Dawn she should go to cancer camp that summer.  Which is the cue for,  two pages later, Dawn’s cancer to go into remission.

As Dawn drove home with her parents, she understood how Rip Van Winkle must have felt when he’d awakened form his years of long sleep

Yes.  Highly accurate.  When Ellie was in the hospital, we lived there.  When we left with her, it was almost a month later, and everything had gone from Halloween to Christmas.  It was freaky.  Except for Dawn it went from April to mid-July.  It’s also strange how her friends act like nothing has happened, which upsets Dawn (although she also doesn’t want to be treated differently).  Her friend’s petty shit feels petty to her, and she doesn’t know how to pretend that it isn’t petty.

The psychotherapist sends a cancer camp brochure to Dawn, who considers tossing it.  Dawn decides to go, but only if Sandy can.

We’re off to cancer camp!  Apparently the camp was only for Ohio residents, but the oncologist had gotten Sandy special permission to go.  The girl’s hair is growing back magically fast because Lurlene wants to talk about hair again.

Camp has an opening ceremony with “Indians” wearing “buckskin and feathers of an ancient Ohio tribe” canoeing to the shore and then “with a cry and whoop” light the fire.  They have this ceremony to “pay tribute to them (Native Americans).”

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.01.20 PMI’m going to leave this here for you Lurlene…

Cancer camp is just wonderful….awesome…great….  There are these two gorgeous boys who like Sandy and Dawn and it’s perfect how Sandy and Dawn are each crazy for the boy that Lurlene has assigned them.  You know they’re having a great time because there are so! many! exclamation! points!  Until we learn that Mike-who is assigned to Sandy-is missing a leg.  Good thing the girl who is surviving this book got the intact boy, right Lurlene?

Let’s not dwell on that because Cancer Camp is FUN!  Let’s have a zany antic where the four of them go to the director’s cabin in the middle of the night and pelt him with water balloons, steal his boxes, embroider them elaborately with flowers, and run them up a flag pole all in the same night.  Those kids are so wacky!  My favorite part is when one of the boys screams “bonsai!” as he throws his water balloon.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean the elaborately trimmed little tree.  I can’t actually find a reference to the actual slang term from the 80’s to get a correct spelling of the slang term meant.  But that typo was the funniest part of the escapade for me in what otherwise felt like a retread of a prank that would’ve felt at home in the Haley Mills version of “Parent Trap.”  Also-Sandy must be amazeballs good at embroiderin’ to have done the kind of detail described in just one night, too.

The night before the end of camp

Pedro Mendez performed a break dancing routine that caused everyone to howl with delight.

The ethnic person did an ethnic thing for the amusement of the white people!  Lurlene has never had a non-white friend.  Just write white people, Lurlene.  It’s so much better that way than this racist crap.  Not that your white people are going to win any awards for well rounded portrayals.

Camp ends

“D-do you think we’ll all be here next year?” she asked, scanning the faces that had grown so familiar to her during the last two weeks.

That whole racist moment with the “Indians” at the start of camp?  There was also a bit about mixing last year’s opening fire ashes with this years, including all the ones for kids who died.  Dawn is DUMB and Lurlene is HITTING you with the FORESHADOWING stick at this point.  BEATING you with it.  NO.  Sandy is going to die because you have a five book series, Dawn.

Back home and back to school.  OH NOES! Sandy is out of remission.

You should see my poor daddy!  He’s a basket case.  He’s talked to Dr. Sinclair a couple of times, and Dr. Sinclair wants us to come back to Columbus right away.  He says that we might have to think about a bone marrow transplant.  Boy!  Did that set my daddy off!

Now he’s talking about taking me to some clinic in Mexico.

Raise your hands if you think Sandy is headin’ to the warm Mexican embrace of hospice care.  YUP.  Not long after there’s another letter from Sandy post marked from Mexico.

There’s no chemotherapy either, just lots of fresh food, vitamins and sunshine.

All of which have a 100% success rate of sendin’ leukemia into remission, unlike bone marrow transplants which accomplish NOTHIN’.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.08.23 PMOr you could’ve just drank this, Sandy.  Equally helpful–sunshine, fruits and vitamins!

Then we get the third and final letter from Sandy

I’m not scared of what might happen to me.  At least I don’t hurt all the time.  That pleases my daddy ’cause he can’t stand to see me hurting.

