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6 Reasons Why ‘Starring the Baby-Sitters Club’ Is the Best Book Ever Written

When I was a kid, there was nothing better than going into Waldenbooks and finding a new Baby-Sitters Club book…unless, of course, that book was a Super Special. That was when you knew the Baby-Sitters were going to do something super dibbly fresh, like fly to California or go on a cruise. You know, like you do in middle school. But my favorite Super Special may be the one with the least exotic setting — the SMS auditorium.

Yes, SMS and the related schools are performing the MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA!!! (their words) Peter Pan, and everyone is involved. Except Shannon, aka the one who actually acts. If you were like me as a kid, you taped Mary Martin’s Peter Pan when it was on TV and you watched the shit out of that thing. So you know every single song Dawn and Kristy are learning, and you love the play and wish you could be in it with them (well played, Ann M.). And since this book has them at rehearsals all the time, it is chock full of middle school bitchery, light on the misadventures in babysitting, and is pretty much the best book ever. Here’s why:

1. The Cover Gives Away ALL THE TWISTS.
772701c737dece51aed0936133a354beSo much for the “big reveal” when Pete Black breaks his nose and can’t be in the play and Jessi unexpectedly takes over as Nana and the Crocodile, giving her the parts Kristy wanted while Kristy is in the part Jessi went around assuming was hers because didn’t you know she’s a dancer at a special school in Stamford?

2. Jessi’s Ego Trip and Subsequent Pity Party
Normally I like Jessi. She’s a dancer, I was a dancer too, she got me. But she goes off the rails in this book, and it is amazing. First, she practically tells everyone that the part is hers before auditions are even announced, and when she doesn’t get a callback, she’s convinced it’s because Mr. Cheney has already made up his mind about casting her (yes, Jessi, that’s ALWAYS the reason you don’t get a callback). Then she acts all bitchy to Kristy when SHE gets cast as Peter instead. And the pity party begins. She decides not to be an Indian (or a pirate? the book is really confusing about what she was actually cast as. CONTINUITY, PEOPLE) but does agree to be a children’s dance captain/assistant choreographer. And writes this in her notes:

I have to help everyone. Everyone. I don’t know how this play would get produced without me. Kristy doesn’t know her lines yet. We’ve all been coaching her. And she still forgets. Mallory is always asking me for costuming advice. And of course there’s my work with the little kids. My choreography. Now I see the real reason Mr. Cheney didn’t cast me as Peter Pan. He needed an assistant producer. But if that’s true, then explain to me what happened when the kid from the print shop came to rehearsal today with the copy for the play program. Doesn’t anyone appreciate me?

When she sees her credit (also: aww, print shop!) listed as “assistant choreographer,” aka, what she actually is, she CROSSES HER NAME OUT because it doesn’t say “assistant producer.” Do you even know what a producer is, Jessi? Here’s a hint–they don’t choreograph children’s dance numbers. You’re setting a great example for all your baby-sitting charges there.

3. “Tinker Bell Is Supposed to Tinkle.”


The Worst.

Karen Brewer, aka the Worst (Fictional) Human Ever, decides that she must be Tinker Bell, a role that is usually not played by a person and is just simulated by light effects. But, since Karen gets whatever she wants, Tinker Bell becomes an actual character and Karen plays her. But that’s not enough. Four days away from opening night, Karen decides that Tinker Bell has to be accompanied by fairy sounds whenever she flits around, so she throws a tantrum backstage. And, for once in her life, Karen is SHUT DOWN. Suck it, Karen Brewer.

4. Mallory Being Awkward AF
For those of you unfamiliar with the Baby-Sitters Club, Mallory just all-around sucks. She does. You grow up wanting to love her because she’s a nerdy bookish girl who loves to read and write and wants to write and illustrate children’s books when she grows up, but she just destroys any likability with her constant whining about braces and having red hair and her odd obsession with horses. But I digress. In this book she’s back at it again, being her usual horribly awkward middle school self, this time because she, as apprentice costume designer, has to measure the cast for their costumes…including the boys. Even around their waists. To be fair, that does sound like middle-school hell, especially when one of the boys is Alan Gray. But you signed up for this gig, Mal. So, she talks to Savannah, the head costume designer, and is all “hey, how about I measure all the girls and you measure all the boys?” And Savannah is just like “…why?” and clearly having none of it. Meanwhile Mal is having an existential crisis. So she instead starts doing Mary Anne’s job for her. Which brings me to…

5. Mary Anne Grows a Pair, Part 23
Mary Anne’s arc in the BSC-verse is basically a repeating cycle of “Mary Anne is shy and sensitive. She cries a lot. People walk all over her. Then one day she grows a pair and tells her friends to STFU.” And that cycle repeats until her house burns down. We’re in the early 90s of the BSC timeline now, so I assume she’s gone through this cycle at least 20 times already. Well past losing the braids, but pre-infamous haircut. This time the target of her newfound confidence is none other than Mallory Pike, who would rather step on her toes as “backstage babysitter” than measure boys’ waists. I’m pretty sure every 90s girl cheers inside when Mary Anne screams at Mal, “JUST LET ME DO MY JOB!”

