The Babysitter IV – R.L. Stine

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

So, I’m back to see if Jenny finally got an answering machine. At this point it feels like I’m a glutton for punishment. This series really should have finished three books ago.

Jenny has just been released from hospital, where she’s been during the entire year since the events of the third book. Dr Schindler has been replaced with Dr Simonson. Fair enough, really. Dr Schindler, nice guy that he seemed to be, hadn’t exactly helped Jenny transform into a success story.

“I’m not afraid of anything now.”

Well, Jenny, let’s just see about that.

Yeah, okay. There were five whole paragraphs between that declaration and the next time Jenny is scared so she’s making progress. Sort of.

Naturally Jenny can’t say ‘no’ to a babysitting gig.

“Go away now, Jenny. Go away, or you’ll die, too.”

It’s weird; I don’t remember a single instance in this book where Jenny answered a creepy phone call. Considering those phone calls were pretty much the entire reason this series existed, it didn’t feel right.

So, how was Jenny receiving the threatening messages in this book? Ghosts. So silly, right? There hadn’t been any supernatural elements in the first three books so to suddenly go there in the fourth didn’t sit right with me. It was obvious from the start of the haunting that that’s what it was but it didn’t make sense. A ghost has the strength to lift Jenny but was somehow incapable of opening a door for ten years. Huh?

So, we’ve finally made it to the end of the series. Has Jenny learned any valuable life lessons from her adventures in babysitting and years of therapy?

“I might want to baby-sit again someday. It’s a lot more exciting than you think.”

Oh, Jenny.

My verdict? I enjoyed listening to Jenny scream in the first book. It was a fun blast from the past, although I can’t believe I ever thought it was scary. I probably could have done without watching the series devolve though.

And she still doesn’t have an answering machine!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Don’t live in the past, they say. And Jenny’s trying to forget all of the horrible babysitting experiences that landed her in the hospital last year. Now Jenny lives in a new neighbourhood, and the neighbour has asked her to babysit. If only she could say no. Because someone is watching Jenny – someone who hates babysitters.

The Babysitter III – R.L. Stine

My burning questions at the end of Jenny’s second babysitting gig were:

☎️ Does Jenny really need to go through this a third time?

☎️ Is anyone going to buy the poor girl an answering machine so she can screen her phone calls?

☎️ Is Jenny going to finally get a job other than babysitting since it’s not going so well for her?

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The answers are maybe, no and yes. I’m pleased to report that Jenny’s latest job is not a babysitting gig! Instead she’s got a summer job at The Doughnut Hole. Great work, Jenny! I would like one of everything please.

Two years after her first brush with death, Jenny is still attending therapy sessions with Dr Schindler. Given the events of the second book I imagine that would have been quite awkward for a while. I’m not entirely sure how well therapy is working for her as Jenny’s still pretty likely to scream at any given moment and her nightmares haven’t let up, but she’s trying and you’ve got to give her credit for that.

Her mother and psychiatrist both agree it would be good for Jenny to have a change of scenery so instead of serving me donuts (like we planned) she’s going to visit her cousin, Debra, over the summer. Jenny’s moody boyfriend, Cal, isn’t so impressed (he must have wanted donuts too). Jenny is pretty good at picking boys that go from easygoing to pouty or angry in an instant.

Debra, whose main interest seems to be tossing her long blonde hair, also needs some assistance in the dating department. Her ex, Don, seems to think it’s entirely acceptable to show up unannounced in her bedroom. Who let him inside the house in the first place? Who knows?!

Of course, Debra has a regular babysitting job and thinks nothing of bringing Jenny along with her.

“Jenny, come on,” Debra urged. “It’ll be fun.”

Does she really not know about her cousin’s babysitting curse?

It turns out that when you have a curse attached to you it follows you, even when you visit your cousin. Only this time it’s Debra who’s getting the creepy phone calls. Maybe the curse is genetic? Or transferrable?

“I just don’t understand why he called you

It almost sounds like Jenny is jealous of the attention her cousin is getting.

Big spoilers are included in this book for Jenny’s two previous starring roles as Girl Most Likely to Scream so beware of those if you haven’t already experienced those screams.

One thing I have to say about this series: there’s not much of a resolution for anyone. While I’m curious about a couple of characters, there’s one in particular who needs more page time. I would have liked Maggie’s story to have had some kind of ending rather than me wondering if she was ever going to get what was hers, whatever that was.

My main question mark relating to this book is pretty insignificant but it’s bugging me nonetheless: How did Cal know where Debra was babysitting?

