Saturday, January 19, 2013

“I felt so stupid writing in the BSC journal”…..BSC Super Special # 15: Baby-sitters’ European Vacation

Memory Reaction
This was my first time reading this one.

Revisited Reaction
In the latest edition of completely unrealistic class trips, Jessi, Mallory, Stacey, Abby, and Kristy are off to London and Paris. SMS is traveling with a group from another middle school from Toronto.  I didn’t catch how or why this partnership happened, but I don’t think it really matters.  Anyway, the girls each have their own little adventure.
Jessi finds out that the group she danced with in NYis performing in London.  She gets tickets for herself and the BSC members.  While backstage saying hello, a dancer – who just happened to be dancing a part Jessi knows – injures herself.  Since her understudy’s also sick, they ask Jessi to fill in and perform.
Mallory has dinner with some second cousins that live in London.  They show her a family tree stating that William Shakespeare is a distant relative (great x17 grandfather).  I guess they thought this book wasn’t unrealistic enough.  Or maybe it’s not unrealistic, since great x17 works out to less than a hundredth of a percent.  Lots of people must be related to him that much. Anyway, Mal’s inspired and spends the rest of the trip working hard on some story, and doesn’t pay attention to what she’s actually seeing until Jessi points it out to her.
Stacey’s got a couple of things going on.  First, her mother’s a chaperone, which she finds super embarrassing.  Understandable for a 13-year-old. Then she picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport, which I feel like has been done before, but can’t think of when.  I may be thinking of Sleepover Friends.  This lets her whine about clothes a bit and go shopping.  But, then we get to the real point: The bag she grabs includes an urn with the ashes/remains of someone.  When they reach the owner of the bag, they find out he’s a WWII vet, and was traveling to Europe to spread his army friend’s ashes on the beach in Normandy.  Mrs. McGill tells the guy that she and Stacey will bring the ashes to him in person when they get to Paris, to make sure the airline doesn’t lose them again.  Stacey starts reading up on WWII and gets interested in it.  She ends up going with the guy (and her mother) when he spreads the ashes on the beach in Normandy.
Abby gets to be the focus of our interactions with Victoria. All of the BSC members go visit her, but Victoria only invites Abby to come along when she’s in some ceremony where she gives flowers to the Queen.  Abby thinks this means she will meet the Queen, and gets all nervous about it.  But really, she’s only in the back of the very large room.  Later, she manages to accidentally step on the feet of some prince.
Kristy gets the vacation romance story in this book, which I think is a first for her, at least in a Super Special. She meets this guy Michel, from the Toronto middle school, who she “hates” on site.  They spend the whole trip fighting and driving each other crazy.  Then when they get separated from their group in Paris, they decide to “pretend” to get along until they meet up with everyone else. They end up having a lot of fun and people they see on the street call them a cute couple. On the last night of the trip they kiss goodbye.
Back in Stoneybrook, the rest of the club’s working at a playground camp.  Cokie Mason’s also working there, trying to get her hands on Logan, who’s totally not interested. So, nothing new there. The head counselor at the camp’s Janine’s ex-boyfriend Jerry, who’s kind of a jerk to her.  This makes Janine take out her anger on Claud, making her miserable.  But in the end Janine tells off Jerry, and she and Claudia come to a bit of a truce.

