the best friends you’ll never have
If there’s one thing that the fandom seems to 100% agree on, it’s that Jessi’s handwriting is too damn hard to read. Many cheerfully admit that they skip the sections where she has handwritten something, or even say that they can’t read cursive at all. (I have actually had people my age–28–tell me to rewrite something in print so that they can read it.)
Now, cursive, and whether it’s worth teaching kids how to do it, with the ubiquity of computers and all, is a hot-button issue. Personally, I am glad that laptops in the classroom only really became a thing after I finished college, because the clackety-clack of 20 or so keyboards going simultaneously would have driven me crazy, plus it’s easier to think with a pen in your hand. Anyway, that is not what I’m writing about today. Back to Jessi and her poor, maligned handwriting.
My rereading of My Own Two Feet that I mentioned last week also resulted in several Wikipedia/Google k-holes about common handwriting systems in the United States. Beverly Cleary, having gone to school in the ’20s and ’30s, learned the Palmer Method. When you look up the Palmer Method, it looks a lot like Jessi’s writing.
Apparently Oakley was just very behind the times in their writing program, because by the ’50s, the Palmer method was on the way out, to be replaced by Zaner-Bloser, which is what I learned, and which has more in common with Mary Anne’s writing than Jessi’s.
Now, of course, if kids do learn cursive today, they learn D’Nealian, which is stupid and ugly. But let’s stop insulting Jessi’s handwriting. It is a part of American cultural heritage! And I have never understood the whole “hard-to-read” thing, anyway. Jessi’s handwriting 4 lyfe!
Lately, I’m finding that I’m less inclined to read BSC Snark than I used to be. I’ve never been the biggest fan of snark, and it’s never been the focus of my interest in discussing the BSC. But recently, I’ve found that the snark has taken a quite virtriolic turn, and often ends up reading like long personal attacks against Ann herself. I don’t find it amusing or pleasant to read, the way I do a funny snark by my personal favorite snarkers, 3-foot-6 and alula-auburn.
I do think that Ann could have done a better job in the series with, say, her portrayal of overweight people–Ethel Tines, Norman Hill–and she could have had a class of people in Stoneybrook besides “lawyers.” Reading Ann’s newer books, however, I think she has gotten a lot better with all of issues that people complain about in the books, and from the readalong I did of her earlier books, I’d say the BSC books are an improvement.
This also came to my mind this week because I recently reread, for the 100th or so time, Beverly Cleary’s two memoirs, which are favorites of mine. As I am wont to do, after I read them, I was googling around, and came across this article from People in 1988.
It included this quote, which stuck out to me:
Unlike many other writers, she has resisted the idea that children’s books should be politically relevant. “I write about people, not problems,” she says. She has, on occasion, been criticized for this, particularly by those who wonder why her books include no minority characters. “I write about middle-class America—which, in my experience, is pretty much the same no matter what one’s color may be,” she says. “I like to think that the children in my books are the color of the reader.”
I think that recent events, such as Ferguson, have really brought to the forefront for people who may have been otherwise unaware that the experience of being middle class and white in America is not going to be universal for everyone who would be considered “middle class.” But Beverly Cleary is of a different generation, where it was a family scandal that she married a Catholic, and her first book came out four years before Brown vs. Board of Education.
Now, of course, I don’t think you could continuously publish books without non-white characters without getting some pretty heavy criticism. When I was younger, however, I don’t recall there being controversies like the one that erupted over Girls‘ all-white NYC. I got a comment on my most recent Link Roundup post from tintin lachance, who shared a quote from this article with me (titled, coincidentally, “Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?”):
When I worked in publishing back in the early ’90s, I had a friend who brought me along to sort publisher book donations at a well-known author’s NYC apartment. On our way, my friend told me that the author, who had quietly and modestly started an admirable literacy foundation, had also broken the color barrier in series book covers. She had had to fight to get a black main character on the cover of a book, against marketing resistance fearing the book wouldn’t sell to the series’ great white readership. She won the battle, and that book sold more copies than any of its prior series-mates. This is anecdotal, but I have no reason to doubt its veracity.
While this is, as it says in the article, anecdotal, I have to agree with tintin that it sounds like they’re referring to Ann and Jessi’s Secret Language. I also can’t think of another children’s book series from my childhood of a similar size to the BSC that had a black main character except for Saddle Club‘s Carole, who, as I remember, was not black in the earlier books.
My point with these two quotes it that Beverly Cleary is of our grandmother’s generation. Ann was born in 1955, which makes her the same age as Cleary’s twins. She is also a couple of years younger than my own mother, and I was born a month before Kristy’s Great Idea came out. So generationally, we’re dealing with grandmother/mother/current generation of people who are having kids and beginning our reign of dominating the discourse. I think we have to remember that the BSC books were written between 28 and 14 years ago, and some things are going to be out of date. It is the same as when you talk to your parents, and they say something that you find offensive. Should you start a dialogue about it? Yes. Will the result perhaps be, “Well, that’s what I’ve always said, so I’m just going to keep saying it”? Maybe. Society is evolving constantly, and while I think we should always read critically, I don’t think we should expect writers of the past to have the same views as writers of the present.
I think it’s important to look at the books in their context of their time period. If Ann wrote something egregious in Family Tree or any of her other newer books, then yes, let’s criticize the hell out of it. But for snarks of BSC books, I’d like a return to fun and lightheartedness, and less what comes off as hatred for Ann.
Now, of course, what Ann has against people who chew gum and watch TV, I’ll never know.
From the beginning, the tagline of this site has been “The best friends you’ll never have.” This is a tongue-in-cheek way of revealing a kind of sad truth about myself, which is that apart from a brief spell in sixth grade, I didn’t really have friends until I was in ninth grade. I think that my childhood experience matches up pretty well with the typical INTJ experience. I loved to spend my time reading, writing, and creating, and had little use for other children. I couldn’t find other kids on the same wavelength.
