This week’s book summary/review features Ann M. Martin's The Baby-Sitters Club #3: Baby-sitters' Winter Vacation, in which colors are arbitrarily assigned, plot points are repeated, and repressed memories resurface.
I’m a bookish nerd on a mission. I’m rereading the books of my ‘90s childhood: The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street, and writing a summary and review. I’m Amy A. Cowan and this is Rereading My Childhood - The Podcast.
Rereading My Childhood is written by me, Amy A. Cowan. For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written or subscribe to the Substack, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, visit AmyACowan.com.
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Links to Amy’s Social Media and About: http://AmyACowan.com
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Neon Laser Horizon by Kevin MacLeod
I never realized it growing up, but the schools I attended were poor. I had a grounded view of television because my father drilled into me that most things on television are fake. When I saw these elaborate vacation episodes on television, where an entire cast of schoolmates go to Disneyland or some other sponsored locale, I knew that didn’t happen in real life. In real life, field trips were to the local library. Sometimes you piled into a school bus and visited the geology department at the University of Nevada, Reno, but that was only if the class was really good that month. Once in eighth grade, I went on a special field trip for a select few kids from each middle school in the area and we visited a ski resort for one day. The idea was to learn how a ski resort operates. At the end of the day, we left the ski resort. I won’t say which ski resort it was, but it recently changed its name because it had a racial slur in it. It was called that racial slur when I visited, so I had a bumper sticker with the original name proudly displayed in my locker. The early aughts were wild.
All this is to say that I never thought any school had overnight trips. That was a plot device in the TGIF lineup. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me her son was going on a field trip to Disneyland, where they were going to see how the theme park operates. I said something about having to drive that much in one day to get the kids back. She said they were staying in a hotel. I realized I had been lied to. Overnight field trips do exist! Just not for the schools I attended.
The BSC is going on an overnight field trip to a ski lodge that does not contain a racial slur in it. I was jealous! How come these kids get to hang out overnight in a beautiful lodge just because they were born in a more affluent zip code? Then I remembered who I was in the seventh grade and how my classmates acted both toward me and everyone around them. It seems I lucked out.
So far, the Super Specials have shared two things: each chapter has a BSC member it focuses on and they all have a central conceit to facilitate the compiling of the stories. In Baby-sitters’ on Board, Kristy is collecting the stories for a scrapbook. In Baby-sitters’ Summer Vacation, Stacey wants to take some memories back with her to New York. This one is no different. This time, Mary Anne’s boyfriend Logan is not on the school trip. Instead, he is in Aruba with his family. Mary Anne wants to collect stories so he knows what happened on the trip. It’s a lot of work for such a disappointing boyfriend.
Anyway, this is an annual field trip for Stoneybrook Middle School and is mandatory unless you have a good excuse like your family wants to go to Aruba. For me, mandatory attendance usually meant that the school couldn’t get kids to show up otherwise. You’d think kids would want to get away from their parents and have a fun trip to a ski lodge, so I wonder what happened in the past. Or Stoneybrook Middle School uses this trip as a way to price gouge the rich parents and exploit the poor parents. Or Stoneybrook’s Stepfordian visage is breaking away and the seedy underground is showing again with money laundering.
While the school counts its money, the annual ski trip to Leicester Lodge in Hooksett Crossing, Vermont (that’s a pretty great town name) comes with several activities for the kids. The most important is a contest wherein the kids are divided into two groups - Red and Blue. The school clearly didn’t spend any money on name creation. Also, the kids can’t just have a week at a resort to learn how it works or to expose them to winter sports or the history of Vermont. No. We need the kids to compete against each other. We need to train them so they can get used to arbitrary competition so they’ll buy sports merchandise and have a strange attachment to a location (America) and think that other countries are shitholes (other places).
Oh no! The trip might be canceled before it’s even begun! There’s a big storm coming in! Oh, wait. Don’t worry about it. A paragraph later, the vice-principal confirms that the trip is still on.
As the students of Stoneybrook Middle School pile onto several school buses, Kristy and Claudia, who are on the Blue and Red teams respectively, bicker about who is going to win the competition. They received their color assignments two minutes ago and they’re already strangely attached to their color. Kristy is the team leader for Blue, so I kind of understand why she’s so attached. Claudia’s attachment, however, is a mystery.