The reveal simply didn’t work for me this time. I understand where Stine was going with it and, let’s face it, child me would have had to pick their jaw off the floor. However, adult me needed more depth to the characters and storyline to buy it. It should make for an interesting opener for the fourth book though, where hopefully someone will finally buy this girl an answering machine!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jenny just wants to forget the man who murdered all the baby-sitters. The man who almost murdered her.

He’s dead now.

And Jenny’s gone to visit her cousin Debra.

But Debra has a baby-sitting job. And now she’s getting those phone calls, too. Just like the ones Jenny used to get:

Hi, Babes. I’m back.

Company’s coming …

The Babysitter II – R.L. Stine

“Hi, Babes. I’m back.”

Jenny survived her last adventure in babysitting (barely) and she’s now in therapy (thank goodness!). She’s done with Chuck, who she was dating during the first book, but he’s not done with her. Chuck swings between joking around and angry and when she rejects him he responds by shouting at her, “threatening and cursing”. Jenny’s internal dialogue?

Poor Chuck.

So, it turns out that Jenny needs therapy for more than the whole almost dying thing. Some more therapy would probably give her some clarity about her decision to babysit again. Seriously, why, Jenny? Get a job at McDonald’s or something!

But Jenny isn’t listening to me so off to her next babysitting job she goes.

Jenny isn’t the only one in need of therapy. The ten year old kid she babysits is nowhere near the only male in this book that is well versed in temper tantrums. The males her age have some serious toxic masculinity happening and Jenny is quick to forgive or ignore all, even the behaviour that’s criminal.

Back to the kid Jenny babysits for a moment; it wouldn’t surprise me if I found him in a future Stine book as the serial killer. There’s almost certainly a jail cell in his future.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, make sure you do before you start this one. Huge spoilers come at you right out of the gate, including who the big bad was and how the showdown happened.

There are some fun descriptions in this edition of Adventures in Babysitting, like

The head seemed to rise up, like a pulpy, bloodstained moon.

There’s no resolution for a lot of the characters in this book. As far as I can tell, Chuck is still a jerk, the kid Jenny babysits is on his way to some much more serious ‘pranks’, Jenny still needs therapy and Jenny’s mother is not as involved in the drama that is her daughter’s life as she probably needs to be.

“Believe me, child – nothing like that will ever happen to you again.”

I’d hate to tell you this, Jenny’s mother, but Jenny still needs to play a starring role in two more sequels.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jenny’s last baby-sitting job nearly killed her. But she’s a survivor and she’s over it. She’s even got a new baby-sitting job. Then the phone rings. When she answers, she hears a familiar voice – a voice from the grave.

WeirDo #15: Planet Weird! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

Today’s a big day for Weir. It’s his birthday and after school he’s going to celebrate with everyone from his class. This year Weir is having a monster party!

It was going to be the best night of the year! Even better than the time a truck full of lollies spilled its load in the main street!

But that’s not all that’s happening today. It’s also Planet Day and Miss Franklin’s class are doing their part to make their school more environmentally friendly.

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With a cake-tastrophe, a tough looking bird called Tyrannosaurus Pecks, an overabundance of toilet paper (this book must have been written pre-COVID …) and lots of green, this was a great addition to the series.

The costumes are a lot of fun (be on the look out for the bum monster!) and there are plenty of smiles.

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I love the can-do attitude of Weir and his family and friends. When things don’t go to plan, everyone looks for creative solutions and, because they’re all working together to make the best of an unexpected situation, it all works out in the end. I love this series!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEEE! Not only is it PLANET DAY, it’s also Weir Do’s BIRTHDAY! 

And his party’s going to be so HUGE you’ll see it from space! It won’t be easy … but it will be FUNNY! 

The Babysitter – R.L. Stine

Welcome to my horror gateway book. It turns out I was an even bigger scaredy-cat as a kid than I thought I was. This book absolutely terrified me, so much so that when the phone rang at night for months afterwards I’d hear in my head,

“Company’s coming.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this book, here are the basics. Jenny has a new babysitting gig for a family she’s only just met. Their house should be featured on a renovation show. The kid Jenny is babysitting, who looks angelic, has interests that range from watching Ghostbusters (awesome choice, kid!) to scaring the babysitter.

There’s a weird neighbour hanging around, threatening phone calls and a babysitter with a big imagination who is fearing the worst. Oh, and let’s not forget the newspaper headline …

THIRD BABYSITTER ATTACK HAS POLICE ON ALERT.

This read was a fun trip down memory lane but the things that scared me as a child seem silly now. I could have sworn that Jenny answered at least another dozen creepy phone calls and I don’t remember it being so obvious who the big bad was.

Note to my kid self: When you’re only introduced to a few male characters, it kinda narrows the field of potential male baddies.

