#1: Kristy's Great Idea

by Amy A. Cowan, July 27, 2021

I’ve started a club or two in my lifetime. They started with lofty goals and a generic name. Best Friends Club. Sparks Friends Club. The No Homers Club. We made Membership Cards, usually out of tin foil. We had club bylaws, things like “be kind to each other” and “no one who likes Kimberly can join.” We had a few club meetings, which divulged into the depths of Kimberly’s cruelty. The clubs never lasted more than a week and they certainly never generated income. Unlike Kristy Thomas’s club.

In the inaugural book of The Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy comes up with the idea of the titular club that went on to generate income and adventure for many girls (and maybe some boys) both in Stoneybrook and around the world, both fictional and real. Kristy demonstrates maturity while running and creating the club. She considers feedback from each member and delegates in a professional way. The book also showcases Kristy’s immaturity, particularly when dealing with Stacey, the new girl, and how she deals with her mother’s love interest, Watson, and his family. Kristy has depth, as well as this book. This is a promising start to the greatest book series ever created (come at me, J. K. Rowling).

Rereading My Childhood - The Baby-Sitters Club by Amy A. Cowan

Oh, I don’t know, book cover? Going to an amusement park? Reading a good book? Taking a bite out of a good book, like the previous owner?

It starts on a hot day at the end of class. The clock ticks and Kristy loudly and audibly expresses her excitement for the end of class and she can go home to her air-conditioning. Her teacher punishes her with an essay assignment on the word “decorum.” The first time we see Kristy, she’s shouting before thinking, talking before her brain analyzes what she wants to say. This can bite Kristy in the butt, like almost breaking up the babysitters club just as the club starts or with her teacher, forcing her into a punishment in the form of homework.

Kristy finds her best-friend Mary Anne. The first time we see her, she’s biting her fingernails and talking about her ridiculously strict father. Even for that time, he’s incredibly strict. If the book were written today, I bet he’d be one of those parents who stand outside their kids’ classroom staring at them through the little window in the door. He’d probably give her a cell phone preprogrammed with his phone number (and his phone number only) so he can reach her at any moment. Thank God she stands up to him later in the series — I’m always rooting for Mary Anne.

Kristy and Mary Anne rush home so Kristy can get there before her little brother, David Michael. Kristy watches her little brother while her mother is at work. Ms. Thomas is a single mom/divorcee, which is progressive for an eighties book targeted at children. I remember all the dead mothers on television when I was a kid. Every single parent (usually the father) had to have a dead spouse (usually the wife). They couldn’t utter the word “divorce.” And the television producers certainly wouldn’t have a woman divorcee. To have a working mother in an Apple Paperbacks is revolutionary, at least to childhood me. Ms. Thomas tries, both career-wise and domestically. She isn’t perfect but she still succeeds in giving her children the attention they deserve while (seemingly) conquering the business world in Stanford. All this while providing a secondary influence on Mary Anne next door. I like Ms. Thomas and I think she’s a great mother. I would credit her with the spark that gives Kristy her great idea.

Ms. Thomas needs a babysitter, so she calls every teenager in Stoneybrook. Unfortunately, they are all busy. Kristy comes up with the idea for someone to call one phone number and reach several sitters — the Baby-Sitters Club. After Kristy completes her decorum homework, she contacts Mary Anne via their bedroom windows.

Kristy and Mary Anne decide to discuss the club with their friend, Claudia Kishi. The girls arrive at the Kishis’ house and we have our first outfit description:

“I rang the Kishis’ bell. Claudia came to the door. She was wearing short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and red high-top sneakers without socks. Her long black hair was carefully arranged in four braids. I felt extremely blah compared to her.”

Claudia’s clothes are an explosion at a paint factory — just colors and mayhem everywhere. I love her eclectic style, but there are a few problems I have. People need to wear clothes that are an appropriate size for them. They should not wear clothes that turn them into a giant blob. I know this is new thinking, but, truthfully, people look better when clothes fit them. Secondly, under no circumstances should someone wear sneakers with no socks — that is an experiment in foot odor no one wants to undertake. And lastly, no to a fedora. Never. No fedoras ever. For all time.

Claudia introduces Kristy and Mary Anne to Stacey McGill, who denies food — her major personality trait. When our resident artist comes up with the logo for the Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy wants to call Claudia a genius, but Claudia is sensitive about that word. Her older sister, Janine, is an actual genius and the sisters have a strained relationship.
As a group, they decide on officers without incident. They also create a flyer with phone numbers that start with KL-5, which is something I never understood and still don’t understand. Why not just use numbers?

