Friday, April 16, 2010

BSC #117: Claudia and the Terrible Truth

Wait, is Sadako going to snark a book...about child abuse? You're damned right. Sorry, but this book was so lowcore, I think it even makes Ann M.'s favorite old standby Five Little Peppers and How They Grew look intense. For snarking a child abuse book, I'm either getting my snark button revoked. Or receiving about a thousand new ones in the mail.

This book was ghostwritten by Ellen Miles. The same Ellen Miles who writes a series called the Puppy Place, about purebred puppies finding homes (aka, the canine Diff'rent Strokes). Ellen, whose favorite part of Chicago was the darling relationship between Roxie and her adorable, albeit fictional, baby. Ellen, who has no children, but tours Kids 'R Us to ooh and ahh over things like baby cummerbunds.

With that in mind, let's start the snark. This book is basically about Claudia finding out that some kids she's sitting for have a physically abusive dad. Before you get excited, no, it's not an established family. Mr. Newton didn't pull a Louise Woodward on Lucy. Watson didn't finally give the audience what they wanted with a smackdown on Karen they so desperately wanted (hell, even PBS was bold enough to give it to them, with Arthur and D.W.). It's a new family called the Nicholls.

Meet Mr. Nicholls. He's about the worst guy that Ellen can think of. He's got a moustache, which tips us pop culture savvy fans off right away that he's just not right.
  • He's cartoonishly evil. For example, his reaction to one of his kids touching his briefcase is to make them clean the entire house. (Shave off the 'stache, and he'd make a good Disney villainness.)
  • He doesn't work--he's off at job interviews most of the time. And his wife works at the library with Mrs. Kishi. The emasculation is strong in this one.
  • He doesn't let his kids talk during dinner. (Ellen, you've been watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast for inspiration, haven't you? I can tell!)
  • There's to be no lollygagging. Bed is for bed. Not for reading books or having fun. Mr. Nicholls is basically Captain Von Trapp without the principles (or the ability to leave Little Sadako feeling bewitched, bothered, and bewildered without knowing why).
  • The kids get screamed at for getting their clothes messy or spilling anything. Mr. N also bitches about his wife taking so long to get ready when Claudia shows up at their house to sit one night. "Women," he grumps. Ellen, have you been dipping into As Good As It Gets again? I told you, not until you get your pug themed nightlight repaired.
  • Finally, the most diabolical part about Mr. Nicholls? Not the Adrian Monk esque sensibilities or the yelling. When Claud tucks the boys in at night, she asks if they have any stuffed animals. They mention they used to have a toy bear and a toy tiger, but their father took them away. Claudia gasps. A life free of plush animals is a life half lived.
In sum, Mr. Nicholls is the product of Ellen Miles watching musicals featuring families with strict dads and moms who are dead (or worse--suffragettes) before Julie Andrews swooped in and made it all better.

Taking a Sad Song and Making It Better

Does Claudia save the day? You know she does! When Erica (a non BSC member) is sitting for the boys, she sees that one of the kids has a black eye and the other has bruises. Erica calls Claud, who calls her mother. Claudia and the Kishis get the kids and their mother out of there. Then they return for Mrs. Nicholls' car, pile her in it with juice and snacks, and and then send her on a four hour drive to stay with her sister (the boys' aunt) who lives in upstate New York. Despite the fact that no one files a police report or talks about divorce, you know they're going to be okay. Why? Because Aunt Rescuer has a new husky puppy.

I'm a little suspicious. Why? Because of what happened in Boy Meets World. When Shawn and Cory try to protect an abused girl, she ends up going to live with her aunt eventually. (In the case of Boy Meets World, replace cute puppy with a house full of beautiful flowers.) My theory? Ellen Miles spent a bit too much time on the cute baby parts of this book and farmed out the unimportant things like chapter 2 and the conclusion to a ghostwriter of her very own: a 90s kid who spent her youth on the orange Snick couch watching TGIF on ABC.

At the very end after the boys have left, Claudia buys a stuffed tiger and bear and sends them to the kids. And because it ends with stuffed animals, you know everything's fine.

Not shown: Mr. Nicholls stalking Claudia to the post office, ripping the head off of the tiger and sticking a GPS into it. Also not shown: the Waco-esque stand off at Mrs. Nicholls' sister's place next week.

House of Baby

Peaches and Russ make an appearance in this book. They drop off little Lynn to stay with the Kishis while they go on vacation. Mrs. Kishi takes the baby to work and forces her assistant to watch her, till Claudia comes over after school to do some baby obsessing. And because it's an Ellen Miles book, all the BSC members argue over who gets to hold and feed Lynn:
"Is she here--?" [Kristy] began loudly. Then she spotted Lynn, and her voice dropped to a whisper. "Oh, she's beautiful..." She reached out to stroke Lynn's head...

