Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How would you like to learn a Secret Language……BSC #16: Jessi's Secret Language

Memory Reaction

I don’t really remember a lot of this book. I know it is one of those “very special episode” type books, all about Matt Braddock, who is deaf, and the various issues he deals with. Jessi turns her ballet show into this special performance for the deaf, and I am pretty sure it made me cringe at the sappiness then. Of course, maybe I liked it then, and just blocked out the fact that I liked something so sappy. But I am thinking I really found it awkward back then.

Revisited Reaction

So the basic plot is that Jessi gets a regular sitting job for the Braddocks, including Matt, who is deaf, and his sister Haley. The Braddocks are new in town, and the kids are worried about whether they will make friends and whether kids will accept Matt. Jessi solves this problem when she introduces Matt and Haley to the kids in the neighborhood, and tells them sign language is “a secret language,” so they all want to learn it. Matt is accepted, Haley makes friends, and everyone is happy.

Meanwhile, Jessi has the lead in Coppelia at her ballet school, and the other kids in her class are jealous. Actually, they were jealous before that because she is the youngest kid in her class. But in the end, she does a great job and gets accepted at the dance school. It also helps that, by sheer coincidence, her rival at the dance school, Katie Beth, has a deaf sister. This girl’s family sounds pretty awful, because they don’t bother to try communicating with this deaf child. They just ship her off to boarding school (a decision that is basically glossed over in the book). Not that I am judging how any one should react to having a handicapped child. But, Jessi inspires the rival to learn sign language too (of course).

She also invites Matt and his classmates at his school for the deaf to her Coppelia performance, which is actually really sweet. But the cringe-worthy part is how she gives a little speech about it at the beginning of the performance telling everyone the kids are there, how they add narration (spoken and in sign language) to the production to accommodate them, and most of all, how, when Matt gives her flowers at the end, she talks to him in sign language and then translates to the audience. Who, of course, is “touched.” Like I said, it is all very “special episodey.”


  • Some of these early books really have the narrator talking to the reader. This book starts with Jessi telling us how “If I weren’t so good at languages, this story might never have happened.” Later, she actually says, “I know you met some of the Pikes in the last chapter.” I don’t think they were like that in the later books, so it is very odd to come across it here.
  • I don’t understand how the BSC supposed wrote those joint notebook entries. Did they just sit side-by-side taking turns writing? Because that seems like a really awkward way to do it. But, judging by what they write, they must.
  • So, this is the first Jessi book and she first mentions her race on page…3.
  • I have never heard this one: According to Dawn, if you can touch your nose with your tongue, you will eventually need a very big bra. The only BSC member is Kristy, but in my experience if you don’t need a bra by 8th grade, you’ll never be that big.
  • Props to the continuity people- I totally remember the names of the students in Jessi’s ballet class from all her other dance school books. Katie Beth was the one who became her friend, Mary Bramstedt was the one who was anorexic, and Carrie Steinfeld was featured in that book where someone is sabotaging Jessi. I can’t remember if she is the guilty one, but she was definitely a suspect. I guess this is one of those rare things that was actually consistent.
  • Jessi doesn’t understand why Haley would sometimes be annoyed at Matt. Um, because he is her little brother? Who gets a lot of attention? But that is just a guess.
  • Even if you didn’t learn sign language to talk to your deaf sister, wouldn’t you at least learn some of the basics? Like, say, “bathroom?” When Jessi finds out that her rival’s sister is deaf, it is because she sees the poor girl desperately signing to ask where the bathroom is.
  • It is kind of weird that Jessi takes a regular sitting job. Normally, doesn’t Kristy try not to assign them because then sitters won’t be available?
  • I guess it is just lucky that whenever Jessi needs to be in a ballet performance or whenever the BSC is going on a huge trip somewhere, the Braddocks end up not needing her.
  • Okay, now there is no excuse for THIS typo. Matt is playing baseball with the Pikes and the scene is supposed to be about how at first the other kids forgot to sign and were leaving Matt out. And in the middle of this conversation, we are told what Matt added to the argument. As in, what he spoke in response to other spoken words. The whole book is about how Matt is deaf and they have him talking. How the hell does a mistake like that get missed?
  • Ha, I totally remember how dorky Mal and Jessi used to raise hands when they wanted to talk at BSC meetings.