  • In the backstory chapter, Jessi says that Stacey has a normal life, other than having to give herself daily injections.  I have to say, that’s not exactly a minor detail.
  • Someone mentions that Elvis was in the army and may have been “overseas.”  Then Abby guesses that it was for the Civil War.  Seriously?  Has Claudia been tutoring her or something?
  • I’m guessing there was another book between the Playground fight one and the actual Super Special one, because they give no explanation whatsoever about how Stacey’s mom ended up as chaperone. I know I said I liked having a set up book, but having two seems to be pushing it.
  • There’s this ongoing story surrounding the fact that the teacher chaperoning the trip (Mr. Dougherty – Mallory’s creative writing teacher) keeps disappearing on his own to look at things and always shows up late.  So, Mrs. McGill ends up having to cover for him.  Now, they don’t say how many kids are on this trip, but only two chaperones?  That seems seriously low.  There are teachers from the Canadian school, but they are watching their own kids.
  • I remember in the Hawaii Super Special, it was a big deal when Abby wanted to go to the beach to shoot that commercial, because people needed to stay in the group.  But in this one, all the girls have side trips on their own, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. 
  • Claudia says she’s never worked as a camp counselor before.  I guess technically that’s true, but what about when she was a CIT?
  • Alan Gray purposely acts suspicious at the airport, because he thinks it’s funny.  It’s just a thing that jumps out at you reading, because the scene wouldn’t have played out that way in current times.
  • I can’t believe everyone was cool with Mallory just going (alone) to the house of some people she’d never actually met, just because they’re related. 
  • I’m surprised more teachers wouldn’t want to chaperone.  Yes, they’d be working on their vacation, but they’d be in Paris/London for crazy-cheap prices.
  • When the SMS students meet the other school they are traveling with, their chaperones make them do this lame icebreaker where they all put one shoe in a pile, then take someone else’s and walk around trying to find the owner.  Kristy’s actually thinks this is a great idea and is all excited about doing it.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone excited about that kind of thing. 
  • At camp, they have to move things inside because of a rain storm. Mary Anne ends up going back outside, because she’s looking for a camper that Cokie lost track of.  When she comes in soaking wet, Cokie says ”Is this a BSC wet T-shirt contest?…not that anyone would notice.”  Is she saying what I think she’s saying?
  • At first, I thought the Jessi dancing thing was ridiculous, but they did give her a little time to practice at first, and she mentions not doing everything perfectly, so it’s somewhat realistic.  Especially since she was just one person in a group dance scene.
  • The BSC all thought Victoria lived in a castle, just based on her telling them that back at home.  But I would think they knew Victoria well enough to know she exaggerates…she’s in a relatively normal house.
  • Abby mentions how she and Mary Anne were the closest BSC members to Victoria. However, this isn’t really how I remember it, considering Mary Anne narrated the two books where Victoria was featured.  I bet Mary Anne would have known Victoria was lying about a castle.
  • Robert gets a chapter because he’s contributing to the trip journal the BSC’s doing.  I’m not sure how Stacey convinced him to do this AFTER they stopped dating, but whatever. 
  • One day, Dawn ends up missing a day at the Playground Camp to fill in at this other camp for kids with disabilities. They should have had Dawn have reference her experience with cerebral palsy. I actually thought they would make a point of saying she was picked to fill in because of that experience, but I guess I was too optimistic. They do reference her experience with Down’s syndrome, so I’ll give them some credit.
  • At the camp, we get a run in with Susan Felder, from way back.
  • Dawn’s an idiot.  The camp head tells her about this machine Susan has, and says that kids with autism use because it comforts them physically without having to touch other people (which they usually don’t like).  Then, when Dawn brings Susan to the machine, and sees it “touching her,” she calls the person back all worried.  The councilor’s all, “I thought you got that it was a hugging machine.” Really I don’t know how Dawn could have thought something else.  I was surprised that she was confused, because it was so obvious what the councilor was saying.  It’s like in the second Twilight book, when I couldn’t understand how Bella didn’t get that Edward left to protect her.
  • How come Mallory always writes stories where the main character is her?  Seriously, it’s annoying. 
  • Abby thinking for even a second that she was going to meet the Queen was ridiculous.
  • Every room in their Paris hotel has a balcony looking at the Eiffel tower.  Is that even possible?  Don’t some rooms need to be on the other side of the building?
  • I understand Stacey getting interested in WWII based on what happened with the suitcases, but it seems a bit pushy when she asks to go with the guy to spread his friend’s ashes.
  • In the Playground Fight book, they say that the Europe trip is in the middle of the camp session.  But in this book, the camp starts at the same time as the others leave for the trip.
  • Kristy and Michel get separated when touring the Louvre with their group.  They say the backup plan for when this happens is to go to some group meeting place at the end of the day.  So, the two of them just go off on their own for the afternoon.  They leave a message at their hotel that this is what they are doing, and the teacher leaves them one back saying that it’s okay.  Now…what the hell kind of chaperone would be okay with that?  I can’t believe they would even leave the museum without doing a head count.
  • Apparently, Janine broke up with Jerry, got back together with him, then dumped him again.  Which, leads to their tension at the camp.  I would like to know which book this happens in, cause I want the story about this breakup.
  • Michael (Kristy’s love interest) plays a “prank” on her, that Kristy claims humiliated her.  Basically, he told the girl working at the counter of a cafĂ© to pretend that she doesn’t speak English, so Kristy had trouble ordering. Then she’s embarrassed when she finds out the girl really spoke English. I don’t get what’s so humiliating about that.  Isn’t it sort of expected that communicating will be hard when you don’t speak the native language? The girl didn’t yell at her or anything. 
  • Jessi convinces Mallory to stop working on her latest story and enjoy the trip.  You would think she would mention how she went through the same thing in Hawaii, but she makes no reference to it.  Maybe she was purposely avoiding it because she thought it would make Mal feel bad (since Mallory was the person Jessi was writing everything down for)?  Or maybe the ghostwriter completely forgot.  I’ll let you decide.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

“You just want to boss kids around”…….BSC # 122: Kristy in Charge

Memory Reaction
I first read this as an adult, but it was a few years ago.  I don’t really remember much, except that Kristy came off as really unlikeable. 