"Can you go downstairs and ask my mom to heat some formula?" I whispered to Kristy. "I bet she'll be hungry when she wakes up."

Kristy nodded. "I'll bring it up in a couple of minutes," she promised. She was still gazing at Lynn.

Lynn stretched again. "Hurry!" I said. I didn't want Lynn to have to wait.

Kristy bolted out the door. I started cooing over Lynn...
Fashionable, hip Claudia? Where have you gone? Sadako turns her lonely eyes to you. I long for the Claudia who reserved this level of enthusiasm for the new Dior mascara.

I also decided to see if I could recover the first draft of the rest of the meeting (which was edited out because it was too baby obsessive even for Ann M.).

The rest of the BSC members filed in. Stacey gasped. "She's even more beautiful than I remembered."

Mary Anne sighed. "She's as exquisite as Mrs. Towne's pleater."

Mallory piped up. "This time, Claud, do you think I might...look at her?"

I laughed. "No, Mal. But you can take one of the Infanta's used diapers."

"I'll treasure it!"

Kristy came back in with the formula. "Please deign to accept the offering," she said, head bowed.

I Smell a Cross-Over...

The puppy that Joey and Nate's aunt owns is a husky puppy. And what's the name of Ellen Miles' regular series? That's right, the Puppy Place. I smell cross-promotion! All right, all right, Ellen Miles did publish a book called Bear about a husky abandoned by his sled dog team. But that didn't happen until 2009, and this book was written in 1998.

Still, in my fantasy, this was going to be how Bear got introduced to a wider audience. Sort of the same way that Mrs. Garrett eased Diff'rent Strokes viewers into The Facts of Life, or Launch Pad introduced fans of Duck Tales to Darkwing Duck.


I know the BSC was RL4, but it's got the most toned down abuse ever. Claudia hears a slap. We see bruises and a black eye. Mr. Nicholls yells at his kids. Granted, I was reared on A Child Called It, but c'mon. Even Miss Hannigan got in a few purple nurples and rear admirals now and then (check your deleted scenes carefully on that DVD!).

So I decided to write in my own abuse scene, inspired by my favorite abuse episode of all time.

Andrew Brewer: "Daddy's going to be so mad at Karen and me for throwing Holy Water onto Morbidda Destiny!"

Nate Nicholls: "Uh oh. Well, when you're getting it, you should think of something fun. Like the bottle dance from Fiddler."

Andrew: "Getting it?"

Nate: "Yeah, you know. When your dad gathers up all your teddy bears and has a yard sale."

Andrew: "My dad doesn't take my stuffed toys. Does...yours?"

Nate: "No! Just...forget it."


Another hallmark that this is an Ellen Miles book? The BSC charges do a special project, and it doesn't involve any mention of Fiddler on the Roof. Only someone really tight with Ann like Ellen (or someone who has an audio tape of Ann's drunken, "Ann Landers is a boring old biddy!" confession, like Peter) could get away with that. What is the special project? It's a Saint Patrick's Day parade devoid of drunkenness, cussing, stereotypes, evil leprechauns, and anything remotely fun.

Outfits, Outfits, Outfits!

Are there any wacky Claudia Kishi outfits in this book? Haven't you been paying attention? It's an Ellen Miles book. You've got a better chance of a description of the darling pantaloons on one of Mimi's old LladrĂ³ figurines. And it's not like Ellen didn't have opportunities. Claudia forgets her jacket and has to go back for it--and that's when she overhears the slap. It could have been a military double breasted Michael Jackson circa the late '80s jacket. It could have been a neon flashing LED lights bolero jacket.

But knowing Ellen, it was probably a plain old denim jacket. If I could go back in time, I'd buy Ellen a fictional bedazzler and urge her to experiment. ("I know it's tacky but if some of your outfits don't turn out so well, just let Mal and Karen wear them.") Poor Ellen. In terms of BSC couture, I can't help seeing her as the Wendy Pepper to Lerangis's Christian Siriano. (I like to think that he and his entourage of ghostwriter ghosties chant "Hot tranny mess" her until she cries at staff meetings.)

Daily Dose of Creepy

Ellen tries so hard to be edgy. And I have to admit, Mr. Nicholls calling up Claudia after his wife and kids have flown the coop to scream, "Give me back my wife" at her is up there. It's not quite as creepy as it would have been had Mr. N. called Claudia pretending to want to know if she'd seen his mustache comb before launching into a diatribe, but still.

Have a great weekend, guys, and I promise to work on my blogging this weekend so I'll have some really great posts for next week!