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The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey
posted October 31, 2006

imageCreator: Raina Telgemeier
Publishing Information: Scholastic, Softcover, 142 pages, $8.99
Ordering Numbers: 0439739365 (ISBN)

It's hard to review something like The Baby-Sitters Club series, and not just because I'm a million miles removed from its target audience of, I'm guessing, girls between the ages of eight and twelve. What makes it difficult is that books like these distance themselves -- on purpose and for considered effect -- from a lot of thing that art does that I find interesting: things like portraying realism or providing real dramatic tension or saying something deeply insightful about a type of character or situation. There's a great deal of what I call "decency fantasy" in this set-up of a circle of 12-year-old friends baby-sitting for younger kids from around town, to the point where you sort of figure out immediately how this edition, revolving around the diabetic member Stacey and a challenge to the Club by an outside service, will resolve itself. The characters are much nicer than people you meet in the real world, and even the mean ones stop short of pure ugliness. It's not a world I or even its kids readership will fully recognize, but one can see its appeal for children who have to live in a world that goes that extra mile to punish that people that live there.

The easiest thing to do is blast books like The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey for not providing the rich, challenging experience of the kind that I personally value; I might even be right in doing so. In the end, though, I remain uncertain whether or not there's something to be said for the comfort and reinforcement and the overall mildness of something like these books, particularly in contrast to so much entertainment that's harsh and shrill and has its drama is ratcheted up to grapple with life and death and spiritual meaning. The audience is children, and children often prefer Buddig ham sandwiches with mayonaise and Diet 7-Up to Chicken Fesenjan and spiced, hot tea. There's also the civics lesson aspect here, which is easier to denigrate when you've already benefited. In this book the idea shared between plotlines is that you should stand up for yourself; hard to say that's a bad thing.

Where I can fault this book without a second thought is that with Stacey moving into the forefront I really began to lose track of the other kids, and the kids they baby-sit, both character-wise and visually. There's too much bleed here between the characters personality-wise; Raina Telgemeier's art reads well but lacks the storytelling component available to art that's more richly detailed and tightly rendered. Because the character isn't sharp, Stacey's external situations define her more than her reaction to it defines her. In fact, there's one scene where Stacey apologizes for doing something I thought was interesting because it would set her apart from the other kids, and almost immediately another character chimes in and says they do it, too! There's a very fine line between providing a fantasy of decent people whose good intentions and sterling behavior generally leads to a positive outcome, and presenting a group of characters so bland across the board that it seems to say you have to be a certain way in order to expect the same results.