Mary Anne bids farewell to Connecticut and hello to Vermont as the buses pull away.
Unlike Camp Problematic Name, Leicester Lodge is aware of dietary needs, so Stacey is already at ease. Without any special extra credit jobs, Stacey is looking forward to a fun week as she sets up some of the major conflicts in this book.
Dawn, Mal, and I were the only club members without extra-credit roles in the Winter Carnival. Mary Anne was going to be the historian, Kristy was going to run the war, Claud was going to judge the snow sculptures, and Jessi was in charge of Talent Night. That meant organizing a whole talent show, helping the kids with their acts, arranging for rehearsals, and more. This year was the first time the role had been given to a sixth-grader, but we all knew Jessi could handle it.
With that out of the way, Stacey can focus on the ride. The boys are annoying everyone by singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” which is almost quaint. When I was in the seventh grade, the boys would annoy us by telling us they could smell our vaginas and then ask if our boobs hit our faces when we ran. I would have preferred the singing, honestly.
Then the driver almost hits a deer and everyone screams.
They arrive at the lodge and find a whole fleet of buses outside. Stoneybrook Middle isn’t the only school at the lodge.
“Three other groups of kids will be here this week,” she told us. “One is the eighth-graders from a junior high in northern Vermont, another is the seven- and eighth-graders from a middle school in New Hampshire, and we’re still expecting a group of elementary school children from Maine.”
The students’ bunk arrangements are separated by grade, leaving Mallory and Jessi by themselves. Now they’ll have to cultivate their own personalities outside of the other five members of the BSC. Just kidding again. They figure out a way to stay with the rest of the BSC. We’ll get to that.
There’s a bunch of bunk bed talk. Who is sleeping with whom? Who is on the top? Who is on the bottom? Kristy has to bunk with Ashley Wyeth, a girl who keeps popping up even though I thought we were done with her onerous behavior. But soon, none of it will matter. Again, we’ll get to that.
Just as the students gather in the huge common room, two adults stumble into the lodge and they’re DEAD!
Not really, but one does have a fractured arm and the other’s leg is broken.
The two adults are teachers from Conway Cove Elementary School and they were in an accident. They braved the storm to reach the cabin and get help for the students who were left behind on the bus.
While they wait for an ambulance, the school administrators and the hotel proprietors, the Georges, spring into mild action. There are children who need help! Of course, Kristy volunteers the expert services of the BSC. The teachers thank Kristy for her willingness to help, but since it’s an emergency situation, the adults should take the burden to allow the students to relax in a scary situation.
Yeah, no. They accept Kristy’s help, and soon the Georges, a few teachers, and the BSC are piling into an old school bus to rescue some kids. Surprisingly, all sixteen kids are waiting in the school bus. One of the kids insists that the driver is dead. The driver is not dead.
Each of the BSC members each watch over a few kids as they all drive back to the lodge.
The kids arrive at the lodge and they all perk up. Since the nearest hospital is thirty miles away, the lodge doctor will examine each child and any who are seriously injured will be sent to the hospital with the teachers who have broken appendages.
After dinner, the fates of the children who are not seriously injured are in limbo. Mrs. George expresses that she doesn’t want to deprive the children of their ski trip. The school held a readathon to raise money for the trip and those kids were the winners. How a readathon raises money, I have no idea, but it is completely unfair for the kids if they have to go home just because their bus driver was on bath salts while driving. There is no indication that the bus driver was on bath salts, but there’s no explanation for the accident, so I’m going to assume bath salts.
Once again, Kristy volunteers the BSC to watch over the kids. The teachers don’t want to take any responsibility, so they accept. The BSC moves into a dorm with the kids, rendering the scenes where Jessi and Mallory are separated from the rest of the BSC, as well as the bunk arrangement talk, utterly meaningless.
It’s the first morning since arriving at the lodge. The BSC members help the kids get dressed and then they clamor for breakfast. The Stoneybrook P.E. teacher, Ms. Halliday, makes some announcements that don’t really affect the plot, but she does stuff later so I have to introduce her. Despite the club’s general togetherness, after breakfast, it’s a different story.
