Friday, December 7, 2012

Karen's Witch (Baby-Sitters Little Sister #1)

Karen's Witch (Baby-Sitters Little Sister #1)
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic, 1988

Genre: Realistic, Mystery


Karen’s Witch opens up telling readers that Karen has two families. When Karen is at her dad’s house she has to deal with the lady next door who says her name is Mrs. Porter but Karen knows that her real name is Morbidda Destiny. She has all the telltale signs of being a witch—she wears long black robes, she smells funny, her hair is wild and gray, she has an herb garden in her yard, and she cast spells on people and animals.

It is Karen and her younger brother, Andrew’s, weekend at their father’s house. That night, Karen has trouble sleeping. She looks outside her bedroom window and her view of Mrs. Porter's house. She thinks about Mrs. Porter and about how she’s seen her in her witchy clothes working on her herbs. She's also seen her broom but she's never seen her ride the broom. She decides to watch the house until she sees Mrs. Porter get on her broomstick and right into the night then she could call Kristy, her older step-sister (and a star of the Baby-sitters Club) and prove to her that Mrs. Porter is a witch. Unfortunately, she falls asleep before anything exciting happens.

The next morning, as soon as she finishes breakfast, Karen goes outside to check on Mrs. Porter's house. She isn’t spying—no spying happens to be one of her father's rules—she is just having a look around. She tries spying on the house from different angles but see nothing of interest. She comes to the conclusion that Mrs. Porter is not home and she has not come back since she flew off last night. Karen’s best friend, Hannie, comes over and they watch Mrs. Porter gathering herbs from her garden. She's making a creepy laughing sound. She looks at her cat, Midnight, and whispers something about 12 o'clock. She also mumbles things about an important meeting and that company will be coming. Karen is scared because Mrs. Porter is clearly going to have a meeting of witches at her house at midnight tonight.

Later that night as Kristy is tucking Karen into bed, Karen admits that tonight a witch meeting is going to be held next door. Kristy tells her she's imagining things. When Kristy asks if there will be warlocks there as well Karen asks what a warlock is. Kristy tells her they are boy witches and this utterly blows Karen's mind as she didn't know there was such a thing. Unfortunately, when Karen wakes up it is 8:30 the next morning. Her alarm did not go off. She figures that Mrs. Porter put a spell on it so she’d miss witnessing the meeting.

Karen spends her whole morning watching Mrs. Porter’s house but nothing happens until Kristy catches her spying. Karen moves to the front yard and hides in between two shrubs. Suddenly the door to Mrs. Porter's house opens and she walks out with a broom. She starts to sweep the front steps. She then comes out with some scissors and cut some flowers for her flower garden. She seems to be getting ready for something. After a while, three cars pull up in front of her house and some old women emerge. One was carrying a casserole dish, one had a plate of cookies, and a third had some books and papers. As Karen watches more cars arrive. Karen runs to Hannie’s house and tells her that Mrs. Porter is holding the meeting now. She didn't mean midnight, she meant at noon. Karen tells her that they have to go and save the neighborhood from the witches.

Karen and Hannie knock on Mrs. Porter’s door. Mrs. Porter is surprised but let's them in. When she asks what she can do for them Karen says they would like to go to the meeting and Mrs. Porter shows them the way. The first thing Karen sees in the room is a lot of people. They are all talking and laughing and eating and looking at books about plants. Others are exchanging index cards which Karen figures must be spells. Hannie tells Karen that it looks like they're having a lot of fun and doesn't appear to be scared anymore. Karen gets everyone's attention in the room and tells them that she knows their secret—that they are witches and warlocks. When everyone starts laughing at them, Karen hears a familiar voice cry her name. It is her grandma. Karen can't believe that her grandmother is a witch, but her grandmother tells her that Karen has just crashed a meeting of the Stoneybrook Gardeners Club.

Karen's grandmother demands that the girls apologize. Karen is forced to explain the entire story to her parents and they tell her that they understand that she was trying to help the neighborhood but what she did was wrong because she just accused Mrs. Porter and her friends as being a bunch of witches and warlocks. They don’t punish Karen too much because she thought she was doing something good but she was spying which something she is not supposed to do. They tell Karen that she has to write an apology note to Mrs. Porter.

As Karen, Andrew, and her mom are driving away to go back to their house, Karen looks back at Mrs. Porter's. She thinks about the secret only she knows—that Mrs. Porter really is a witch. Maybe she held the gardening meeting but she is still a witch. She's a clever one and Karen is the only one who knows it.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Similar to the Sweet Valley Kids or Twins (or any Sweet Valley sub-series), the Little Sister series has each book begin with the same basic explanation of Karen’s life and living situation. Karen has two families. Karen is six years old going on seven and thinks she's very lucky because she has two families when most people have only one.

Karen explains, “I have two of lots of other things. I have two houses. One is little and one is big. I have two pairs of pink sneakers. And I have two teddy bears and two baby dolls and two pairs of jeans. I even have two pieces of Tickly, my special blanket. I ripped Tickly in half so I could have a piece at each house.”

She informs readers that there “are . . . good things about having two families: Two birthday parties, two Christmases, and all those other two's.” But there are also bad things about having two families, such as different rules at each house. She also tends to grab one thing from one house and leave it at the other so instead of having one of something at each house she often ends up with two of something at one house and nothing at the other house.

At Karen’s father’s house, it is so huge that Karen and Andrew have not only their own rooms, but “a big play room on the second floor the house.”

The thing that really struck me about this book is the pure affluence of Karen and her family. In the 1980s there was a big recession so it is interesting to see Karen’s experiences with two families that seem to be doing quite well financially. While the book is interesting in that it reflects a positive spin on divorce, I don’t think a lot of readers would be able to relate to Karen and her two of everything. I even remember when I was young and read this series that I kind of hated Karen for her incessant bragging. I wish I had two of everything. Plus, what kind of message did this give readers who only had one of everything or even more realistically those readers who had nothing? It definitely makes Karen a little hard to relate to.

The other thing I don’t like much about Karen is, and maybe this is supposed to reflect her age, as a main character she can be a bit of a stuck up brat. Hannie Papadakis is her best friend when she's at her father's house. When she's at her mom's house her best friend is Nancy Dawes. All three of them are in the same class at school. When Karen suggests that she and Hannie pretend to be witches, she says that “Hannie almost always does what I say.” Throughout the book poor Hannie is forced to go against her own desires because of Karen baddgering her to go alone with her crazy schemes. Now I kind of know why when I was in second grade I made my friend Laura pretend to be Karen while I pretended to be Hannie—because even then I wanted Hannie to actually stick up for herself once in a while.

It will be interesting to see how the series progresses and watch for any personal development in Karen.

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