Jessi's Secret Language (RS#16)

Original Publication Date: 1988

Ghostwriter? No

In the first book narrated by Jessi, we are treated to both ballet and the new BSC clients, the Braddocks.

Jessi is en pointe even though she's 11. My best friend can tell you just how many things are wrong with this. In sum, she said "There are eleven-year-olds who are en pointe, but they're either [the equivalent of] Beethoven or in Communist countries...where they're selected when they're five based on their body type, their parents' bodies, how flexible they are...and live at Academies their whole lives...They are not random baby-sitters...They're not en pointe at eleven dancing the lead in ballet. Bad. BAD."

Now it's my turn! The younger Braddock, Matt, is deaf and uses American Sign Language. The book does a decent treatment of it, but some things irk me. What is Jessi signing on the cover? Because I think she's using Exact Signed English and not ASL. Some sign descriptions in the book are too far off to be accounted for by regional differences, too.

But Jessi manages to bring it all together: she helps the Braddocks fit in with their new neighborhood by getting the other kids excited to learn ASL, thereby ensuring that Matt is accepted and his sister Haley doesn't have to be his translator 24-7. She also arranges for Matt's class (in a school for the Deaf in Stamford) to attend her ballet's production of Coppelia (Jessi lands the lead, of course). It also helps her bond with a student in her ballet class who has a Deaf sister, and is inspired to learn sign because of Jessi so she will be able to communicate with her. Aww...

Established or continued in this book:

The Girls:

Claudia candy: Double-Stuf Oreos, Ring Dings

Jessi wakes up every day at 5:29, before her alarm goes off.

To quote Jessi, she's "a good dancer, a good joke-teller, a good reader, good at languages,...good with children. But a terrible letter-writer."

Ooh, nice continuity with Claudia: she gets a butterscotch sundae, like in SS#1.

Their Families:

The Ramseys have been to Mexico. Her family had lived in Oakley, NJ Jessi's whole life before moving to Stoneybrook, and in NJ Jessi had lots of family living in her neighborhood and nearby, including her cousin/best friend, Keisha.

I always like the way Jessi's family is portrayed. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it's more like family than the others in the BSC: Mom, Dad, and three kids, one who's much younger (three years between my older brother and me, seven with the younger), and we tend to like each other.

Jessi's mom wakes up when Jessi goes to the basement to practice.

Becca has a rock collection.

Mallory's mom volunteers for Meals on Wheels every Monday.

Karen calls Krisy's mom Elizabeth. I thought she went by Edie...maybe this is Karen being all precocious and precise? Kristy's mom, by the way, has been saying she wants a baby.

Mary Anne lets us know that Tigger can play fetch. So does my husband's cat, Eddie. But at a health twelve pounds with feet so big you can hear him walk, he's far from a kitten.

I'm kind of disappointed that Jessi didn't try to teach Squirt any sign. I taught my goddaughter a little bit, and two other kids I used to sit for.

The Club:

New clients: the Braddocks. Matt, 7, is deaf and Haley, 9, has her hair in a rattail.

SMS: nothing new

PSA time:

When referring to deaf people as their own culture, it's considered proper to capitalize Deaf, as in "Gallaudet was an important influence in the Deaf community."

Jessi's name sign description doesn't quite work. Look up how to sign "J" and you'll see what I mean. I get the concept she's going for, but the way it's described (forming the letter J and signing "dance" with it) is somewhat off.


It seems odd how Jessi states that Stoneybrook's having few black families is bad. I would think it's the way her family was treated that was bad, not the demographics of the town. Maybe she means that she felt more "obvious" in Stoneybrook. She also narrates "There was no way Swanilda could have been black, so I wasn't perfect." Is that normal to be concerned like that?

One of the four words Squirt says is "ba" for bird, which amuses me because my younger brother's first word was "duck."

When Jessi talks about her old neighborhood, I always picture a tree-lined street. Oak trees, of course.