Firstly, I’m shocked that the hillbilly fairy allows you to use -ing in your writing.  Secondly I wouldn’t be happy that I’m dying and that my daddy is happy that I’m not hurting–I’d be screaming and fighting to get a real motherfucking hospital.  Thirdly, I googled end stage cancer and according to a cancer website, end stage cancer hurts like a bitch, which is why they drug you in hospice care.  Unless those “vitamins” have a serious dose of morphine, or are crystal meth or something, I call bullshit.  Then again, why bring reality into the gorgeous sunset picture of a girl submitting to her father’s wishes and going to be with God when she didn’t have to?

Seconds after Dawn reads the letter she gets a telegram telling her that Sandy’s dead.  HOORAY!  The book is almost over.  Sad.  That’s just so sad.

Sandy’s parents send Dawn a box of Sandy’s stuff.  Hair combs (because hair fetish), a popcorn necklace from the super fun cancer floor arts and crafts days, Sandy’s ashes from camp, Sandy’s diary (which sadly doesn’t include any entries about “my idiot dad is sentencing me to death!” but does include Mike’s picture in an entry talking about how she wants to do more than kiss him next summer, the slut), and a page from the bible with that insipid “to everything there is a season” verse all marked up.

Dawn pondered the page for a long while.  It was true.  Sandy’s “season” was over.  She’d gone home to God.  The thought brought Dawn great comfort and made her more determined than ever to live her own “season” to its fullest.  She shut the box and put it away on the shelf.

In the remaining three or so pages we see that Dawn is living her “season”–back in cheer leading and Jake (aka healthy boy) likes her!  Hooray!

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.38.21 PMI don’t have cancer anymore!

Remember how I touched on Lurlene being a certain flavor of Christian?  Yeah.  We need to talk about that before I can end the post.  You know how I knew Sandy was going to die apart from the “it’s a five books series” thing?  Sandy doesn’t ask about prayin.’  She has already made out with a guy and doubles that before the book is over.  She even admits that she’s goin’ to go further next year durin’ cancer camp.  Her mom over-ruled her dad, so you know that’s going to come back and bite the family on the ass.  But when she lets go and lets God, she gets to die and teach Dawn a Very Important Lesson because it’s too late for her.  There are books where she does this with a far heavier hand, according to this Lurlene McDaniels snark blog (go read it, it’s hilarious), but this just PISSED ME OFF.

At some point in the future I will buy a physical Lurlene McDaniels book so I can have the pleasure of throwing it at the wall every time she does this–a mom who is a Bad Mom because she works outside the home, where sex has consequences, and god has a plan for those who are good.  Because ugh, moralizing.

The only way I can bring myself to read the rest of this series is if you guys promise me that she dies at the end of book five.

Let me know how you liked this format for Snarking Nostalgic!

Next week–Claudia and the Phantom Phone calls.

Book Review: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 3.46.36 PMCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

5/5 stars

Ellie likes read alouds–she likes picture books, and she’ll sit in for her sister’s board books.  But over the past year and a half, we’ve slowly started to introduce chapter books into the read aloud repertoire.  This past week we finished “Charlotte’s Web.”

First I’ll let Elanor talk to you about the book.  This is a longer video than the past two have been, and I provided more scaffolding.  Given the length and complexity of the book, Ellie needed support.

In reading chapter books to Elanor, I’ve had the opportunity to look back at my childhood.  Some books like Fantastic Mr. Fox are much scarier, others are badly written (see my snarking nostalgia column), and some books–like Beezus and Ramona–are just boring.

Charlotte’s Web is sadder.  So. Much. Sadder. than I remembered it being.  Reading it as an adult, and knowing what’s coming makes you so much more alert to nuance.  More than once, I felt choked up or found myself blinking back tears.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

As a child, I don’t know that I appreciated the richness of the language that White uses throughout the book. Words like salutations, injustice, and languishing are a welcome change.  You won’t find overuse of the word “said” as you do in other children’s literature.  It is a joy to read.

I remember appreciating that he didn’t dumb the book’s vocabulary down just because kids were going to read it–or the subject matter.