Kristy’s sensitivity to Claudia is a stark contrast to her interactions with Watson, Ms. Thomas’s suitor. He brings over Chinese food in an attempt to get to know his girlfriend’s family better, but Kristy ruins it by refusing the food and establishing open hostility toward him. I get that it’s a huge change, but he’s not so bad. No matter how mature Kristy is with her clients or her friends, she still exhibits immaturity when it comes to Watson. After all, she’s still 12-years-old.

Kristy’s mother is the first call during the inaugural meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club. Stacey takes the job after Kristy mentions her brothers. Then there’s a prank call. I wish prank calling was still the bane of telephone use. If this were written today, the prank calls wouldn’t be a juvenile prank orchestrated by Kristy’s brother, like it is in this book. The annoying calls would be from recordings trying to trick you into buying a cruise or, god forbid, trying to fix a Windows PC that you don’t have.

The first call that is not a prank or a family member is a woman named Mrs. McKeever. She wants a sitter for twins named Buffy and Pinky. Kristy would probably make the best first impression for a first-time customer, so she takes the job. Mary Anne is going to babysit for Watson’s children, Karen and Andrew, and finally, Claudia takes a job for Mrs. Newton.

Chapter 7 starts with a long description of how addresses work.

I walked over to Quentin Court right after I got home from school. I left a little early, just in case I had any trouble finding the McKeevers’ house. Mrs. McKeever had said that address was 52 Quentin Court. So I found the side of the street with the even-numbered addresses on it and started walking. There was 22 Quentin Court, 28 Quentin Court, 34, 40, 46, and sure enough, there was number 52.

I know how addresses work, Kristy. This passage would have been necessary if, at the end of 46 Quentin Court, there was a large opening in the ground. But there isn’t a chasm. Instead, here is a woman who keeps her “children” locked in the laundry room. Oh, and they are not children — they are dogs. Two hulking Saint Bernards. I would rather babysit for dogs than humans, but Kristy doesn’t agree. She reluctantly watches over the dogs but makes it clear that it’s the first and only time she is going to do that. She makes $3.50, which made me think of the Loch Ness Monster for pop-culture-from-the-Paleolithic-era-related reasons.

Claudia babysits for Jamie Newton and his three cousins, one of whom hates girls and is a future gamergater. I like Jamie, but I hate his jerk cousins. Claudia reads to Jamie and that gets the kids to calm the fuck down. She handled the situation well, but fuck those shitty Feldman cousins.

David Michael gets a brand new babysitter in Stacey, but the person Stacey is focused on is Kristy’s older brother Sam. According to Sam himself, Stacey is “a foxy chick.” You’ll have to excuse him, he is a manifestation of Jimi Hendrix. Sam decides to stay behind and play Candyland with Stacey and David Michael.

The final babysitter to tell us how her first babysitting job went is Mary Anne. She introduces us to Karen and Andrew — Watson’s children and future stars of their own book series (I never got into Little Sister, so don’t ask me to write about them). We also meet Boo “mess of a cat” Boo. Watson suggests that Mary Anne just avoid the cat, but when Boo-Boo (the cat, not the Boyz4Now ingenue) gets in Mrs. Porter’s garden, Mary Anne has no choice but to intervene. Karen warns that Mrs. Porter is actually a witch named Morbidda Destiny (I love that name). She calls the cat a “rapscallion” and Karen thinks it’s a curse. Mary Anne has to inform Karen that it’s just a word, not a curse. A ridiculous, archaic word, but a harmless word nonetheless.

Later, Ms. Thomas forces Kristy to wear a dress to dinner, where Ms. Thomas and Watson announce their potential engagement. Not their actual engagement — the fact that they might get engaged. This is a misstep for Ms. Thomas. If she has any hope of ameliorating the relationship between Kristy and Watson, she should have let Kristy wear what she feels comfortable in. She should ask her daughter to wear something nice for the occasion, but shouldn’t force Kristy into a dress. This does not help the situation.

Stacey leaves for New York under mysterious circumstances. Honestly, Kristy can be too nosy. It’s none of her business why Stacey goes to New York periodically — that’s where she’s from. Stacey’s mom shouldn’t have lied on her behalf, but the girl is allowed a little privacy, even from her best friends.