By ten o’clock in the morning, I found myself pretty much on my own. Kristy, Claud, Dawn, and Stacey had hit the slopes, Mallory was off doing something with her secret journal project, and Jessi had volunteered to entertain Pinky for the day, since Pinky was under doctor’s orders to stay inside with her foot up.
Mary Anne visits the lodge’s library. Her assignment: research the history of the lodge. If the school has been doing this tradition for years, you’d think a previous student would have already done this assignment, but here’s Mary Anne, reading about the ghost of Leicester Lodge. The cook saw a hat fly once.
She also writes a letter to Logan even though he’s in Aruba. I love the post office, but they cannot get a letter from Vermont, which, if you remember, is covered in a storm, to Aruba, a country in the Caribbean, all in one week. She starts it with “My dearest Logan,” and continues with, “My thoughts are with you and only you every second of every day.” Someone took a documentary about the Bronte sisters a little too seriously. Then she worries that he’s hanging out on a beach with a pretty girl. She doesn’t do any more work on her extra credit project.
Jessi doesn’t want to ski, slip on some ice, and then break her arms and legs, rendering her unable to dance. This seems to bother her, but I think it’s a completely fair worry. Instead, she volunteers to entertain Pinky, a girl with a ridiculous name who sprained her ankle in the bus accident.
Pinky is a jerk. She’s terse and treats Jessi like a personal servant, the optics of which are not great. When Jessi wins a game of Memory against Pinky, the girl accuses Jessi of cheating. That seems to be a common tactic for terrible people when they lose. The winner is cheating, or committing fraud, or switching votes even though to do so would require the magic of Doctor Strange.
Stacey assists Ms. Halliday with the elementary school kids on the ski slopes. After a few lessons, Stacey is free to ski on her own and she goes down the bunny hills. Alan Gray, a boy who harassed the girls but it’s portrayed as comedy, is slamming into the other boys.
Eventually, even Stacey is a victim of someone slamming into her. This time, however, it’s a cute boy named Frenchie d’Croissant, er, excuse me. His name is Pierre D’Amboise. Of course, Stacey is instantly smitten and she refers to this as her “first meaningful crush,” and “any past crushes suddenly [don’t] count.” Yeah, fuck clear off, Toby.
And what is the oldest of the Pike children doing with a journal this time? Is she spying on people again, like in Super Special #1? Of course, she is. But that’s not all she’s doing. She is also dealing with a fear of going to a dance. I’m not sure if the dance is mandatory, but it really shouldn’t be. When I was in middle school, no dances were mandatory. They also took place during school hours and if you didn’t go to the dance, you had to go to the library or the cafeteria. The school held a dance just after lunch and afterward, you still had to go to the seventh period. Cool dance.
Anyway, Mallory has another reason for her journal-based project besides spying on her friends and teachers.
I planned to work hard on my writing, since I want to become an author one day.
See? If a publishing house sacrifices privacy at the altar of capitalism, then it’s completely acceptable behavior. The Supreme Court says that we don’t have privacy for the sake of capitalism and keeping a supply of babies for entitled couples, so the students of Stoneybrook Middle School have no reasonable right to expect privacy. (Too soon? Should I leak this and then jack off for two months and release it anyway?)
Mallory discovers Mary Anne missing Logan, Ms. Halliday crying, the other kids not liking Pinky, and Stacey making out with some boy. She says that the contents are too mature for her siblings. There’s a kids’ movie where a bee fucks a grown-ass woman, so I wouldn’t be worried about the triplets reading about consensual kissing between teenagers.
Dawn is having some trouble. She screws up during the ice skating relay. Dawn drops the baton. Her team loses and since everyone has such an attachment to whatever team color they’re on (I don’t remember who’s on which side), the whole team is angry at Dawn and they bully her. They pummel her with snowballs. Because that will help the team win the next competition, I think? I’m not sure what they’re going for.
Dawn finds Mary Anne and tries to confide in her, but all Mary Anne can think about is her dopey boyfriend. Dawn fires her as her bunkmate, but Dawn can’t fire Mary Anne because Mary Anne quits!