I think as a kid I assumed the bad guy was going to be a stranger, because it was the 80’s and we were Stranger Danger all the way. It never occurred to me that you could actually know a villain so R.L. Stine probably didn’t even need to include any red herrings to fool me.

Jenny, who I can only assume failed Horror 101, does what all good potential victims do when they hear a strange noise in the house.

“Who’s there?”

For most of the book Jenny lets her imagination run wild, gets scared and second guesses pretty much everything. She waits for the final act, when she probably should be paying attention, to let her guard down.

80’s Nostalgia Bonus Points

🎧 Jenny has a Walkman. Cassettes … Those were the days. I loved my Walkman so much, even after I learned that other people could hear me sing while I was using it.
⏰ Laura, Jenny’s friend, wears a Swatch, one of the coolest accessories of my childhood.
📸 Flashcubes are mentioned in a description. I haven’t thought of those in years. It could be my memory deceiving me but I’m almost positive I got a minor burn from one of those.

I probably should apologise to you in advance. There are three more books in this series, I own them all and I just realised that Jenny is in every single one of them. I wonder if she invests in an answering machine. Please don’t tell me she thinks it’s a good idea to babysit again!

“Hello? Anyone there?”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the minute Jenny accepted the Hagen babysitting job, she knew she had made a mistake.

First there was the dark and disheveled Hagen house, moaning and groaning with her every step. Then the crank phone calls started. “Hi, Babes. Are you all alone? Company’s coming.” When Jenny discovered a creepy neighbour prowling in the backyard and a threatening note in her backpack, she realised this wasn’t a harmless game.

But who would want to hurt her? What kind of maniac wanted to scare Jenny … to death?

WeirDo #14: Vote Weirdo! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

Miss Franklin has an exciting announcement: her class is going to elect a class captain. Weir is one of the three students who are nominated.

In between working hard on his campaign posters and deciding which three things he would do to improve the school if he wins, Weir accidentally has a very bad hair day.

Even if I’d never heard of this series, the lenticular covers would suck me in. Jules Faber’s illustrations are always fun. I particularly enjoyed the pictures featuring a hungry garbage truck and an evil lawnmower.

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Although this wasn’t my favourite WeirDo book (probably because the news keeps telling me about elections), it still had all of the elements I’ve come to expect from this series. Weir’s family are adorable, Dad jokes are plentiful and there’s always a positive message.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s time to vote! Weir Do’s in the running for class captain … but will an EPIC HAIR DISASTER destroy his chances of winning?!

It won’t be easy … but it will be funny!

Hot Dog 8: Art Time! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dan McGuiness

Hotdog and his friends are enjoying painting but they all like to paint different things. Hotdog paints his friends, Kev paints food (of course!) and Lizzie paints monsters. Lizzie loves the monsters but Hotdog and Kev find them really scary. The friends are going to enter a contest hosted by the local art museum.

You may (almost) recognise some of the other entrants, which include Pablo Pigasso and Andy Warthog.

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Our three friends are still at the museum when a terrible crime takes place: the Llama Lisa is stolen!

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Hotdog, Kev and Lizzie take it upon themselves to follow the clues and track the art thieves down.

I don’t remember a single time in this series where the friends have won a competition and love that, because that’s not what they’re about. These books are all about friendship and teamwork. This time the friends also need to be brave.

‘But, remember, we can do anything when we’re together.’

Each book in this series features a different colour. This book is PINK! Fluro pink. So pink that it wouldn’t have surprised me if I’d discovered it was glow in the dark. It’s not, but it should could have been. Adults may be reaching for sunglasses when they read some words and phrases. Kids will love it! Each of the illustrations also feature a few different shades of pink. My photos do not do these pictures justice or show the vibrancy of the pinks.

After reading this book I realise I need my very own dino bike and want to explore the Castle Creepy Fun Park. I particularly loved the toothy robot crocodiles and Haunted Library. As usual, Dan McGuiness’ illustrations complement Anh Do’s story perfectly.

I can’t wait to see what these friends get up to next!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Hotdog, Kev and Lizzie enter an art contest at the local museum. But what happens when someone steals the most famous painting in the world the Llama Lisa!?

Can Hotdog and his friends chase down the robbers?

Ninja Kid #5: Ninja Clones! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Anton Emdin

Spoilers Ahead!

Nelson and Kenny are back and this time there are two of them! Their friends have started to get suspicious about their mysterious absences each time Ninja Kid and H-Dude battle evil Dr Kane so inventor extraordinaire Grandma has created Nelson and Kenny clones.

