* The Treehouse Times gang is back for another entry and this time it’s summer vacation – which the writer lets us know , right off the bat with characters shouting we’re free , we’re free to kick off scenes of yearbook signing. How many grade school kids had year books?! Considering most of my teachers made a fuss if we wasted mimeographed copies of tests and such, years books weren’t around until high school. Even then ,whoopee, it’s like a glorified collection of mug-shots. ( sorry if I sound a little bit hostile – not one of my school pictures was ever a keeper. )
* Anyhoo back to the gang - since it’s summer vacation ( and they’re characters in a themed series ) they don’t do what mere mortals do for summer vacation: lay around the beach , bike-ride , drink cherry Kool-aid , wheel around the dented merry-go-round at the park watching the cloud spin into a ice cream whirl - like the Dairy Queen commercials , attempt to find a job , make a few bucks and blow it all on leaky floats for the beach and plastic sandals that bust. Instead they are hoping to put out some summer issues of the paper with new summer fun items like a crossword puzzle. Amy even has plans of going to summer school for typing.
* Say what?! Who voluntarily goes to summer school?! Only in paperback fiction. This is what I like to call the Shirley Temple syndrome - remember her? She was this child actress back in the thirties who became a box office smash playing in lightweight movies that featured her singing and dancing and warming the cockles of some old coots heart - in every movie. The format became so cookie cutter that Shirley’s characters became synonymous with herself - she was even called Shirley in one role and in another her character wooed the audience by singing a song with lyrics implying that they were the audience favorites , that she’d sung them before ( yeah but in former movies !) - clearly stepping out of the character and into the role of herself - Shirley Temple - whoops! What does this have to do with anything you might ask - bare with me. She was such a role model that she wasn’t really a favorite with the kiddie’s so much as that she was a favorite with the adults. Because she was the perfect , precocious child :helpful , kind , considerate without any ( seen ) coaxing. She was something out of the Victorian era - child as goddess. Every once in a while the YA fiction characters slip under this didactic direction. Children start doing things not because they have such fabulous role models ( parents are rarely seen so if they’re getting any input the reader doesn’t know it ) , but because they appear to be setting an example to the readers. It would be better if the characters had more balance - Watch Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes it was my grandmother’s favorite ( next to Heidi ) - I was partial to The Blue Bird , she is sugar sweet but you can’t help but admire Jane Withers as the obnoxious brat who wants a machine gun for Christmas , and if not that a wheelchair. Shirley is the preferred child yet you don’t necessarily believe her constant maturity.
* Neither do I buy some of the things that go on in this book - If I had read this entry apart from the other Treehouse adventures I might have flung it aside in anger. Amy , is one of those characters that you have to take with a grain of salt - she is not so much bossy as extremely levelheaded and organized , she also consistently does the right thing so that her age seems well beyond that of twelve. What other twelve years old would never a. take a bribe and b. know enough to look into a situation concerning one of the Dear Abby/Daphne letters. I don’t know about you but I don’t recall meeting anyone like that when I was younger - Specially not someone who wasn’t nudged a little in the right direction.
* Let me explain, first off the story is about Erin who through a slip up believes she will heading off to California with her family for the summer , her friends are disappointed as it will mess up their plans for their paper. But Erin is only disappointed when she discovers she isn’t going - so much so that the friends suggest that perhaps Daphne the friend she was hoping to see again ( they used to live in California ) could come for a visit. Well since it’s fiction - nothing such as : airplane tickets , summer plans , parents permission, stands in there way and before you know it Daphne is in the picture.
* Notice how every new / visiting character comes from exciting places like New York or California - both I guess are impressive - and even when a writer picks out lesser places it’s always lesser as in bumpkin corner - like Stony Gap West Virginny ( SVT ) or MooseJaw Canada ( Sleepover Friends. ) Or places inspiring accents Louisville Kentucky ( BSC & Sleepover Friends ) ,or Australia ( BSC )Nobody I guess would be too impressed with a character that came from say - Ontario Canada , or South Dakota - cool people , in-people, fashionable people in some unwritten law in teen fiction must come from New York or California.
* So Daphne is fashionable , trendy , beautiful blonde ( do any brunettes come from California ? not in the 80's I suppose - it’s all that brain washing from Sun-in ads )
* I guess I’m getting a little testy but by page 14 a strange sensation has come over me - it’s been plaguing me since I pulled the book off the shelf and noticed the cover. I never realized just how analogous ( parroting ) certain series were until now - I mean the worst offenders are the ones exiting the 80's simply because there’s more series by then to compare them to. Plus, by then, the bulk of the series’ revolved around a gang of girls with diverse backgrounds who had one similar interest pulling them together.
* What gets me, is knowing that all series by now can merge , intersect , flow together until they gel together in your mind as one big mass of cliches - the cover artist seems not to have lost his sense of humor about possibly moonlighting between series - Call me crazy but is that not Erin - from Camp Sunnyside Friends - impersonating Daphne for the cover of The Treehouse Times - now drawn characters have multiple modeling jobs!