Mary Anne speaks with an old lady who has never heard of the Leicester Lodge ghost. Then she talks to the cook who saw the flying pan. Then she talks to another old person who doesn’t know anything about the ghost.
Finally, she talks to Mr. George. In the late 1930s, a visitor was found dead in his bathtub and after that, some guests reported some strange occurrences. And that’s the end of the ghost talk because it’s time for Mary Anne to mope about Logan again. This time, with her teacher Ms. Halliday, who is missing her fiance.
Kristy and Claudia set up an impromptu snowman contest for the elementary kids.
But what could we give the Conway Cove winner?
“I know!” Claudia cried suddenly. “But I can’t tell you what it is. It’ll be a surprise.”
“What if we don’t like it?” asked Amber.
Yeah, I thought.
But all Claud would say was, “Trust me. It’s good.”
She has no idea what to give the winner. A “surprise” is code for “gimme some time to scrap something together.”
Claudia snaps a Polaroid of each kid with their snowman creation. The prize is a ribbon under their Poloroid. The kids seem happy. I would have opted for the cash instead, but that’s just me.
Later, it’s finally time for the official snowman-building contest between the Red and Blue Teams. Because it would be a conflict of interest, Claudia sits out- just kidding. Like a Supreme Court Justice, Claudia disregards her obvious conflict of interest and judges the contest in her own team’s favor.
Kristy is upset. Is it because of the obvious issue of having a member of one team judge both teams in a subjective contest? No. It’s because Claudia is a good skier.
Despite Claudia’s skiing prowess, she still takes some lessons from a professional. The professional turns out to be a cute guy named Guy. For the third Super Special in a row, Claudia has a crush. Remind me, who is supposed to be the boy-crazy one?
After a skiing montage, Guy, who looks about twenty-five, calls her a “champion” in an exaggerated accent. Claudia knows that Guy loves her, which would be a felony.
Jessi goes over the logistics for the talent show. The teachers want to cannibalize the time, so there are only about thirty-eight minutes for the students in this student talent show. Anyway, it’s time for tryouts.
Some girl sings a song called “Stop Pickin’ on the President.” I have never heard of this song, but it sounds terrible. Regardless of who the president is, everyone should pick on the president. And it’s Biden right now if there’s any doubt, which there shouldn’t be. We should always pick on politicians in power. And the dead ones, too.
Alan Gray does some Vaudeville sketch. Some girls lip-sync to some apple song. Another girl tap dances. Another set of girls puts on a skit about a ghost that was both “funny and scary.” Finally, one kid does “Doe, a Deer” with his armpit. Stop the contest, just send that kid up there for thirty-eight minutes.
Even the elementary school kids audition. Most of them sing old fifties songs. It’s weird. The only fifties song I remember at a school talent show was when my friend danced to the song “Polka Dot Bikini” in an outfit appropriate for the song title, but not for a first-grader. Most of the songs at the school talent shows that I attended in elementary school were contemporary. The first talent show after “Macarena” featured fifty kids doing the dance onstage at the same time. However, the abundance of fifties nostalgia is not the least realistic thing about the talent show. Stay tuned for that!
The rest of the elementary school kids who aren’t talented enough to sing fifties songs need to do something, so Jessi suggests they put on a skit about their school and teachers. Pinky says that it might be a bad idea because the teachers might get mad. Jessi suspects that Pinky voted for Tru-, ahem, excuse me. Jessi suspects that Pinky is racist.
Dawn’s feelings of inadequacy are taking over so Dawn declines to participate in the snowball fight, which is actually just Capture the Flag. Instead, she goes to the library and plays Monopoly with two randos who don’t matter. What matters is that Dawn loses so quickly that the randos are astonished, so I guess that means the game only took seven hours instead of the usual seven days and a phone call.
Then Dawn sees Pinky crying. Pinky says she’s been unpleasant because she’s homesick. That’s supposed to excuse her behavior toward Jessi. I don’t buy it. She was unpleasant to everyone, but the only person she treated like a servant was Jessi. I don’t care what Dawn says, I still think Pinky is racist.
Dawn rewards Pinky’s behavior with hot chocolate.
And just like that, Dawn and Mary Anne make up.