Eventually, Kristy is forced to babysit for Watson’s children, the previously introduced Karen and Andrew. She finds out they’re nice kids and finds common ground in their divorced parents. She tells them, “Divorced kids are special kids.” As Watson drives Kristy home, we are treated to an especially sweet passage:

Later, as Watson was driving me home, Karen said, “Kristy, I wish you were our big stepsister, right now.”

“Well,” I said, “how about if I be your baby-sitter instead?”

“That’s okay,” said Karen.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” echoed Andrew.

I glanced at Watson. He was sneaking a look at me, too. We smiled at each other.

After all of Ms. Thomas’s forcing Kristy to wear a dress and spend time with Watson, it was babysitting, Kristy’s focus, job, and love, that brought them closer as a potential family.

The book ends with Watson and Ms. Thomas (Edie, I guess — that’s not a name for anyone under seventy) announcing their official engagement and the BSC’s first slumber party. This is where we learn about Stacey’s diabetes. To her surprise, her new friends are completely cool and understanding with her complicated health situation. We end with this:

I felt deliciously scared — and happy. We were friends again. Things were okay with Watson. The Baby-Sitters Club was a success. I, Kristen Amanda Thomas, had made it work, or helped to make it work. I hoped that Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and I — the Baby-Sitters Club — would stay together for a long time.

And they certainly stayed together for hundreds of books (all of which I hope to own someday), several years, a tv series (I wanted to watch but couldn’t because I didn’t have cable), a movie (I watched it recently — it’s not great), a CD-ROM game (which I played every day and would still play if I had it), and countless other merchandise (I’m always on the lookout for merch).

This isn’t just the first book in a series. This is the first book in a revelation. When I was a young girl, this was the only book series exclusively about a group of distinct girls. Girls with flaws and strengths and stories. I didn’t have that with any other book series out there — they all had boys mucking up the awesome girl adventures or drippy girls who spent their time nagging boys and not being fun.

Ann M. Martin created my childhood. She created my love of reading. She created my need to write and tell stories. And I don’t think I’m that different. I’m sure millions of women my age feel the same way. This book was fantastic, this series was important, and I am even more excited to read books from my childhood.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

#2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

by Amy A. Cowan, July 27, 2021

At one time, I was just collecting and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. I was going to Goodwill every two weeks, buying whichever books in the series I was missing. Then I’d go home and read one every once in a while. Sometime during Claudia and Mean Janine, I got the idea to review these as writing practice and maybe help me build a portfolio. That’s why the first one is Boy-Crazy Stacey.

After I wrote a few of those I went back to the beginning — for continuity’s sake. I can’t review two hundred BSC books and skip over the first seven for no discernable reason. I went back through Kristy’s Great Idea and wrote what became one of my favorite reviews. Then I came to this book and put it off. When it showed up again in the rotation, I did a different book.

Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and jump back into Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, much to my chagrin. I hate this book. There. Plain and simple. It has a terrible message, and terrible people get rewarded for doing terrible things. It’s a terrible ball of terrible, but I read it. For continuity. So welcome, to the nightmare that is Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.

Rereading My Childhood - The Baby-Sitters Club #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls by Amy A. Cowan

Hello? The worst BSC book? It’s right here, let me give it the phone.

It starts out like all the other books that center around Claudia — she is struggling with school and comparing herself to her genius sister.

The thing about homework is that it is just so boring I can barely concentrate on it. And it’s useless. Who cares whether > means greater than or less than, or what X equals?

I don’t know, Claudia, anyone who wants to solve almost any practical problem ever? If one of your dumb baby-sitting charges is supposed to have twelve blocks in his toy chest, but he only has five, how many blocks has he eaten? That’s what X equals.

If Claudia didn’t spend so much time thinking about how schoolwork is boring, she could probably just learn the material and move on. Or she has a learning disability, and then it’s the school that is failing her. However, I haven’t read anything that indicates a learning disability, just laziness on Claude’s part.

But this isn’t Rereading My Childhood While I Complain About Claudia Kishi, Don’t @ Me, Mary Anne is the Best and Everyone Should Know That. I have to move on.

Then, like every book, Ann M. Martin feels the need to tell me that Claudia is Japanese and her grandmother, Mimi, has an accent, but her parents don’t. Does the accent come up later? No, but it seems to be Mimi’s only defining trait. Claudia starts to paint her and asks the very open-ended question, “Tell me about when you were a little girl in Japan.” Just, like, anything, Claudia? Is Mimi like Mary Lou Henner? “When I was eight, on December 3rd, I ate miso soup and a biscuit for breakfast. Then I bathed for 24 minutes.”
Then she goes into her clothes for the day, and they are, as usual, interesting.