Now, whenever our heroes spring into action they will be able to activate their clones to stand in for them. That is, if the clones behave themselves. Dr Kane hasn’t been seen for a while but Nelson and Kenny take their clones with them to Camp Koala, just in case.

Strap on your jetpack and get ready for some cool dance moves, groan-worthy math puns

and an obstacle course worthy of a Ninja Warrior. Grandma is as fun as usual and her inventions still either work brilliantly or fail in a humorous way. Along with the usual assortment of heroes, school kids and baddie we are introduced to a new character, Ultimate Ninja.

Dr Kane still hasn’t figured out Ninja Kid and H-Dude’s not so secret identities, so I don’t think he’ll ever be smart enough to win. He’s determined though and I admire his tenacity.

While I usually marvel at the sheer wackiness of Grandma’s inventions

I was disappointed by her clones. I would have thought having an antenna sticking out the top of their heads, an on/off switch on the back of their heads and a microchip attached to their necks would have been a bit of a giveaway but apparently the people of Duck Creek aren’t all that observant. I’m also not entirely sure how Nelson and Kenny are supposed to be able to focus on defeating Dr Kane and control their clones simultaneously.

This book has a new illustrator, Anton Emdin. I loved Jeremy Ley’s illustrations in the first four books and had looked forward to them continuing to bring Anh Do’s characters to life. Anton Emdin has done a good job of keeping the style consistent with the rest of the series though, a feat that I expect is quite difficult to accomplish. Had I not seen the new name on the title page I doubt I would have known the difference.

I’ve started to become suspicious of Dr Kane’s involvement each time a new character is introduced in this series and so far haven’t been wrong. I hope to be surprised next time and look forward to finding out more about Nelson’s father.

I’d recommend reading this series in order as spoilers for prior Dr Kane mischief are included in this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nelson and Kenny have been CLONED!

Robot Nelson and Robot Kenny are faster, smarter and better dancers! 

But when the clones spin out of control at school camp, can the REAL Nelson and Kenny SAVE THE DAY?

Smile #3: Guts – Raina Telgemeier

While I love the artwork in Raina’s graphic novels this is the first of her Smile series that I’ve actually finished reading.

Given how popular her graphic novels are I think my not falling in love with them is probably an ‘it’s me, not you’ thing.

Even though I don’t have emetophobia I’m so glad I didn’t read this graphic novel while I was eating, as it definitely depicts a significant amount of vomiting, fear of vomiting and other stomach upsets.

While I’m not keen to reread this graphic novel I did really love the illustrations. I also learned something new: if you drink water after eating artichokes it takes sweet. I found that tidbit really interesting, but I wasn’t quite as smiley when I found out it also works if you reverse the process.

I loved the message that it’s perfectly okay to need therapy and I thought anxiety was portrayed realistically.

While there are plenty of relatable moments for readers with anxiety, I’m not sure how well people with emetophobia would manage while reading this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mum has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away … and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face – and conquer – her fears.

Celeste the Giraffe Loves to Laugh – Celeste Barber

Illustrations – Matt Cosgrove

I’ve read this book at least five times but haven’t known what I’ve wanted to say before now. Today I was reminded of the importance of laughter when things aren’t going smoothly. As a result I’ve appreciated Celeste’s humour much more than I have during previous reads.

When Celeste the giraffe compares herself with the other animals she doesn’t think she’s good enough. She can’t roar like a lion. She’s not as fast as a cheetah. Each time she tries to imitate another animal she fails.

Eventually she realises that while she will never be a good snake, rhino, monkey or other animal, she is uniquely qualified to be herself.

The rhythm flows well most of the time and of course this book includes the requisite fart joke:

‘Maybe I could be a fish! I’m great at blowing bubbles!’ But the bubbles came out the other end, which started MAJOR TROUBLES.

Matt Cosgrove’s illustrations are adorable, bringing out the humour of Celeste’s attempts to mimic the other animals. The animals are all very expressive and the colours are vibrant.

My favourite Celeste expression comes when she crashes into a tree. I have a soft spot for the innate cuteness of an animal sticking its tongue out. Don’t worry; she’s okay!

If I was reading this book with a kidlet I don’t think I’d be able to resist pretending I was each of the animals in the book and encouraging them to do the same. I’m not saying that we’d be competing or anything, but I am saying I would win and would expect fits of giggles to ensue.

I’m definitely going to be recommending my librarians consider adding this book to the ones they read to local preschoolers. I think the kids would love it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Celeste was a friendly, happy little giraffe. She had a kind heart and she made others laugh. But Celeste sometimes worried that she wasn’t enough. It seemed like other animals did much cooler stuff. Join Celeste the Giraffe on her hilarious journey as she finds out what it is that makes her unique.