I took American Sign Language in middle school, high school, and college, and have never, never, never, never, ever seen or heard it referred as Ameslan outside of this book. We called it ASL. This is distinct, by the way, from Exact Signed English, or ESE, which has signs for articles (the, a, an), while following the same grammar rules as spoken English, is somewhat "clumsy" and less utilized. The Braddocks use ASL, as demonstrated by Jessi's not finding articles in the ASL dictionary.

The "I love you" sign is mentioned, and it's an especially cool one. You basically sign the letters I, L, and Y at the same time. Hold your fingers out as if you're saying 5, then fold down your middle and ring fingers against the palm of your hand. The letter I is your pinky, L is thumb and forefinger, and Y is thumb and pinky.

Hmm. Let's see how this pans out. Here are (at least some of) the people in Jessi's ballet class: Mary Bramstedt, Lisa Jones, Katie Beth Parsons, Carrie Steinfeld, and Hilary ?. I think they all get revisited later in the series.

Why is "versus" italicized in BSC books?

More writing in a used book! Whoever owned this was listing the ones she'd been to, I think. Missing from the list of 33 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Ontario is also on the list.

The numbers:

BSC Fights: 3

SMS Staff: 13 (2 6th grade, 3 7th grade, 4 8th grade, 2 elective, 1 vice-principal, 1 secretary)

Students: twenty-eight 8th graders, six sixth-graders

Clients: 17

Types of candy in Claudia’s room: 27 (bubble gum, butterscotch candy, a chocolate bar, cookies, Cracker Jacks, crackers, cupcakes, Ding-Dongs, Doritos, gumdrops, Gummi Bears, Hershey's kisses, Ho Hos, jawbreakers, licorice, licorice whips, Lifesavers, peanut M&Ms, regular M&Ms, marshmallows, Oreos (Double Stuf), pretzels, Ring Dings, root beer barrels, salt water taffy, Snickers, Tootsie Pops, Twinkies)

Crushes: Claudia-2 (Timothy Carmody, Trevor Sandbourne), Dawn-1 (Parker Harris), Mary Anne-2 (Alex, Logan Bruno), Stacey-4 (Toby, Pete Black, Scott Foley, Sam Thomas)


nikki said...

For some reason, I always loved this one. maybe it's because Jessi quickly lost her personality after this. I know very little sign language - and even I noticed the inconsistencies - like Jessi's name could not have been signed like she intended. Also, I learned a totally different sign for apple.

I did baby sign with my son. He's three now and has outgrown it, but still uses the sign for please to indicate he REALLY REALLY wants something.

ali said...

Well, to be fair, it is possible that someone could be at the beginning of being en pointe at eleven. I seem to remember some book (maybe not this one?) where Jessi says she hasn't been en pointe long. Which contradicts pretty much everything else... And starring in Coppelia is a most definite NO WAY. Funny, they did that in Sweet Valley Twins, too, though that was even worse.

The "dancing J" thing always bothered me! And I barely know any sign language beyond the alphabet.

Still, it was nice to see Jessi have some personality.

Sadako said...

Don't forget. Mary Bramstedt went on to be anorexic girl. She becomes anorexic, Jessi stages an intervention, we all learned an important lesson about anorexia, and then Mary got wished into the cornfield along with the Shillaber twins.

BSC AG said...

Nikki: I do like this book for that reason: seeing Jessi written with some personality. But the ASL stuff bugs me!

Ali: I think the dancing J could work if you signed J repeatedly in a dancing motion. But you can't just form a J sign!

Sadako: Yes, and I think Carrie Steinfeld actually gets a speaking role in #42, and we learn more about Hilary in that one.

Monica said...

I'm a reporter with the Washington Post working on a story about the Baby Sitters Club, and I'd love to interview you for the article. I can be reached at hessem@washpost.com or 202-334-4831. Look forward to hearing from you! Monica

LauraTheWonderTart said...

Maybe she has her index finger, her middle finger, and her pinky finger extended and does the "J" motion over her left palm in a dance swishy movement? That's the closest I can come to signing Jessi's name...

LauraTheWonderTart said...

Also, the lead in Swan Lake isn't "Swanilda," Jessi, it's "Odette." And there are such things as black swans. So there!

BSC AG said...

Laura: I think she means just the pinky as she signs J...this just further illustrates the problem with that description!