I like bright colors and big patterns and funny touches, such as earrings made from feathers. Maybe this is because I’m an artist. I don’t know. Today, for instance, I’m wearing purple pants that stop just below my knees and are held up with suspenders, white tights with clocks on them, a purple-plaid shirt with a matching hat, my high-top sneakers, and lobster earrings. Clothes like these are my trademark.

My sister is an artist but she wouldn’t wear capris with garish tights underneath. You are just silly. Also, I don’t think a “funny touch” is a feather. That sounds more like cultural appropriation to me.
Later, Stacey calls Claudia and our resident artist talks about her crush on Trevor Sandbourne — a boy who writes poetry for the school’s literary magazine The Literary Voice. Did you know that Robert Pinsky first published “Impossible to Tell” in Stoneybrook Middle School’s The Literary Voice? Poet Trevor’s peers are an august retinue.

Chapter two starts with a problem.

Stacey, Kristy, Mary Anne, and I did get together on Saturday, but we couldn’t think of a thing for the four of us to do together. Mary Anne wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to the mall. Stacey couldn’t eat s’mores or ice cream or anything fun. (She has diabetes and has to control very carefully the amount of sugar she takes in each day.) And there was only one movie playing in town and Kristy and I had already seen it.

Okay, a few problems here. Even if Mary Anne could ride her bike to the mall, what would you do there? Just sit around like you’re doing now. Secondly, just because Stacey is diabetic doesn’t mean she can’t be around sugar. Sugar isn’t airborne. I understand that you don’t want her to feel left out, but you guys can have a camp out that just happens to have s’mores, and, for example, roasted hot dogs or something. Lastly, Stoneybrook’s movie theater only shows one movie, but their middle school has a literary magazine. Sparks, Nevada has several movie theaters that show several movies, and my school didn’t even have a newspaper.

So the girls talk about random stuff instead and mention Alan Gray, a boy who has been terrorizing Kristy since she was a child. Then the conversation turns to the plot point that the “Phantom Caller” is still on the loose.

[Mary Anne] took the paper and read: “‘ Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer.’” She cleared her throat and glanced at us. Then she began to read again. “‘The thief, whom police have nicknamed the Phantom Caller, struck again in Mercer on Tuesday night. Following the pattern of his previous burglaries, he began making phone calls, this time to the home of Thornton and Sophia Granville of 236 Witmer Court, shortly after four P.M. He never spoke, simply hanging up the phone when someone answered. The Granvilles left their home at seven-thirty to attend a meeting of the school board. When they returned at ten-fifteen, they found all of Mrs. Granville’s jewelry missing. Nothing else had been taken, despite the fact that a considerable amount of silver, as well as Thornton Granville’s famous and very valuable coin collection, were in the house.

“‘This is the sixth home that Phantom Caller has robbed in the past two weeks and the second home in Mercery. The first four robberies occurred in New Hope.’” Mary Anne stopped reading.

Cool, Newspaper Person. Got any more information about the Granvilles’ belongings? Emergency money in a fake book on the tallest shelf in the den?

The kicker is that while Claudia was babysitting for the Marshalls, the phone rang twice and when Claudia answered it, there was silence on the other end. Stacey comes up with the idea of a code for over the phone. If they are in trouble, they call another member of BSC and ask, “Have you found my red ribbon?” I don’t know why 911 isn’t the best option, but there’s a whole code they work out. It never really pans out, as the BSC can’t remember the code later in the book. They also decide to bring the BSC record book to school every day and look over it so they know who is babysitting for whom, which proves to be a huge security issue later.

At school, Claudia stalks Trevor Sandbourne outside The Literary Voice office, Alan Gray harrases her, and she attempts to find Stacey in the lunchroom, but Stacey is standing in line next to Alexander Kurtzman, “who carries a briefcase and wears a jacket and tie, and lives to obey rules.” How this kid hasn’t been murdered is beyond explanation. Claudia spends her time expressing her desire to attend the school’s Halloween Hop with Trevor.