* Here’s some more evidence for the analogous theory - Most characters become standard and as the series pile up sub-standard ( but only because they’re last in line.) , defined only by key-note ideas or temperaments - for instance we are told that Leah ....had a talent for putting strange combinations together and making them look fantastic pg 14. Now compare her with other popular characters from other series.....Sounds like... Olivia ( SVH - also an artist ) , Claudia ( BSC - also an artist ) and Amy ( from Fifth Grade Stars - also a budding artist ) What’s even more bothersome is the standard set for the side characters - is it just me or does every sister in the known universe ( at least in the universe of YA series fiction ) have to be a gorgeous shrew who hogs the phone? Robin’s older sister is a speed demon of a driver and in another book , bossy and boy-crazy helping them hunt down a famous star in a hotel lobby. ( With the exception of Janine - from BSC most sisters - especially in later Ya series - held up the image of a teenage nitwit. Younger brothers faired better bringing out the little mother in big-sis , but little sisters were often obnoxious. ) Check out what happens if I was to swap covers with two similar series – that have two similar stories – If I hadn’t told you of the swap would’ve you’ve known which was which?
( It’s the Sleepover Friends on the cover of Fifth Grade Stars and the Fifth Grade stars on the cover of Sleepover Friends. Eerie isn’t it? )
* On a good note I have to hand it to Page McBrier , she’s the only one in juvenile series fiction to successfully merge - kids with adults, and not on a patronizing note - they interact on a level that surpasses the usual cuteness. The scoop for the story - is an ongoing debate on whether or not the town should vote on putting in a public pool. Doesn’t sound exciting but McBrier manages to keep the reader interested with a busybody town council woman by the name of Ginger Grover who tries manipulating the girls into writing no on the pool vote. Though Amy flatly states to her friends - Newspapers don’t take sides, it’s not until later on, much, later on do we even discover that Amy has a side concerning the pool idea - in her effort to become the ultimate journalist her non-opinion smacks a little of as-if! I would’ve been - a pool?! Awesome! and would be using the paper to ensure votes for it - but then I was your average twelve year old.
* Amy’s level headedness begins to orbit the moon on this one - when Mrs. Grover resorts to bribing the girls with tickets to a rock concert, slyly suggesting they write about the it rather than the silly pool debate - Amy demands they give the tickets back.
* But I’m getting a little ahead of myself - Daphne , thank God , isn’t a stuck up nitwit but by the looks of the cover a reader gets the impression, she’s in for the usual -houseguest from heck who’s a royal brat - this is plot device no 347 - ( okay the number is made up but it would be interesting to number all the various Ya genre plots out there ) - and it’s been done several times - The Sleepover Friends had several guests that were brats , even Camp Sunnyside Friends had an obnoxious new bunkmate to deal with - and SVH well, their nightmare guest had nearly put poor Roger Collins behind bars! What Daphne is a thorn in perfect Amy’s side , she wears stretchy tight tops Amy wouldn’t dream of wearing , she attracts the eye of Erin’s older brother , and makes a hit among all the kids with her new advice column Dear Daphne. In short with Erin fawning all over her , Amy feels left out and is bitten by the jealousy bug.
* It’s a relief that Daphne isn’t your typical jerk , in fact she really isn’t a jerk - recall the BBC when Jessi attempted to replace Dawn with a new babysitter - it was Book #68 Jessi and the Bad Babysitter - after reading it I kept thinking she wasn’t really that bad , she just didn’t go in for the club rules - I think Kristy had a hand in the title to throw the reader off the real issue :Wendy just wasn’t into clubs. Daphne is cut from the same cloth - she loves working on the paper , but doesn’t take it as seriously as Amy. Especially not her advice column which mirrors the flighty advice given in Teen magazines. It’s not really a Dear Abby type. So can she really be faulted. Amy’s jealousy over her success could cloud her initial interest in a write in called Confused , who wants advice on how to handle her dad’s temper and beer drinking. But later on sees signs that the problem is more serious than Daphne’s regulars and deserves special attention.
* While Daphne sticks to her pat advice , Amy does some sleuthing and discovers the girls identity and her family ( her dad really is intimidating.) Meanwhile as she’s trying to push Daphne into giving better advice the incident with the rock concert tickets come up and though all three of her friends plus Daphne thinks she’s crazy for wanting to return them- Daphne, rather than let Amy have the final word, offers up all the tickets and says none of them will go.
*Not a big shocker that her friends start treating her like an unwelcome grown up in their midst – overly polite but
we are told Amy felt good about doing the right thing despite this snag- Nice but I don’t buy it. It’s one of those patented moments where an author writes what they want a child to be like , not how they are, because most kids would’ve snatched up the tickets and then turned the tables on Mrs. Grover - like the next issue declaring - Mrs. Grover Supports Town’s Youth from rock concerts to Swimming Pools! But enough about that lets get on to the title - does Daphne ever take Charge? Not really - what she does is stand her ground against Amy who insists she change her pat advice when Confused writes in wanting to run away. Amy caves for a moment before altering the paper at the last second. And sends her to Alateen on the advice of Vicky her adult friend and fellow journalist. Daphne is furious and there is the typical blow up in which Amy can’t understand why Daphne doesn’t just admit she was wrong and help pass out papers. Yeah , don’t think so. Daphne is after all a kid and stalks off , Erin takes her side. However, Daphne writes later after her return home glad that Amy had intervened but not really apologizing. The vote comes and the pool is a go and Mrs. Grover steers clear of the Treehouse gang - Alls-well that ends well.