Revisited Reaction
SMS is having another school-wide project.  In this one, students can volunteer to be a “teacher of tomorrow” (TOT) and get to teach a class for 3 days (over a week).  Kristy thinks this is awesome, because she’ll get to prove to her teachers how she could do their jobs so much better than them. Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Mallory sign up for the program.  Kristy gets assigned to a girls’ gym class, Stacey to a Math class, Mary Anne to a Social Studies class, and Mallory to an 8th grade English class.
The TOTs have to attend training where they learn about lesson plans, and curriculum that needs to be covered and all that.  Kristy thinks the idea of lesson plans are cool, but assumes she doesn’t need to do one for a gym class.  Then she finds out that she has to work with the TOT for a boys’ gym class, since the classes are currently doing a soccer unit together.  The TOT in question is Cary Retlin, who doesn’t plan to take the project seriously and doesn’t even doesn’t care about extra credit.  He and Kristy don’t really end up doing much planning to start.
In her first class, Kristy tries to get the kids to warm up to some “fun” music from the 1970s, but Cary laughs at her in front of the kids, so the class is a bit unproductive and out-of-control.  Afterwards, the actual teacher tells Kristy that she DOES need a lesson plan and that she needs to work with Cary. So for their second class, Kristy and Cary decide they will split the kids into two teams and will each lead one of them.  This is a huge disaster.  The other kids end up picking up on their competitiveness and basically start their own war.  It doesn’t help that most of the people on one team take karate together.  The actual teachers have to break up multiple physical fights, and Cary and Kristy end up having to explain to the Vice Principal why they totally screwed up.  Amazingly, they’re still allowed to teach their last class session.  Kristy comes up with the idea to do some kind of passing drill instead of a game.  In it, the person passes the ball to their partner.  If the partner misses, the original kicker’s out of the game.  It goes well, and Cary works with her, so they sort of redeem themselves.
We don’t hear much about Mary Anne or Stacey’s experiences, just that they generally go well.  But the 8th grade class Mallory’s assigned to is a bit of a challenge.  First of all, Mal’s terrified of have to present in front of 8th graders and thinks they won’t do anything they say.  And, apparently Mal’s pretty smart, because that’s exactly what happens.  The girl does know her weaknesses.  But her lack of confidence probably makes things worse. On her first day she keeps dropping things, and earns the nickname “Spaz Girl.”  She keeps trying to run the class and the kids just ignore her and interrupt.  Kristy and Mary Anne are in the class and try to help, but the other kids are louder and more successful.  The actual teacher has to step in and threaten the class with extra papers to write, and that doesn’t even help.  Mallory says that the nickname Spaz Girl has spread to other students in school, and she’s really upset about the whole thing.
As usual, some kids in Stoneybrook finds out about the cool middle school thing, and decides to do their own version of it.  In this case, Vanessa decides to start a poetry school and make all her younger siblings attend.  At first Claire and Margo like it, but get bored with it.  And Nicky was bored with it to begin with.  But Vanessa blackmails them into staying in the class by threatening to tell their parents about things the others did.  Eventually, Vanessa realizes this is wrong and manages to get everyone into poetry by making it seem fun, instead of demanding they write about what she wants.

