Babysitters Club # 32 - The Secret of Susan

Nov 27, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:teaching kids about autism

Cons:having a child with autism should not be a secret

The Bottom Line: Introducing a character with autism in The Babysitter series was a good idea, just presented in a way I did not like.

The book is based partly on the author's experience as a therapist with autistic children during the summer she was in college. At the back of the book Ann Martin mentions this and the book she wrote before The Babysitters Club series, entitled, Inside Out.

Since I am not the intended audience market that The Babysitters Club is geared to, I had no prior knowledge of the characters. I liked that The Babysitters Club #32, Kristy and The Secret of Susan gives an introduction to the club members, their titles and some family background.

While at the library I skimmed through some of the other books in The Babysitters Club and did not see this recap for every issue.

The premise of The Babysitters Club is to meet three times a week for thirty minutes to get calls for sitting jobs. Each of the members has a title and function. Kristy and The Secret of Susan is written in the third person, by Kristy. Kristy is President of the Babysitters Club, thirteen years old and in the eighth grade.

Kristy starts off telling about her family history, including her siblings, when her Father left them, her Mother remarried and they moved into the Stepfather's house. Since her Mother and Stepfather both work, the siblings take turns watching the younger ones.

There is a Babysitters Club notebook that contains the writeup of all the jobs they do. They learn how their friends solve problems and what is going on with the kids they watch.

MaryAnne is the club Secretary, Stacey is the treasurer and collects the dues each Monday. Claudia is the Vice President with the meetings being held at her house since she has a private phone. Dawn is an alternate officer, similar to a substitute teacher.

They make kid kits, which are boxes decorated with games, books toys and stickers. This is utilized during the sitting jobs.

I often found myself looking back to the beginning recap on each of the members since it was confusing to recall the sibling names for all the girls.

The reason for me perusing The Babysitters Club #32, Kristy and The Secret of Susan was due to the topic of autism, so I tried to keep track of all the members.

One day Mrs. Felder called to get someone to sit Susan. Susan went to a special school far away, currently home for one month before heading off to another new school.

Mrs. Felder wanted a sitter for three days a weeks from 3:30 - 5:30, so she could have a break. Mrs. Felder mentioned to Kristy on the phone that Susan was autistic.

At the Babysitters Club meeting the girls discussed what autistic meant. Kristy looked the word up in the dictionary, which mentioned Childhood Schizophrenia. When checking that word out Kristy became more confused, "withdrawing from reality"

I liked that the storyline had them check the dictionary. In fact that was the first place I looked when I read "autistic like" in a report seven years ago relating to my own son.

Right away I had mixed feelings about Mrs. Felder. It did not seem right to me as the single parent to two boys on the autism spectrum that this parent needed so many breaks during a one-month period her eight year old autistic daughter was home. I felt this was the wrong message and would have preferred if she needed to keep up with some obligations she had year-long. It seemed a bit drastic for respite time with the time-period chosen.

We learn that Susan plays the piano and remembers dates. She can sing and recite music she just heard, but does not speak. Although not mentioned within the pages of The Babysitters Club, Kristy and The Secret of Susan these are savant skills that affect about 10% of the autistic population.

Susan is in her own world, she wrings her hands, clicks her tongue and rarely makes eye contact. Her yard is fenced in for she gallops back and forth. My son is also eight and he has been skipping merrily along for several years now and does not speak either.

We are introduced to a new family, the Hobarts who are known as the Australian family with four boys. Kristy and her club members love to listen to the boys talk with their foreign accent.

For some reason Kristy decides to take Susan over to the Hobarts, thinking since they are new they could use new friends. Kristy had this idea that if Susan made friends in the month she was home, she would not have to go away to school.

Whenever the name of a song was mentioned Susan would play that song on the piano. Kristy was proud of the way Susan could name dates from times past, but soon this special talent that Susan had was exploited. One of the kids was charging a dollar to see the freak show of Susan with her recalling of dates and playing songs on the piano.

Kristy was way over her head and ill informed on what autism was. Kristy got a first hand look at how the special education kids were taunted at a school assembly when she sat near them. She even thought one boy was autistic and approached the teacher to inquire.

The month went by quickly and then it was time for Kristy to help Mrs. Felder pack for Susan and say goodbye. This was when Kristy met Mr. Felder and told him of her dream to keep Susan home with them and make friends in the neighborhood.

Mr. Felder explained to Kristy about the special school and how they used music to get through to kids. It was also shared that Mrs. Felder was going to have another baby.

Kristy thought about being a teacher working with special kids like Susan. The Babysitters Club, Kristy and The Secret of Susan covers fifteen chapters within 145 pages. It is a quick read for a pre-teen or teenager. It might be helpful for a sibling to see how others in their age group learn about autism through trial and error.

Although the reader had some insight into the special talents of Susan, it was not really made clear why she needed the special school far away from home. It almost seemed like since Mrs. Felder was having another baby that they shipped off Susan so they could be the family they had wanted.

It was nice to see the caring for Susan from Kristy and her wanting to bring happiness to the Felder family by keeping her home and at the neighborhood school.

I am not sure that a thirteen year old with no insight or experience with autism was a good selection to have watch an eight year old girl. It would have been nice for Mrs. Felder to have some books on the subject available for Kristy.

I also wondered whether the family went through the steps to tell Susan that her Mother was having another baby and how that would make her feel.

I much prefer Inside Out over The Babysitters Club #32, Kristy and The Secret of Susan. Something about the title using the word "secret" in relation to a disability did not sit right with me.

This book is from 1990 and attitudes were different regarding disabilities and autism. It is my hope that we get past the secrets and open up to kids of all ages what a child with autism is like, and not to poke fun at them, intimidate them or harm them in any way.

Too bad a series was not made on the family within the pages of Inside Out. It was such a nice story I could read it again.

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