* It was a good entry for the Treehouse Times but sometimes I knew how Confused felt! The whole journalism theme could at times sacrifice the true nature of children in favor of a professional aloofness - for example why didn’t Amy take Daphne over to see Confused , give her the real advice and eliminate the charade - it sounded as if the girl could’ve used a friend as well as some good advice. At a big paper you couldn’t do that , but would you if you could? Apparently not.
* Another nugget that irked me - was the fact that on pg 37 Amy is shown reading a Katherine Paterson novel - do I actually have a viable argument or is it just me? But don’t you hate it when YA writers attempt to create a universe that is marketed to lowbrow tastes but insults their readers by making their characters too good to read series fiction! I appreciated SVT creating a phony series for Elizabeth to read ( though I tended to think that if anyone read Newberry award winners it would be Liz. ) Yet here we have intelligent Amy reading Katherine Paterson - at least balance it out with Robin reading Betsy Haynes , I mean argh!
* I was trying to decide what to tie in with this story - there was the pool thing so I thought eureka! If only I could find some vintage pool ads that would be fun but nope , couldn’t find any - so I decided after carefully examining the cover. It would be fun to dissect Daphne’s style. Now in the book Daphne is a victim of tight stretchy things - it was after all 1990 and spandex had become the new polyester but on the cover she dressed like most of us mere mortals of thirteen.
* Lets take it from the top - the cloth hair band - around 1988 the bandana had made a huge come back as a hair band and was still hanging around years later. The idea was to buy a bandana - I recall that I had a red one and a navy blue one ( our resident cool girl Jamie started it in our class ) and you had to fold it in such a way as to not make it too think at the center. Sometimes I’d tie it before slipping it on - adjusting it afterwards sometimes not. It was a pretty effortless look better than plastic hairbands because they could break or pinch. Here’s a Sears ad selling a batch of neon bandanas at four bucks a piece!
* Okay now for Daphne’s hair - to me this is easy, it’s so smooth & straight and that color of honey blonde reminds me totally of Jodie Sweetin on Full House who ironically became something of teen series fiction star when her character Stephanie was spun into her own series!
Okay so he’s not wearing a shirt , I guess I mean suspenders and shorts. ( Isn’t he cute? – he’s part of the Little Boppers line of toys that came out in 1987 – they’d dance/hobble to music )
I admit , I was guilty of wearing suspenders but never with a t shirt. My suspender outfit was a turquoise blue, pin striped button down shirt ( short sleeve – but not a t shirt! ) made with some nubbly crushed fabric, under the pale blue suspenders and over the long cut off denim shorts ( like from Dirty Dancing ) - cuffed and also pinstriped in turquoise blue. It was one of my coolest outfit but after having the boys snap my suspenders all during class it was the last time I wore them with the suspenders. In fact I think it was the last time I wore suspenders!
* The shorts - longer than earlier 80's shorts but shorter than the jammers that surfer dudes were making so popular - I loved these kinds of shorts - they were basically like boxer shorts - elastic waist - slip on easy to wear. The little emblem in the corner totally brings to mind this ad in Sears for Ocean Pacific. And didn’t you just love the fad of contrasting colors - I had a black and white top like Daphne’s shorts ,where one side was black, the other white and the cuffs were the opposite colors too , like black cuffs on the white side and white cuffs on the black side!
* Slouch socks! Me and my friends always got into a debate on these - I loved them! But one in my group of four hated them - she said they were ridiculous - it was like buying socks with the elastic already shot in them , and they’d always slither off your foot and bunch up at your toes. Okay I had to agree with her that slouch socks didn’t have a very good wear life , but to start off with they were great and comfy like wearing a squishy soft scarf around your ankles. I had a pile of them but my favorites was a pair of three roll - they were hideous! The bottoms were white the tops had three fold over squishy rolls of neon - yellow , orange and lime green. They didn’t go with anything! But I loved them. On the cover Daphne is wearing hers in what was the trend - if you were trendy - I recall doing this once or twice - first you took out two pairs of slouch socks in different colors like pink or purple or in this case orange and pink and you’d put on one pink sock and one purple sock then alternate for the second layer. Funky but cool.
Hey did you know Reeboks called there’s flop socks!
* Let’s forget the shoes - they’re pretty average - any white slip on sneakers will do - instead check out Daphne’s wrist no cusp –of –the- 90's kid could get away without having at least one of these two accessories, maybe even both - a swatch , and a friendship bracelet.
* Here’s a batch of early 90's neon bracelets & rings- not the nice woven ones girls made by pouring over all those friendship bracelet manuals instead these look like they were made from ready made cord from a craft shop.
* Here’s an ad for a needlepoint teddy bear – I love the junk on the dresser !– yellow/gold nail polish , pastel jewelry , blue and purple eye shadow and a turquoise fluffy brush ( I had one of those! ) – Can you spot the friendship bracelet?