Ciara's Reviews > Keep Out, Claudia!

Keep Out, Claudia! by Ann M. Martin
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Nov 20, 2010

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bookshelves: kids-books, read-in-2010
Read in November, 2010

claudia is babysitting for the rodowskys. shea is practicing for his piano recital, which makes archie & jackie feel a little envious. jackie is upset because he can't seem to take any lessons & pursue any hobbies without breaking something. archie just wants attention. he says he could be a star, if only someone gave him a chance. sorry, archie. stoneybrook has reached critical mass for red-headed talented children in one rosie wilder.

archie's whining gives claudia an idea. what if the babysitters club organized their regular charges into a makeshift band? some of the kids actually do play instruments--shea & marilyn arnold play piano. charlotte johanssen has started taking guitar lessons. matthew hobart plays violin. the other kids can play kid instruments like kazoos, & some kids could make their own instruments--like drums out of oatmeal containers. i can see like a thousand problems with this right off the bat. such as, won't the kids who actually know how to play instruments be resentful of playing with hacks beating on oatmeal boxes? how reasonable is the expectation that a seven-year-old blowing on a kazoo is actually going to be able to play a recognizable song? there's also the issue of kids being flaky & not necessarily wanting to commit to the tedium of practicing. but this is stoneybrook, where the children are unrealistically dedicated & obedient, & tons of them are excited about the band idea.

meanwhile, the sitters have a new family to sit for, named lowell. the lowells have three picture-perfect blonde blue-eyed children. caitlin is eight, mackie is six, & celeste is four. mary anne is the first one to watch them, & they are very good with her, though they ask a lot of questions, including weird shit like, "what's your religion?" they also suggest that the pikes must be catholic after mary anne tells them that there are eight pike children. & she catches them giggling at a television program featuring two asian children riding bicycles. they say that the kids on bikes "look funny". mary anne doesn't see what's so funny about them, but she speculates that she had her back turned while they did something silly, so she forgets about it.

claudia is the next one to watch the lowells, & things go pretty badly. mrs. lowell is brusque with her, & the kids are terrors who want to eat an entire bag of oreo cookies. she takes them to jamie newton's house to introduce them to the all-kids' band, & they like that. they want to join. but they also fling themselves at mary anne & don't want anything to do with claudia. claudia is concerned that her wild outfit may have scared or alienated the lowell family. she can't imagine what else she did wrong.

mrs. lowell calls again, specifically requesting any sitter but claudia, & this time only jessi is free. claudia has filled the other sitters in on her poor babysitting experience, so jessi decides to come prepared. she wears a tasteful outfit & stocks her kid-kit with toys specially geared to the lowell kids. she also takes pains to show up early, but not TOO early. but when she arrives, mrs. lowell takes one look at her & says she doesn't need a sitter after all. jessi knows something isn't right here, but she can't quite figure out what the problem is. she wonders if mrs. lowell was able to tell by looking at her that she is younger than the other sitters...but for all her attempts at being open-minded & practical, her feelings are hurt & she cries.

the other sitters are equally as flummoxed. mary anne is signed up to sit for the lowells again soon, so kristy convinces her to let kristy take the job, to try to get to the bottom of the problem. kristy also bends over backwards to prepare for her job. she even wears a skirt, lest mrs. lowell be of the opinion that girls need to dress in a feminine manner. the kids are pretty nice to her, but they make certain comments about their previous sitters that set kristy's mind to working. at home that night, she requests a family conference with her mom, watson, & nannie. she tells them that she suspects that the lowells are racist. that's why the kids wouldn't behave for claudia, who is japanese american, & why mrs. lowell wouldn't even allow jessi, who is black, in the door. the adults do not dissuade kristy of this theory. they basically just sigh & tell her that racism happens, & it sucks. kristy is sad & angry.

she brings her theory up at the next babysitters club meeting & jessi says she has been wondering the same thing. but claudia freaks out. she has apparently never been victimized by racism before & she is really angry. all the other babysitters are disgusted as well, but in my personal opinion, they are a LONG fucking way from being helpful. there's a lot of bullshit commentary about racist skinheads & the ku klux klan, like only the most obvious & violent racists are actually racist. i mean, the lowells are obviously racist, but there are a lot of more nuanced degrees of racism that are just as hurtful & dehumanizing. stacey & dawn huff & puff over how they probably wouldn't meet the lowells' standards either because their parents are that is in any way the same thing as someone being racist against you. i mean, i know this is a kids' book & the general theme is about embracing diversity & being accepting of people who are different from you, regardles sof their ehtnicities, family situations, religions, etc, but it still really smacks of stacey & dawn (& kristy & mary anne & mallory) failing to support their friends of color because they are too busy fussing over the possibility that they may be victimized as well. mary anne (who i continue to loathe with all my being) actually CRIES when she speculates that racist skinheads might attack her because some of her ancestors are russian. what? SHUT UP, mary anne.