Wilbur’s life is in danger from the first chapter, and the reader knows that Wilbur may actually end up on someone’s plate.  Few expect Charlotte to die.  I’m relatively sure that this is the first book I read in which I lost a beloved character.  Some kids will need preparation–others may surprise you.  I was a bit concerned about reading it aloud to Elanor–she’s a really sensitive little girl–but she was fine while I was tearing up during Charlotte’s death scene.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to show Ellie the animated and live action versions of Charlotte’s Web so that she can give you her opinion about which she liked best.  I’ll introduce the idea of faithful adaptation so that she can evaluated if they are faithful.  I don’t really remember if the cartoon is terribly faithful, but I do remember loving the music.  I’ve never seen the live version so I have no idea what I’m in for.

I think five is about as young an age where this is a good real aloud.  The upper limit of the age depends on the purpose for which you’re reading it.  This is a book that belongs on any bookcase, whether you have children or not.

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #1 Kristy’s Great Idea Chapters 13-15 (book complete)

I’ve uncovered a great deal of nostalgia for these books among my peers, so when I decided to start the blog, I was thrilled for the excuse to reread and snark them.  I snark with love, friends–I’m still a total fangirl.  So let’s drop what we’re doing, put on our nostalgia goggles, and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30pm.

Part 1–Chapters 1-3 can be found here

Part 2-Chapters 4-8 can be found here

Part 3-Chapters 9-12 can be found here

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.54.50 PMKristy’s Great Idea

by Ann M Martin (confirmed)

Chapter 13

Kristy has been condemned to a fate worse than death.  She is going to have to baby-sit Watson’s demon spawn kids because his ex-wife broke her ankle.  Her future husband is out of town, so Watson is going to go help her at the hospital and ensure she gets home safely.


Waston put his foot on the accelerator and vroomed us down the driveway.  I’ve never seen anyone in such a big hurry–and all over a broken ankle.  If Watson could have flown the car back to his house I think he would have.

Watson practically throws Kristy and the kids out of the car, shouting the bare bones rundown—feed them pbj, and if there’s an emergency to call Kristy’s mom.  I wonder if Mrs. Thomas has been getting to know Karen and Andrew at all, given that Watson is putting in major effort to get to know the Thomas kids?  No mention of Boo-Boo the hellcat.  I guess that means there won’t be a third runaway pet subplot?

I stood in Watson’s front yard and looked at Andrew and Karen.  Baby-sitting for them was the absolutely last thing I wanted to do.

I sighed heavily

Ugh, babysitting.  Amirite President of The Baby-sitters Club?

Karen tells Kristy that she wanted pop tarts for breakfast but her mom said no, even though her dad lets them have them and who knows what because Karen never shuts up or gets to the point.  I may have to put up with that from my own daughter, but I can skim over Karen’s babbling.

Karen ate a few bites of her sandwich, then suddenly looked at me very seriously, her brown eyes glistening.  “Is our Mommy all right?” she asked me.

Kristy is capable of being an asshat to Karen’s dad, but she can’t bring herself to be one to Karen.  So she reassures Karen, sharing the story of how she broke her ankle last summer.  Against her best efforts, and despite Karen’s nonstop babble, Kristy starts to warm to Karen.  Oh yeah, Andrew is in the room, too.

Then this happens…

“My daddy says he loves your mommy.”

“I guess,” I said uncomfortably.  I realized that Karen looked uncomfortable too.

“If they get married, your mommy will be my mommy.”

“Stepmommy, I mean stepmother.”  I corrected her.  “And guess what.  I’d be stepsister.  And yours, Andrew.”

“Yup,” said Andrew.

Karen thought for a while again. “I guess that would be okay,” she said at last.  And then, “Do you like being divorced, Kristy?”

“No particularly,” I said.

Karen confesses that she doesn’t want her mom to get remarried or her dad–that she just wants them to get together again.  Andrew starts crying (which I don’t entirely buy–three year old’s don’t really get stuff like that, and their memories are quite short–he likely doesn’t remember his parents ever being married, although I totally buy that Karen does).  Kristy distracts them with ice cream as a special “divorced kids’ treat.”

Karen and Kristy in particular bond (Andrew is wallpaper…he might as well not even be a character).  When Watson gets home, Karen says she’s okay if Kristy gets to be her stepsister.  Kristy feels shy (which is a nice moment for Kristy, and a bit of personal growth).  Andrew is napping so Kristy hangs out with Watson and Karen for an hour until he wakes up.  She finally ditches the angry tweenager vibe (at least for the moment).

