By Raina Telgemeier
Adapted from the book by Ann M. Martin
192 pages, black and white
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books
I admitted a few years ago that when I was much younger, I’d secretly read my younger sister’s Baby-Sitters Club books. It’s been a real joy reading Raina Telgemeier’s adaptations of the books since then; there’s so much cleverness and fun packed into each book, and Telgemeier does a superb of bringing them out. Claudia and Mean Janine is the fourth (and possibly final) adaptation in the series, and I think that Telgemeier has saved the best for last. It’s definitely the most serious of the four, but in some ways I think it’s what helps it be so strong.
Claudia and Janine don’t get along under the best of circumstances. Claudia’s the younger, "artsy" sister whose parents often seem a little bewildered by their daughter. Her older sister Janine, on the other hand, is their parents’s dream child: a certified genius who is already taking college level classes while still in high school, and who spends her free time working on her web sites. Claudia’s one confidant in the family is her grandmother Mimi, as the two do just about everything possible together… but then one night, when Mimi has a stroke, everything changes at home.
When I was reading Claudia and Mean Janine, I couldn’t help but think, "Wow, this is some seriously heavy duty stuff for teenagers." But you know what? It’s not like it’s something they’ve never heard of, and I suspect that most people have at least a member of their extended family who’s gone through some rough medical times. So if anything, it’s a good thing that Baby-Sitters Club books weren’t afraid to tackle the plot line of a family member having a stroke; I can’t help but think that in many ways it acted as good primer for other kids over the years to deal with a similar situation in their own family. Medically, the story is really sound; Mimi’s recovery is slow and not without its ups and downs, and both Ann M. Martin and Telgemeier have treated Mimi’s story with honesty and respect. At the end of the day, things aren’t perfect, and I’m glad that the urge to gloss over the situation was resisted.
As for the rest of the story, it also falls into place with great ease. Claudia and Janine’s conflict felt very true to life for me, and Telgemeier does a good job of not rushing (or prolonging) their fights and eventual understanding of each other. You can easily see how they’ve drifted apart, and care is brought to the project to not make Janine a soulless villain. The rest of the cast get their own time in the spotlight as well; I appreciated that Telgemeier brought forward the Dawn and Kristy friendship issues from the previous book, and even better Telgemeier makes sure that if you’ve never read another Baby-Sitters Club book that you’re not lost. There’s a bit early on where Claudia comments, "Our only real problem was Jenny Prezzioso… and none of us was too surprised." Telgemeier assumes that you may not know (or remember) who Jenny is, though, and immediately shows the reader Jenny’s long-standing issues. It’s good storytelling, and Telgemeier always keeps it in mind.
I have to say, though, the biggest draw for me with these Baby-Sitters Club adaptations is getting lots of Telgemeier’s art. I love how she draws her characters, especially younger kids, and how they just burst to life on the page. Jenny’s red-faced shriek at Claudia (with poor Claudia putting her hands up as if to somehow push away the yells) makes you feel like you can actually hear her, and I love Karen’s sly glance towards Jenny as she lets her, "…but watch out for the monster," line slide. From swinging on ropes to chasing a dog, there’s always such an amazing sense of motion in Telgemeier’s art; I’m not entirely sure how she pulls it off, to be honest, but she does it in almost every panel. Even something as simple as Claudia turning her head towards her mother at dinner has it, and I’m impressed.
I’m sad that this is the last, for now, of the Baby-Sitters Club adaptations, if only because it meant a steady stream of new books from Telgemeier. That said, I do think that Martin’s books were a good match for Telgemeier’s talents, and she made them come to life all over again. She also did a good job of updating the books but in a subtle way, like mentions of Janine working on web sites and learning PHP, both of which were certainly more antiquated computer talents in the novels. These have been four excellent graphic novels, and hopefully both Baby-Sitters Club and Telgemeier have landed a whole new set of fans as a direct result.
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