at dinner, claudia asks her parents if they have ever experienced racism. she says something to the effect of, "i never realized there was anything wrong with being japanese," & mr. kishi handles the situation pretty well when he replies, "i'm sorry you ever felt the need to say something like that." because obviously there IS nothing wrong with being japanese. janine is less helpful when she informs claudia that japanese americans were shipped off to interment camps in the united states during world war two because the government feared they would spy for the japanese enemy. claudia is horrified. she has been learning about german concentration camps in school, but she never realized there were camps in the united states. janine says the japanese internment camps were not death camps...but they still sucked & were a manifestation of racism. claudia employs a poor word choice in describing the german concentration camps, saying she's been learning about "all those camps with funny names." first of all, there's nothing "funny" about concentration camps. second of all, there is nothing "funny" (either ha-ha or weird) about names that are derived from a language other than english. get it together, claudia.

mrs. lowell actually has the nerve to call for yet another sitter, & she even goes so far as to request a blonde-haired blue-eyed sitter. kristy handles the call & suggests logan for the job. mrs. lowell splutters because she apparently doesn't think sitting is an appropriate job for a boy. kristy says she'd take the job herself, but she might be busy that day sitting for emily michelle, her adopted vietnamese sister. mrs. lowell says she doesn't need a sitter after all. kristy hangs up & gets on the cross over how mrs. lowell was hating on her for having a vietnamese sister. yeah, kind of pales in comparison to what jessi & claudia are dealing with right now, but nice try.

in some unbelievably heavy-handed contrast writing, jackie rodowsky decides the all-kinds' band needs a name. he suggest all the children, which is short for all the children of the world. which is the worst name i've ever heard. he says it's perfect because the kids in the band represent all different ages & ethnic backgrounds. he & his brothers are polish, the hsus are asian (country not specified), the papadakises are greek, & jackie makes a big production of announcing that jamie newton's great-great-great-grandfather was a real live INJUN! he doesn't use that word, but he may as well have. he even gives a little speech about how this makes jamie a real american, because the indians were here before anyone else. *sigh* i wonder if jamie's great-great-great-grandfather was a cherokee prince.

jackie proposes the name to the other kids at the next rehearsal & everyone is into it. they decide to put on a show & play a whole program. after some arguing, they settle on "fiddler on the roof". because the score from "cats" just wouldn't pack the punch necessary to shove this tolerance & diversity message all the way down our throats. mrs. lowell comes by to drop the kids off for practice, but collects them in a big huff when she notices some non-aryan children in the band & realizes they are playing songs about russian jews.

the babysitters scheme to figure out a way to teach the lowells a lesson, but ultimately, they concede that racism is an enormous societal problem that they can't fix single-handedly. they just agree not to sit for the lowells anymore, & to hope that as the lowell children get older, they stop parroting their parents' fucked up belief systems.

the "fiddler on the roof" show happens, the kids raise money to buy matching band t-shirts, & claudia notices ciatlin & mackie lowell hovering in the rear of the crowd, looking wistful, like they wish they could have performed with the band. she is hopeful that this is their first step toward not being huge racists. &...scene. we never again hear anything about the lowells or all the children. i'm going to go ahead & assume that the lowell family & all the children's instruments were strapped on to a train car & shipped off the shelbyville, a la the real seymour skinner in the "simpsons" episode where we learn that principal skinner is living under an assumed identity.
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Tria I have to admit, reading this reinforced to me - as is not often done in this series - how young and comparatively naïve the BSC girls are. I can picture the white girls at 13 not understanding that it's not about them. Took me til adulthood to really understand that making that kind of comparison wasn't sympathetic so much as appropriative. So I feel it's more realistic that these kids of 11-14 might not 'get it'. Still a very simplistic book in some ways, I agree - but then again, a lot of the BSC books are that.

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