pens across america: stoneybrook shoulders the white man’s burden

this is my recap of babysitters club book #44, dawn’s big sleepover.

this book is preposterous. the premise is that second- through fifth-graders at stoneybrook elementary school are participating in the pens across america program, & have been assigned pen pals. their pen pals all attend an elementary school on the zuni indian reservation. the book opens with the pike kids showing a staggering lack of sensitivity to other cultures. adam is all bummed out because his pen pal has an “anglo” name & isn’t named, like, thomas flying eagle or something. he is also disappointed that his pen pal looks like a regular kid & isn’t sporting a headdress & war paint. mallory tells the kids they are being insensitive, but jesus fucking christ. i am not remotely surprised that this is the same town in which jessi’s family initially felt so unwelcome. i am not convinced that things would be so great if a second black family were to move to town.

anyway. dawn things the whole pen pal thing is pretty cool. but early in the book, mallory is late to a BSC meeting because her siblings received the news that the zuni students’ school burnt down. as did several houses on the reservation. she had to stay & comfort them. the babysitters are all aghast at this news…& dawn thinks that they should organize some kind of food drive/clothing drive/fundraiser. she pitches the idea to her brother’s old teacher, ms. besser. ms. besser likes it & suggests it to the other teachers. they like it too, & they arrange for dawn & the other BSC members to give a presentation at the elementary school outlining their idea. it all culminates with a huge sleepover for any SES students who participate. everyone is pumped.

& i’m pleased too, because this is a SES-specific storyline, which means…NO KAREN!

anyway. kids are instructed to bring food & clothing drive items to mary anne & dawn’s barn. the kids are on their own for fundraising ideas. the rodowskys host a fundraising yard sale, & it turns out that kids all across the neighborhood donate things without their parents’ permission. david miachel donates a bunch of books from watson’s library. no word on how he transported them to the rodowskys’ place. mysteriously, max & amanda delaney donate a fancy lamp. again, no word on how they transported it out of their neighborhood, or why, considering that they don’t go to SES, don’t have pen pals, & aren’t eligible to attend the sleepover. we have not exactly been led to believe through characterization that the delaneys are the kinds of kids that do things out of the goodness of their hearts.

anyway, all the parents who find their own possessions at the rodowsky sale decide it’s for a good cause & they buy their stuff back. so their kids are not exactly learning anything. yet another case of stoneybrook parenting fail. dawn & mary anne begin to realize that some of their clothing/food drive donations were also probably donated without parental permission. so they start hinting around to the parents, & manage to give some stuff back.

to raise money, the pikes host a carnival in their backyard. there’s a magician (performing for free?) & the perkins’ dog chewy ruins a bunch of shit. haley braddock dresses up like a gypsy (another instance of cultural insensitivity) & reads fortunes.

the whole project goes quite well & they have a bunch of stuff to send to the zunis, & they cut a check to the zuni elementary school principal. he writes them back & says that their check helped them secure financing to build a new school. bear in mind that the check was probably received about three weeks after the fire. so…seriously? the school struggled to get financing to re-build after a disaster like a fire for at least three weeks? the principal also says that the government just agreed to provide disaster relief funds. SERIOUSLY? THREE WEEKS AFTER THE DISASTER? i am dumbfounded. he adds that he speculates that the government ponied up the disaster relief money because the community has been striving to be so positive about the fire. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? so if the zunis had been all, “fuck this fire bullshit! our elementary school burnt down, our kids are just hanging out at home, some of our community member sare homeless & going hungry, & the government is not stepping up with disaster aid, nor is there enough money in the city/state education budget to get cracking on a new school building without the benevolent gifts of our white benefactors in connecticut. this fucking blows!” then the government would have been all, “hey you! turn that frown upside down if you want to see one red penny of this disaster relief funding! i said SMILE!”

the sleepover happens. some kids get scared & want to go home. some kids have to pee a lot. the pizza place providing dinner tries to back out but dawn manipulates them into making the thirty free pizzas, some with whole wheat crust. but i am so dumbfounded by the racism, cultural insensitivity, & utter FAIL in comprehending the way that government disaster relief & school budgets are administrated that i can’t even focus on the stupid sleepover. WTF, book?

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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