That night Mrs. Thomas comes in and manages not to scream I TOLD YOU SO in Kristy’s face.  Kristy begins to ask the big questions–what will actually happen if her mom and Watson get married.

Apart from the small details, the second half of this chapter is a bit hard to snark because there’s genuine emotion and character development happening.  I’m sure that won’t last though…C’mon Martin, give us more secret diabetes and stereotypes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.48.54 PMfrom the graphic novel

Chapter 14

Great news, guys!  Mary Anne has convinced her dad to let her half her baby-sitting money!  VICTORY!  (West Wing geeks–bring her the finest muffins and bagels in all the land for she drinks from the key of glory).  Claudia has explained to her parents that she isn’t an Asian stereotype, and is willing to give up some tv time to let her grandmother help her with Math homework.  Too bad she can’t get Martin to understand that stereotypes are useless.  Kristy asks Stacey how New York was, and Stacey says it was FINE, OKAY?

“You know, the strangest thing happened on Saturday morning,” I said.  As usual, I couldn’t help it.  I was dying to say what I knew.  There would be no stopping me, despite the fact that Claudia was sending me an urgent telegram with her eyes.  Shut up, they were saying.  Don’t do this.  But it was too late, even though I knew I was going to cause problems.  Even though I knew Claudia still considered Mary Anne and me babies, and Stacey sophisticated, and therefore was going to protect Stacey and whatever she was up to.

“Mary Anne saw you come home with your parents on Saturday,” I said.  “How come you made your mom say you stayed in New York?”

Stacey shoots a death glare at Mary Anne and flips out, calling Kristy a baby.  BURN.  You’re from NYC–even if you are a private school kid you know how to curse her out in multiple languages.  Baby is the best you’ve got? Martin noted that Claudia thinks MA and K are babies not two paragraphs ago.  Someone get Martin a thesaurus–even use juvenile/infantile instead of baby if you’re not going to use dipstick, jerkface, or some other 80’s insult.

Claudia jumps to Stacey’s defense noting (correctly) that Kristy has no tact.  Mary Anne says nothing.  Kristy tells Stacey not to treat her like a little kid by lying to them.

 Claudia’s lovingly described outfits allow her to point out “you are a little kid–look at the way you’re dressed.”  Kristy is wearing a sweater with snowmen and snowflakes on it.

“Well you’ve got sheep barrettes in your hair,” I yelled.  “You think they’re adult?”

Ok, now I’m ready to throw down–we do NOT mock Claudia’s fashion.

Mary Anne tries to make peace and is yelled out, making her burst into tears.  She’s called a cry baby for it.  Oh my god, Anne–according to your author’s note, you used to be  teacher.  In what universe did you teach?  Baby, crybaby and mean is the worst you can conjure up?  My third graders had fouler mouths than these seventh graders.

In the midst of the BSC cage match, the phone rings.  They all try to answer it.  Somehow the mom on the other end still offers them a job….which GASP they’re all available for.  (WOW-Who saw that coming?)  The club looks like it’s about to fall apart when Kristy calls dibs since the club was her idea in the first place.  The meeting breaks up with enough of a chill in the room to inspire what future museum curator’s will refer to as Claudia Kishi’s “ice carving period.”  (I wonder if you can carve other barnyard barrettes out of ice?)

Kristy gets home, sure it will all just blow over.  After all, everyone knows she’s a loudmouth with no tact.

GASP!  In a totally unforeseen plot twist Mrs. Thomas and Watson are ENGAGED!  Mrs. Thomas is sporting serious bling–Kristy describes it as “the size of a boulder.”  Nice to know that Watson made up for being such a pussy in chapter 11.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.09.16 PMFor the record, most of the graphic novel is free on amazon in the preview feature.  It’s hilariously bad.

Chapter 15

On Tuesday, Mary Anne and I avoided Claudia and Stacey in school until the very end of the day.  Then I screwed up the nerve to ask Claudia if she wanted to hold a Baby-sitters Club meeting the next day as usual.  She said it was all right with her.