6. Dawn Makes Us All Future Feminists
Oh, Dawn. Always crusading against something. This time, it’s the rampant sexism in Peter Pan  (written in 1904). So she decides to start changing Wendy’s lines so that she is now teaching Peter how to sew his own goddamn shadow back on and telling the Lost Boys that if they want dinner they can cook it themselves. It’s funny how she is SO PASSIONATE about this but doesn’t for a moment think about the portrayal of Native Americans and how maybe songs like “Ugg-a-Wugg” also aren’t the best. But thank you, Dawn. Whenever I see Peter Pan now I always think about Peter sewing on his own shadow.

If you’ve never experienced Peter Pan Baby-Sitters-style, please go out and track down a copy of this book. Your inner bookish 90s-girl/theatre nerd/lover of middle-grade lit will thank you.

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Beverly Cleary Forever

One of my favorite authors turned 100 today. The amazing Ms. Beverly Cleary, author of the first chapter book I ever read (Ramona Quimby, Age 8, when I was, fittingly, 8 years old), has been telling stories to kids for generations, since she published her first book in 1950. (Who else learned what bluing was because of her?) I grew up with her characters regardless of what decade they lived in. I freaked out with Ramona when her dad lost his job because my dad had just lost his. I maybe even stole some of her cigarette-hiding ideas to get my dad to quit (it didn’t work). I commiserated with Ellen Tebbits about changing in front of people when I was a dancer (luckily woolen underwear was not a thing by my day–also who wears underwear with dance tights, Ellen?). And I learned more about writing and character development than I ever realized at the time. Thanks, Beverly Cleary.

With that, in honor of her birthday, here are four of her books you have to read right now. Even if you don’t have kids to read them with. Just read them.

1. Ramona the Pest


Ramona starts kindergarten. She discovers things like Susan’s boingy curls that she just has to pull and the joy of brand-new boots. This remains one of my favorite books of all time.
Highlights: So many! Ramona being told to “sit here for the present” and thinking that she’ll get an actual present, and then she’s afraid to go outside for recess because she might not get her present anymore if she gets up.
Ramona telling Beezus to turn on the “dawnzer” when it’s too dark in the room (“it gives a lee light”).
Ramona’s mom telling her to leave for school at “quarter-past,” and a quarter is worth twenty-five cents, so she therefore leaves at twenty-five past. And everything looks different because it’s later than usual, and also she’s five years old and walking to school alone–wow 1950s, you don’t play around.

2. Fifteen


Jane Purdy is fifteen and starts dating her first boyfriend, Stan Crandall, who is just dreamy, with his green eyes and perfect tan. Why would he ever like a girl like Jane, when there are girls like Marcy Stokes around, the “cashmere-sweater types” who make Jane feel mousy and unimportant. This cover may look like 1987 threw up all over it, but the book was written in 1956. Parts of it are delightfully dated (dogs eat fresh horsemeat that gets delivered in a truck, like the milkman but, you know, horsemeat), and there are parts that make you think “how casually racist of you, Buzz Bratton, no wonder you’re not as popular as Stan,” but overall this story of first love is timeless.
Highlights: Sir Puss, the Purdy family cat, deciding to plant himself down in the middle of the living room and lick his butt while Stan is meeting the parents.
Jane’s bff Julie’s description of Stan’s date to the dance: “Everybody calls her Bitsy, because she is such a little bitsy thing….You know the type. She has to wear real high heels, because she is so little. The type that makes the other girls feel big and awkward. Especially me. She made me feel all wool and a yard wide as if I should be running around with a hockey stick instead of dancing.”

3. The Luckiest Girl


This was published only two years after Fifteen, but it always felt less dated to me for some reason. In my head it’s a 60s book even though it’s from 1958. Sixteen-year-old Shelley gets to leave rainy Oregon and travel to California for the semester, where there are orange and olive trees, and no one has ever heard of Munchkins–excuse me, doughnut holes–and star basketball player Philip Blanton likes her. But she’s young and dumb and takes almost the entire book to figure out that the real boy of her dreams was right there the whole time, sitting behind her in homeroom.
Highlights: Shelley’s pink raincoat with a black velveteen collar and matching hat with a velveteen button on top, which is completely hideous back home in Oregon but super-adorable in California. I have wanted this raincoat to be mine to this day.
“‘Mother, they’ve crowned me Queen of the May,’ exclamation point,” which shy, awkward Luke had to read in front of his class.
Shelley starting to realize that maybe Philip isn’t all that great after all…when he tells her he doesn’t want to go to college and would rather just work on trees. (“Nobody was a poor woodcutter in this day and age.”)

4. Beezus and Ramona

beezus and ramona

I was going to limit myself to just one Ramona book, but this book is for Beezus, the plain-Jane older sister whose shining moment in life came the day when Selena Gomez was cast as her in a movie. Basically Ramona spends one chapter after another ruining Beezus’ life in various ways, culminating with baking her doll into Beezus’ birthday cake. Beezus learns that sometimes it’s OK to not love your little sister when she’s being a pain in the ass. It’s kind of a shocking and also relieving message to hear when you’re a kid.
Highlights: Beezus thinking she has no imagination but managing to paint a kick-ass candy dragon in art class.
Ramona not wanting to return her steam-shovel book to the library, so she writers her “name” (aka i’s and t’s, her favorite letters) on every page.
Ramona riding her trike around the house all morning singing “I’m going to have a par-ty!” and then the family being shocked when kids start to arrive and she actually does throw herself a party. You think they’d have learned by now.


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