  • I can’t believe Mary Anne would sign up for the Teacher of Tomorrow.  Standing in front of a room talking for entire class periods?  Super shy Mary Anne? Seriously?  Was the ghostwriter for this book new or something?
  • Claudia outfit:  “A long-sleeved white T-shirt on which she’d painted a bald man’s head from a side view.  All the lines were sharp, not natural at all. His nose was purple, his eyes were orange, and his skin was green.  Jagged yellow lines like lightning bolts sizzled around his head.”  Apparently, he’s a person having a great idea.
  • On Kristy’s application for the TOT programs, she basically says how she wanted to prove that she could be better than all her teachers.  Then she sees Mal writing about how she wants to share her love of books/writing.  So she adds something like that about sports to hers.  I just think it’s sad that Mallory who was so into the idea of teaching was torn apart by the students.  For Kristy it was just a game.
  • At this point in the series, Andrew’s in Chicago for a few months with his mom, while Karen’s living full time at the “Big House.”  Maybe that’s what makes Kristy so obnoxious in this one.
  • Claudia’s sitting for the Pike’s and she compliments Claire for spelling house, H-O-S-E.  Oops.  It’s really sad when Margo corrects her.
  • I don’t know why Kristy thinks the kids will like using music from the 1970s.  This book was published in 1998, so I can’t imagine any 12-year-olds being excited by it.
  • Vanessa’s apparently a Claudia-in-training, because she says how spelling isn’t important (even for a writer?) because editors and secretaries can fix it.  Interesting that Vanessa, who’s supposed to be a book-lover and poet is saying this.  Also, notice how she doesn’t mention spell check on a computer?  These books can be so dated sometimes.  And this was a late book.
  • I feel like the last few books I’ve written about have had the main character acting like a complete jerk.  Did the writers get tired of the series by the end and try to make everyone look bad? Or am I just getting less tolerant?
  • At the second training session, Kristy says 50 teachers are waiting for them (to give one-on-one training for each class/TOT.  That seems like a really high number.  I can’t remember how many teachers there were in my middle school, but it doesn’t seem that high.  Plus, you would think that each teacher would need to train multiple TOTs, since they have multiple classes in a day.
  • A Kristy outfit, for one of her teaching days: “I wore plaid pleated shorts and a white short-sleeved polo shirt.  Over the weekend I’d woven a blue-and-white lanyard and attached a whistle to it.  I wore it around my neck like the other gym teachers did. I’d even gone over my sneakers with some white shoe polish so that they’d be super-white.”
  • Stacey tries to stop Vanessa from blackmailing her siblings by saying real teachers don’t do that.  But Vanessa just says, of course they do, they always threaten to call our parents about stuff.  Interesting point.
  • Assigning Mallory to 8th grade doesn’t make sense to me.  Not just because of the whole issue of authority over kids who are older than her, but because she hasn’t leaned the 8th grade content yet.  The program would make more sense if it was just for 8th graders.  Or 7th and 8th graders teaching 6th and 7th graders.  Mallory’s smart and likes English and all, but it doesn’t mean she’ll know 8th grade curriculum two years early.
  • When Kristy complains to the gym teacher that she can’t work with Cary, she’s surprised to hear the teacher say that many of the actual teachers dislike each other but still work together.
  • The gym teacher Kristy’s working with is the one that gave Mal a hard time a while back.  And she coaches the archery team, in this land where middle schools have archery teams.  But that’s hardly the most unrealistic thing about SMS.  I was glad to see a reference to the earlier book, but I did notice the older book says SMS has gym twice a week, and in this one Kristy’s class meets three times in one week.  (I can't believe that information has stayed in my head.)
  • Kristy rolls her eyes when a kid in her class refers to someone as her “sworn enemy.”  I guess she thinks that’s immature, but aren’t we always hearing about Alan being her sworn enemy?  Or Cokie Mason, depending on the book.
  • There’s some serious damage after the fight.  One kid’s missing a tooth, one has a black eye, and one’s at the hospital with a possible broken arm.  I’m surprised they let Kristy and Cary teach the last class or get any extra credit.
  • The kid who’s missing his tooth is keeping it in a glass of milk?  I had no idea that was a thing.
  • Kristy’s trying to make Mal feel better about being called “Spaz Girl” and asks her if she’d be offended if a sitting charge called her “Poo-Poo Head.”  Mallory says no, because that would be “silly.”  Because Spaz Girl’s some sophisticated insult?  People in my middle school were much meaner.
  • After the last class goes well, the gym teachers offer to let Cary and Kristy coach the game at the end of the unit.  Now….I have an issue with this.  Because they were able to come back and teach a class with no incidents after creating a complete disaster, they’re being rewarded? 
  • When Mal’s teaching and getting ripped apart, Mary Anne actual jumps up and tells the other kids to stop giving her a hard time.  Mary Anne can be sort of awesome when a crisis comes up.
  • And to close, here’s a limerick that kids in Mal’s class pass around while she’s teaching:  “There was a Spaz Girl named Mallory/ She taught, but not for salary/Her joy was to aim/Deadly chalk and maim/Her students, like ducks in a shooting gallery”……Mallory should be pleased, because she was teaching about limericks, and they seem to have grasped the concept.