The Babysitters Club: Claudia and the Sad Goodbye by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic Inc. 1997).
I cannot put a precise percentage on it but a large majority of children’s books are complete trash. For every Charlotte’s Web (which takes place in Maine, in fact the fair in the book was based on the nearby Blue Hill Fair. White lived in Brooklin Maine and is buried in that town’s cemetery), there are thousands of Babysitters Clubs. Please do not talk to me about the Harry Potter series. To paraphrase the immortal words of D.C. sports talk legend Ken Beatrice on curly fries, I do not like Harry Potter, I have never read Harry Potter, I hear he is delicious. That very well may be and I hope for the sake of the children (because like Kate Gosselin, everything I do is for the children), that Harry Potter is as good as Charlotte’s Web. All I can say is that the Charlotte’s Web movie featured the voice of Paul Lynde as Templeton. The center square himself!!! Fucking Henry Gibson was the voice of Wilbur. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Sock it to me!!! Harry Potter features Richard Harris, who was only good in Orca; some twink named Rupert Grint, and Mini-Me as some abortion named Griphook the Goblin. You be the judge. It is a pet peeve of mine to see grown adults lugging the Harry Potter monstrosities on my morning train. Grow-up!!! The only kid’s books that are acceptable reading for adults are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. That is because Lewis Carroll was a sick and twisted motherfucker and a magnificent photographer to boot.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Claudia. What makes much of children’s literature junk is that is panders to its audience and plays on easy emotions. For example, the death of a beloved animal. I remember my fifth grade teacher Ms. DePaul (who will go down in history as one of the worst teachers I ever had; a completely clueless woman who looking back on it was probably a first-year teacher or close to it and terrified. Now that I think about it, I was no picnic. That said I will never forgive her from making me slave over my pathetic penmanship for a stupid Belly Button award. Ms DePaul, my handwriting is so bad right now, that I can’t even read it), reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class. No doubt to teach us an important lesson about loss. No matter that I was spending every other week in a hotel on visitation rights with my father. I, and I would suspect, most kids in the class, knew something about loss. Let me spoil the book for you: Wilson Rawls spends pages and pages establishing a relationship with Old Dan and Little Ann and then like a bad Hallmark movie director kills them off. Old Dan is disemboweled and Little Ann, just like a woman, dies of grief. For good measure, Rawls whack off a little boy, Rubin, by having him fall on an axe. Charming.
Again children’s stories about the death of an animal are crap. Old Yeller a classic, but crap. Moby Dick is the Great American Novel, because Captain Ahab dies not the White Whale. What is that you say? Charlotte’s Web is crap, because Charlotte dies. Not so fast. Charlotte is not an animal, and definitely not a cute, cuddly animal. She is a spider, an object of fear and hatred, that White has skillfully made readers love and respect. That takes talent and teaches a valuable lesson about loving those different from you. Anybody can write about loving a puppy dog. Now if you took the story of Jaws and mixed it with elements of Flipper and had the shark establish a relationship with the Kintner boy instead of chewing him to pieces on a raft and threatening to spill him out on a dock and then have Chief Brody blow the shark to pieces amongst the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the children who grew to love the shark, you would have a wonderful children’s story.
Claudia and the Sad Goodbye does something worse than killing a dog, it knocks off a Japanese grandmother. What is cuter and more precious than a Japanese grandmother? This book is trash and deserves to be in the dump. Not surprisingly Ann M. Martin also wrote the classic A Dog’s Life: An Autobiography of a Stray, which makes the dog’s life look like the life of Job. Surprisingly I did not find a copy of A Dog’s Life at the dump. My loss to be sure.