  • Jessi gets TEN tickets to opening night at the ballet? That seems like a lot. If they gave everyone in the show that many, there would hardly be any to sell. But it works out, because she gets to invite the whole BSC.
  • Jessi visits Matt’s school and observes that the teacher puts a lot of colorful signs up, which she thinks is to counter the fact that the students can’t hear. I would agree except for the fact that it is a second grade classroom. I think most of them are full of posters and colorful crap.
  • I don’t think it is really fair to compare being the only black person in your school to being the only person wearing jeans at a fancy party (which Kristy does). Or to compare being black to being deaf (which Jessi does).
  • Wow, they actually acknowledge who sits for Squirt while everyone else is at Jessi’s show. It is Logan if you are interested.
  • Do people really walk on stage to give flowers to the performers? I’ve never seen that happen. In fact, when I was a kid and took ballet, they would ask people not to do that. But I also haven’t seen it done at any professional shows I have attended.
  • All the stuff with Matt at the performance is sweet, but awkward. I don’t want to sound insensitive to the deaf, but it just seems like there is something off about making a big deal about deaf children at the performance. Like they are putting them on display or something. I’m trying not to offend here, but I don’t think it really helps a deaf person to make such a big deal about their deafness.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read this book for a loooong time so maybe I am missing some things here but here is my take.

First of all, I totally agree about putting deaf people on display. I just went to a play where they had two sign language interpreters on the stage to interpret for deaf people in the audience and no formal announcements were made.

Second of all, my friend is a sin language interpreter and she has been in school full time for over 5 years learning sign language and there is still stuff she doesn't know. It just seems too unbelieveable that Jessi could learn all that sign language so quickly.

Lastly, I find it hard to believe that Katie Beth's family would learn NO sign language to communicate with their deaf family member. This almost seems like abuse. Maybe I am way off here though.

Sorry this was so long. I just feel very strongly about this.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I didn't need a bra until after 8th grade, I was like 15 when I was visited by the breast fairy. And they're on the large side - but no, I could never touch my tongue to my nose. ;)

Carrie was the oldest girl in the dance class, and Hilary Morgan was the one sabotaging Jessi because she had a pushy stage mother. Jessi and the Dance School Phantom was the first BSC book I ever read.

And yeah, considering Kristy didn't like the girls to take regular sitting jobs, they do that a lot in books. I can think of a bunch off the top of my head, including at least one where Kristy takes the regular job (Kirsty and the Sister War.)

Muzition said...

I agree with Michelle. I also find it really weird that Katie Beth's family wouldn't know sign language.

Muzition said...

Then there's the whole thing about Jessi being "good at languages"...did she say that because she knows both English and Spanish? Or because she learned some Spanish and considers herself "practically bilingual"? I come from a place where everyone is actually expected to be bilingual, so I don't think that anyone from where I live would consider Jessi to be especially talented in the languages area.

BSC Snarker, aka Kristen said...

Yeah, Jessi claims she became practically bilingual when she went on vacation to Mexico. She could probably learn some sign language quickly, especially if she spent a lot of time with the Braddocks. But not as much as we are led to believe.

Ashley - That's right, I forgot the sabotage was from a pushy stage mom. Thanks!

Jujube said...

"All the stuff with Matt at the performance is sweet, but awkward. I don’t want to sound insensitive to the deaf, but it just seems like there is something off about making a big deal about deaf children at the performance. Like they are putting them on display or something. I’m trying not to offend here, but I don’t think it really helps a deaf person to make such a big deal about their deafness"

I agree. That's what always bothered me about this book.

BadKat said...

I almost bought this book for $.29 on Sunday! I passed because of the ammount of manditory reading I have to do before graduation. Like it would have taken me more than 1/2 to read it.
I should have gotten it! :(

Fear Street said...

I remember disliking this book completely. Probably because of what you said about it not helping a deaf person by emphasizing their deafness--so true! And I seriously doubt that Jessi became practically fluent in Spanish THAT quickly...just seems like it would take longer.

Love the blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

i don't get why ms braddock would get one of the youngest sitters to babysit a deaf kid. not to be prejudiced or anything, but if i was ms braddock i would have asked if one the oldest sitters were available U.U

Anonymous said...

While I've never seen anyone actually get on stage, I've seen people walk up to the stage and hand flowers to actors at professional shows. It's really only customary if it's the actor's first or last show with the company. One time when I attended a closing show, one of the actors' father arranged it so that the front two rows would toss flowers onto the stage at the curtain call. That was pretty special, but not an everyday thing at all.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed something in the High/Lowlights section. Jessi gets the lead of Coppelia at 11 ?? I don't know if you have ever seen this ballet but it just seems... wrong. Same when she gets the lead in Sleeping Beauty, I don't buy a class of teenagers putting those huge ballets together at this age.

Katie said...

I don't know if you still read comments on this blog or not but first this blog is funny as heck. I love it.

I'm not 100% on when it was printed but one thing that annoyed me was when Jessi 'Made up a name sign' for herself. I took a sign language class in college and that is taboo for a 'hearing' person to do.

Marianna E said...

I took ballet classes when I was younger, and I do remember my parents giving me flowers onstage at the end of the recital—- as well as the parents of the other girls in my group, so I guess it depends on the dance school.