Then Mary Anne is back to writing letters to Logan that sound like she’s a Victorian ghost whose husband hasn’t come back from his whaling trip.
My dearest, darling Logan,
How I miss you. How I pine for you. How I yearn and long for you.
After that, she writes a terrible sketch that implies she’s not a feminist, which would be massively disappointing. When she gives the sketch to Jessi, Jessi tells her that they already have a sketch, but thanks for trying.
Then Mary Anne gets a call. It’s from Saturday Night Live! They want to do her terrible sketch instead. Not really. It’s just Logan. They say they miss each other and have a boring conversation and say they love each other.
During her spying, the youngest BSC member mistakes parmesan cheese for poison. Then she blames Pinky’s racism on Jessi. Sort of.
She decided that Pinky’s nasty behavior was a result of being prejudiced. But if Jessi had opened her eyes and looked beyond her own problems, she’d have seen that Pinky was having some trouble being away from home.
Oh, how silly of Jessi, a person who experiences racism every day, think that a girl, who treats Jessi like a servant, may be prejudiced. Yes, the problem is on Jessi, not the girl who acts racist when she’s sad.
First Mary Anne is making fun of feminism and now Mallory is making excuses for the racist kid. This is not a great look.
Later that night, the students gather in the main room and tell ghost stories. They are mostly of the urban legend variety, including the woman whose dog bit off a would-be burglar’s finger (which I think was on an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?), and the escaped maniac/boyfriend scratching at the roof of a car.
The stories spook the kids. When I was thirteen, I knew all those urban legends better than I knew the stories in The Baby-Sitters Club. It probably helped that there was a movie all about those stories called Urban Legend that we all watched and loved. (Looking back, I can’t recommend the movie. The best thing about it is that Jared Leto, who portrayed the main lead, doesn’t think he’s in the movie.)
It’s finally Talent Night. The teachers need their fifteen minutes of fame because they didn’t get it when they were young and hot. We have come to the least realistic thing about this story, grinding the book to a halt, reminding us that an adult woman wrote these:
One teacher stepped forward and said, “Welcome to the Do-wop Stop.” Then he stepped back in line. For the next seven or so minutes those teachers sang a medley of fifties hits. That in itself was pretty good because it turned out that these, like, math and social studies teachers could actually harmonize. But the fun part was that they’d changed the words of the songs, so they were singing about things like kids cutting classes, the noise in the cafeteria, the bus ride to Leicester Lodge, and even the Winter War. When they were done, they somehow seemed like real people to me, instead of just teachers. I guess they sounded like that to the rest of the kids, too, because they got a huge round of applause.
What? Absolutely not. I went to talent shows. I went to mandatory pep rallies. I went to school presentations. At all those events, teachers sometimes did things like lip sync, put on little sketches, sing songs, or dress up in what they thought was “hip” clothing. I watched all these attempts to connect with the kids. I saw it all, and I never thought it was fun, interesting, relatable, or whatever it was supposed to instill in me. What it did instill in me was embarrassment. For me, for the teachers, and for everyone involved. I wanted to curl into the tiniest iota of a ball and fly away to a place where I didn’t have to watch whatever the teachers were doing.
Sometimes we didn’t know the old song they were singing and then they tried to get us to sing along. You can’t sing along to a song you don’t know, Mrs. Parker!
Not knowing the old song was better than when they tried to be contemporary. That was worse. That was a nightmare. It was not fun when they changed the lyrics. Hey, that’s not the song I know! Just sing the stupid song like it sounds on the radio. But that wasn’t what made it a nightmare. Sometimes the teachers would dress up. They’d put on puffy pants, backward hats, and those sunglasses that were slit, and then they’d rap. And they’d rap and dance. They’d gesticulate in a way that, for them, meant hip-hop, but to us, it meant they had never listened to anything harder than Vanilla Ice. Only clean rap for them. Looking back, their performance was probably quite racist - like Baby’s First Minstrel Show.
And after it was over, there was no wild applause. There was no admiration. There was polite, if not lackluster, applause and relief that it was over. And then there was the reflection. How do they not know that’s not how you dress or dance? Do they know the actual song? Do they know how “California Love” actually goes?
Finally, the dread set in. “Are we going to be like that?”