Instead, I read a lot, and I read a LOT of BSC. So that’s where the tagline comes from.
I fantasized about having a big group of friends. But looking back, I’m wondering that if I were a middle school student, and I was invited to join the BSC–would I?
On the one hand, obviously I would. I had no friends. It would have been a dream come true for me to have had people to hang out with, eat lunch with, partner up on group projects with, who would have chosen me for their team in gym class even though I sucked at sports. Just think how much worse Mallory’s “Spaz Girl” experience would have been if she hadn’t had the BSC to support her. That’s what my middle school experience was like.
On the other hand, as I mentioned, I’m an INTJ. I need lots of time for my own weird projects (like this blog and the wiki!). The BSC was a huge demand on the time of the sitters. Also, one thing I found out later is that, at least for me, baby-sitting is a hard job, and nowhere near as enjoyable as I thought it would be. Parents who limit television-watching make it extremely difficult for sitters, because then it’s ALL the kids want to do. But I digress.
I mean, obviously, with my situation in middle school, an automatic group of friends who would stick by me would have made a huge difference in my life. But all that baby-sitting… Eh. Who am I kidding? I would have joined in a heartbeat.
I haven’t done any of the BSC projects I’d planned for this summer. I couldn’t even get this week’s blog posts up on time. The wiki will have to wait for when I have a work lull, I suppose.
My favorite part of playing Life was when you got to pick your house. I’ve always had a strange fascination with real estate, even as a small child. Anyway, so today I got to thinking about the different houses that the BSC lived in, and which one was my favorite.
Kristy’s mansion holds an obvious appeal, although I wouldn’t want a family big enough to use all that space. Maybe I could turn part of the house into my own three-story closet. It also just seems like a lot to take care of. You’d need to be way more than a millionaire nowadays to take care of a house like that.
For my personal tastes, I think the Schafers are the winners here. I love description of Dawn’s dad’s California house, with its skylights and courtyard. I think it sounds really cool, and I wish there would have been some scenes that took place in that courtyard so we could have gotten an idea of what it was like. Maybe something like this?
I also like the Schafers’ (and later Schafers/Spiers’) farmhouse in Stoneybrook. I love old houses in general. It does seem like it would be small and dark, though, and not all that convenient.
But it did have a barn. This is the part where the mega-purists of the fandom are going to get a little upset with me, because I think the best house in the series is the renovated barn. While Randy Zak from Girl Talk also lived in a renovated barn, hers seemed much less pleasant, like a barn that they just added insulation and electricty to. They didn’t have rooms, just screens dividing rooms.
The Schafer-Spier barn/house, on the other hand, is light and airy. They have actual bedrooms on the second floor, and the whole place just seemed so lovely and comfortable. I love the idea of a barn/house because it’s like a loft apartment, but you don’t have to live in an apartment building. In my head, there’s a ton of white and windows everywhere. Mary Anne’s books in FF basically double as house porn.
Here’s an idea of what it might look like:
Now, with the conversion of the barn into a living space, the BSC lost one of their most important assets, which was a place to hold events. Perhaps this should have been a sign for Kristy that the end is near when Mary Anne didn’t freak out about the loss of the BSC’s event space.
What is your favorite house in BSC?
If you read BSC Snark, you will have noticed that in the last week or so, there has been a rash of anti-Stacey snarks and comments. And longtime readers of this blog know that I am an inverterate fan of Stacey. So I thought I’d just talk about how I view Stacey, and why I like Stacey so much.
Part of the reason I like her so much is BECAUSE she is flawed. She makes mistakes, like putting boys before friends, or ditching her BSC friends for cool new ones, or the entire plot of Stacey’s Secret Friend. But these mistakes are ones that lots of girls make during their middle school/high school years–and some make their whole lives–and Stacey making these mistakes, and learning from them, helps younger BSC readers see the folly of prioritizing a dumb boy who will only cheat on you later over Claudia, or ditching your true-blue BFFs for some other girls who promise excitement, but will only get you in trouble when they sneak airplane bottles of wine in their flop socks into a U4Me concert. You don’t learn these kinds of lessons from Fandom Saint Janine Kishi. (No hate on Janine here, though; I <3 Janine.) Is Stacey basically a hosebeast throughout all of Stacey’s Secret Friend, as the latest snark of this book posits? Of course! But she also learns that she is a hosebeast in the end, and understands that this caused her to miss out on having a really cool friend from PARIS, a city even more impossibly sophisticated than New York.
The other reason I like Stacey is because I relate to her. We have similar interests and family situations. But I can also relate to Mallory in some ways, and this was especially when I was in middle school. I think a lot of people who are involved in the fandom relate to Mallory, and this is perhaps why Stacey, the most popular baby-sitter throughout the entire run of the series, gets so much hate within it. Most of us–myself included–were the Tesses or the Spaz Girls or the uncool friend thrown over for cool new ones. We did not have cool permed hair and sophisticated designer wardrobes.
As children reading the books, however, we might not have realized our eventual fate, and probably some girls who were reading the book and idolized Stacey did become that girl in middle or high school. Stacey represents a cool, sophisticated, permed fantasy, and this is why she was always so popular. Now, I would say I like Stacey best because of the aforementioned ways I relate to her, and the fact that her plots are generally the ones I find to be the most interesting. I also like that she is arguably the most intelligent of the BSC, if you don’t count associate member Shannon. I haven’t kept track, but I would guess that when I do go back to reread BSC, I probably reach for Stacey books the most.
Where do you fall in the Pro-Stacey/Anti-Stacey debate?