Katie's Baby-sitting Job. by Martha Tolles.1985. Scholastic. 124 pages. ISBN: 9780590325233
When the Stellans move onto Apple Street, Katie is determined to become their little girl’s babysitter. Finally, they call to hire Katie, but on her very first night of babysitting, Mrs. Stellan’s expensive heirloom jewelry goes missing. Feeling terrible, Katie decides she absolutely must find the thief and bring him or her to justice- whether it turns out to be one of the boys from school, the yardman, or the mean new girl.
This well-plotted middle grade mystery was first published in 1985, a year before the Baby-sitters Club series came into existence. It is the last of three books about Katie Hart, the first of which, entitled Too Many Boys, was published in 1965. Too Many Boys was renamed Katie and Those Boys when it was reprinted in 1974, and it was followed in 1976 by Katie for President. Katie’s Baby-sitting Job makes no real reference to the prior books, nor does it have a definite conclusion to signify the end of a series. For all intents and purposes, it really stands on its own.
As in many of these older Apple paperbacks I have read, I noticed that this one has much more formal-sounding dialogue than a lot of tween series paperbacks being published today. The way the kids talk to each other - and to adults - sounds much more sophisticated and scripted than anything normal kids might say, and there is very little slang. Though the book isn’t particularly deep or layered, the language adheres to a certain sense of propriety and politeness that, though inauthentic, was kind of enjoyable. The tone definitely dates the book - perhaps even further back than the actual copyright - but it also gives the book a retro charm that adult readers of kids book get a kick out of.
Other quirks also date the book. There is a lot of talk of the mothers of the kids in the story hiding their various valuables when they go out of the house. These days, I think they’d be more likely to keep their valuables in a safe, or to have security systems installed to prevent theft. I also find it hard to believe that names like Dick or Sarah Lou would have been very popular in the 80s; it’s likely these names were chosen for the first book in 1965, when those names were more common.
Still, though, it amazes me how much of this book is still relevant today, as is. Kids still desire money to buy things - maybe not Christmas presents for friends, as Katie does, but certainly other items like cell phones and video games - so Katie’s motive for becoming a babysitter in the first place is something kids can definitely still relate to. The mystery, too, remains plausible, and I think Katie’s approach to solving it is much more believable than in some other middle grade mysteries. I also like that the mystery isn’t too terribly scary; I would have read this as a kid and had no trouble sleeping afterward, which means it is really very tame.
Finally, I think it’s nice that the book actually resolves Katie’s issues with the new mean girl in the neighborhood in a positive way. So many tween books seem to glorify and even promote this kind of enmity between “geeks” and “popular girls,” but this story really sees both girls as people and allows them to make up for their flaws and assumptions about one another. Sometimes I suppose it can be enjoyable to love to hate a fictional character, but I think kids also appreciate fully-developed characters in whom they can see aspects of themselves, good and bad.
Katie’s Baby-sitting Job is definitely out of print, but there are a good number of used copies out there in cyberspace. I’d recommend it to girls who enjoy the Baby-sitters Club, and to anyone looking for a nice escapist trip down memory lane.
I purchased Katie’s Baby-sitting Job from my local used book store.