Claudia babysits for the Newtons and someone calls but doesn’t say anything when Claudia answers. A news report says the Phantom Caller was spotted in a stolen car, but it turns out the news reported that fact too hastily (how irresponsible, this is we get crazy alt-right jerks yelling about fake news) and the Phantom Caller is still on the loose. On a different night, Claudia babysits Eleanor and Nina Marshall and she gets another phone call with no answer. She calls Stacey to help her feel better, and they chat for a while, but it doesn’t help — Claudia is still freaked out. This is harassment, plain and simple, and I emphasize this so when the perpetrator is revealed and actually rewarded, you will understand my ire.
The first handwriting chapter is Kristy at Watson’s, babysitting Karen and Andrew. Karen expresses concern over their next-door neighbor actually being a witch named Morbidda Destiny. The phone rings and Kristy answers it and there is no one on the other end. Then the phone rings again.

At last Kristy reached for it. She knew she had to answer it. The caller could be Watson or her mother. She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. But she couldn’t get any words out.

“Kristy?” asked the caller.

“Claudia?” she whispered back. (The caller was me!)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the limitations on the first-person perspective because that was silly. Kristy is so scared she doesn’t want to answer the phone, so the person harassing her is also a monster. He’s actually worse, but we’ll get to that.

Stacey has the next handwriting chapter at the Johanssens. It’s mostly uneventful. There is a thunderstorm, but that’s it. Mary Anne babysits David Michael, Kristy’s little brother, and she sets up a whole set of traps straight from the Kevin McCallister School for Home Defense. This ends up comedic and enjoyable.

Then Claudia’s next-door neighbors are robbed, bringing the Phantom Caller threat straight to the BSC’s front door. This prompts Mr. Spier to forbid his daughter from babysitting until the Phantom Caller is caught. That’s a little reactionary, Mr. Spier. The Phantom Caller doesn’t rob homes that had people inside, he doesn’t murder anyone, and just because there’s some crime doesn’t mean you should lock Mary Anne away like you’re in a Bonte novel. They didn’t catch the Golden State Killer for decades and people were still able to babysit — didn’t see you locking Mary Anne behind three feet of bulletproof glass. Mr. Spier is a crazy man.

We are now at our climax. Kristy and Claudia dual babysit for Jamie Newton and his cousin, one of whom hates girls, including girl babysitters. He is a future politician.
The same things happen. Phone calls, no answer. However, this time, Kristy sees someone skulking outside the house. Claudia decides to call the police. The police arrive and catch the person skulker. (The skulked? The skulkee? Asshole. We’ll just go with Asshole.)

It’s fucking Alan Gray. And then we get this bullshit.

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

Alan mumbled something that nobody understood.


“What, Alan?” asked Kristy, sounding nearly civil.

“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 along about then. But Kristy just said, “Oh, gosh, is that all? Of course I’ll go with you . . . Thanks.”

Lemme get this straight, Kristy. This boy, who makes fun of you, steals your homework as well as your lunch, and treats your friends like shit; stalks the house of the children you’re supposed to be watching over; scares the shit out of you so much so that you call the police; then the police have to chase him down in the rhododendrons, only to have him ask you out and you actually say, “Sure and thanks.” Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of message is that to young girls? If he scares you, it’s okay, he likes you. You know how someone is worth your time? They don’t fucking scare you! That’s how you know. Alan Gray should be arrested. Moreover, you know he’s definitely white because if he were black, he would have been shot on the spot. What sexist, patriarchal, white nonsense is this?

And you know who keeps calling Claudia and hanging up? Trevor Sandbourne. He’s trying to ask Claudia out. While not as egregious as Alan Gray stalking, Trevor’s behavior is still bad, but all Claudia can focus on is the Halloween Hop. Kristy is stalked but all she can focus on is that a boy likes her. She doesn’t even get angry that Alan Gray has been stealing the BSC record book to find where all the babysitters are on any given night and sharing that information with people (Trevor). This is a flagrant privacy violation.

There is some resolution to the relationship between Claudia and Janine, but it’s pointless, especially after the infuriating conclusion of this book.

This book should be banished to the edges of young adult literature and purged from every BSC collection. It has the worst message for young, impressionable girl readers: if a boy is mean to you, scares you, and doesn’t respect your privacy, he likes you and you should reward him by going to a dance with him.

Fuck this book. It’s easily the worst one. I’d prefer the babysitters being stalked by the actual Phantom Caller.

Speaking of whom, The Phantom Caller gets caught, and Mary Anne is allowed to babysit again, but more on the patriarchal nature of Mr. Spier later. My blood pressure is high enough as it is.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.