Scene change to Kristy’s family going over to Watson’s for dinner that night.  There is no further explanation, or even dialogue to show us how icy Claud’s demeanor might still be.  Claudia is fine with a BSC meeting because…..Ann is contractually obligated to write three more books in the series at this point.

All six kids and Mrs. Thomas and Watson are having dinner to celebrate the engagement.  Karen is Karen–her mom Lisa and Mrs. Thomas are saints.  SAINTS.

Dinner was fun.  Watson made fondue. He set a pot full of hot, melty cheese in the middle of the table.  Then he gave everyone a long fork and a plate of pieces of French bread.  You were supposed to spear a piece of bread with your fork, dip it in the cheese, and eat it.  Watson made this rule that if your bread fell off your fork and landed in the cheese, you had to kiss the person on your right.

Guess who is sitting to Watson’s left?  New rule–No weird stepdaughter/stepfather moments like this–I’m going to call it the “Petals on the Wind” law.

Everyone starts making up silly rules.  But then Kristy drops some bread in the cheese.  Ruh-roh.  Kristy gives Watson a super fast kiss on the cheek (thus honoring the “Petals on the Wind law”), but feels guilty about it being so fast later (treading the line) and leaves him a note on his bathroom mirror apologizing for it being super weird and fast (and thus breaking the law–she was so close).  It’s just uncomfortable and bizarre and unnecessary.  I’m betting Ann M Martin was almost a big a fan of VC Andrews as I would be once I moved on from the BSC (when *I* was the same age as the BSC girls, for the record).

The next day, Mary Anne and I walked to Claudia’s house for the club meeting.  We went together, sort of as protection.  When we reached Claudia’s room, we found her talking to Stacey.  When we entered, the talking stopped.  Silence.

Mary Anne and I sat down.  I was determined not to be the first one to speak, since I felt I had already made an effort by asking whether we were going to hold a meeting that day.

At long last, Claudia said, “I’m sorry I was so mean yesterday.  I’m sorry I yelled.”  She was looking at Mary Anne but not at me.

This is one of the least believable makeups in literary history.  They make up for the same reason that Claudia agreed to have the meeting in the first place–because Martin has a four book contract.

They offer to get Stacey a salad from the pizza parlor so she won’t be left out during the pizza party.  THANK YOU.  Was that so fucking hard?

Stacey steels herself and confesses that she has a secret.  THANK GOD.

Kristy asks her if she’s anorexic (nope- that will be Jessi’s ballet classmate in book 61).  Shut up, Kristy–let’s get the big reveal over with.

Brace yourselves, y’all…

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.23.07 PM

Given the buildup, I thought we needed a big reveal here, too

Diabetes has been so traumatic that Stacey thinks it’s why they moved to Stoneybrook–instead of the Hail Mary Pass on her parent’s marriage that it actually was.  Stacey recounts being bullied because of her diabetes.  Her new BFF’s tell her that they love and accept her, but maybe she shouldn’t tell anyone at school, to which I can only….

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.20.28 AMCaptain Picard feels my pain

Sam knocks on the door to leave a snack outside.  Mrs. Thomas isn’t an asshole, and has left an apple for Stacey along with cookies for the other girls.  This is an example of what we call common courtesy, girls.

“Your brother’s so cute, Kristy,” said Stacey.

“I guess. For a boy.”

“No, really….Do you like any boys, Kristy?”

I made a face.

“What do–” Stacey started to say, but I held my finger to my lips.

“Shh!” I hissed.  “Do you hear that?”

“Something at the window.”

We made ourselves quiet.  We couldn’t hear a sound.

“I guess it’s nothing,” I said.

Let’s not wonder what it was—let’s tell scary stories that happened while babysitting instead of checking the yard for a zombie or a serial killer.

I know what that sound was–it was the sound of foreshadowing for book 2.

Kristy feels all warm and fuzzy and hopes the BSC will be around for a long time.  Don’t worry, Kristin Amanda Thomas—Ann M. Martin is going to ride that cash cow and all associated cash cows into the ground.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.00.04 AMThere were apparently not one, but TWO BSC board games.  I have SO MUCH ebay shopping to do….

So fellow BSC fans, that’s book one.  Shall I do the next book?  Or an episode of the TV show.  Or how about the movie?  Any other non BSC snarking nostalgic requests?