Jessi may have had a good experience, but she was written by an adult white woman who forgot about the abject embarrassment intrinsic to teacher performances.
The rest of the talent show features fifties music and a boy redoes a skit from I Love Lucy. Finally, Pinky apologizes to Jessi.
Now the Do-Wop Show should apologize for digging up memories I thought I had banished into the farthest depths of my mind.
While fantasizing about her ski instructor as if he were a predator, somehow, Kristy’s team (blue) beats Claudia’s team (red) in the ski race. At lunch, Claudia talks about how Guy likes her. Mary Anne says he is too old, and she would be correct. Claudia remarks that age doesn’t matter. Claudia, age matters a lot. The only dudes who would agree with you are dudes you shouldn’t be talking to. They’re also the ones who know the age of consent in every state.
Then Guy introduces Claudia to his family - a wife and kid and everything. Guy is not a predator, but Claudia is still devastated. I, the reader, am relieved.
The first thing Kristy does that morning is scour the cafeteria for cross-country skiers. She finds two victims, both of whom have little to no experience with cross-country skiing. One ends up falling and the other kid breaks his ankle. Kristy’s team loses both the event and the entire war.
Kristy finally realizes she’s been a jerk and she runs to Mary Anne. She says that the point of the game was to have fun. No, Kristy, the point of the game is to get you accustomed to pointless competition so the only way you can feel successful is through the suffering and loss of another person or group of people.
Mary Anne soothes her.
Mallory doesn’t want to go to the dance because she can’t dance. I think it’s a valid reason, but the other members of the BSC don’t think so. Plus the elementary school kids are going to the dance also, so it’s more like a school-wide gathering with dimmed lighting.
Anyway, because people can’t just say no and everyone stops bothering them, Mallory goes to the dance. Some boy from her math class asks her to dance. Mallory wonders what she was worried about. I continue to think dances are stupid.
Stacey puts in a fancy hair clip and dances with Pierre. They promise to write to each other. He kisses her hand and she vows to never wash her hand again. Stacey becomes a super spreader.
They arrive back in Stoneybrook safely, there are some postcards, and Mary Anne refers to the BSC as the greatest friends in the world.
Once again, it’s time for my arbitrary ranking of the stories, starting from the worst and ending with the best.
Kristy - Who the hell cares about the Winter War?
Dawn - See Kristy.
Claudia - I’m glad Guy wasn’t a predator, but she needs a different storyline besides a crush.
Stacey - Pierre seems fine. There wasn’t much Winter War with her stuff, so that was welcome.
Mallory - Why is she spying on people again? Also, if she doesn’t want to go to a dance, don’t make her. Why are the characters so dedicated to making people do things they don’t want to do?
Jessi - I don’t care what her reasons are, Pinky is a miserable character to read about. I wholeheartedly disagree with Jessi about teachers performing, but I enjoyed the talent show auditions. It would be nice for Jessi to participate in something besides a talent show, though. She needs her own little romance instead of Claudia for the millionth time.
Mary Anne - The archaic prose in her letters made for the funniest moments in the book, but not for the right reasons. I liked the ghost stuff, but Mary Anne’s pining overshadowed what could have been a spooky tale about flying cutlery.
Overall, this book is a rehash of previous Super Specials. Claudia gets a crush, Mallory is spying, Jessi is dealing with a talent show, and Kristy is being a jerk. The only characters who get some variety are Stacey and Dawn. It’s not like they should stop doing these things altogether - I just want some variety. Add a little spice.
Additionally, the stories didn’t connect as much as I would like. Sure, characters had cameos in other characters’ stories, but none of these cameos really affected or changed a potential outcome for another character. Dawn sort of caused her team to lose the war, but when Kristy was scrounging for cross-country participants, I think the fate of the blue team was sealed.
But you know what? There are so many more Super Specials in the future and more opportunities to see the BSC in unusual circumstances. It wasn’t perfect, but I did have an enjoyable time reading it, even if it brought up some memories I would have preferred to keep buried.
So if you’re in a beautiful cabin like the BSC members, at a beach in Aruba, or at home, reading a book, I hope you’re safe and warm. Happy Holidays and I’ll see you next time!