One night recently I was looking at New York Public Library’s ebook app and noticed a section for books in French. I read a Tintin book in French years ago but had been intimidated to try anything without pictures, despite my 1000-day Duolingo streak … until I saw that one of the French ebooks available to borrow was a French translation of the first Baby-Sitters Club book, Kristy’s Great Idea (or, en français, L’idée géniale de Kristy). This seemed like the perfect thing for me to read in French: since it’s a middle-grade novel, the language/sentence structure wouldn’t be too complicated, and also, hi, I definitely read a lot of BSC books in English in my childhood, so maybe I’d remember some of the plot and characters. (I did.) I had a lot of fun revisiting the adventures of Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey (who is Lucy in the French version, but anyway), a quartet of seventh-graders in Stoneybrook, Connecticut.

As you may know/remember, Kristy’s great idea is to start the Baby-Sitters Club with her best friend Mary Anne, their other friend Claudia, and a new girl at school named Stacey/Lucy. As you may also know/remember, Kristy’s other great idea is that they should keep a shared journal about their baby-sitting jobs, so that they can pool their knowledge and share the high points and misadventures. So, yeah: one mom fails to tell Claudia that she’ll be watching not just her son but also his three cousins, Mary Anne has to deal with a disobedient cat and a grumpy neighbor as well as the two kids she’s watching, and another woman fails to make it clear to Kristy that her two darling three-year-olds are, in fact, ginormous dogs. I remembered some plot elements but not all of them: I remembered the dog thing, for example, but didn’t remember much about Kristy’s mom’s boyfriend and his two kids, and how Kristy’s having a really hard time with the idea of her mom maybe getting remarried. I didn’t remember the drama of the postponed pizza party, but I sure remembered Claudia’s outfits—which are changed/updated quite a bit in the French version, though she does still have skeleton earrings. (If you want the full glory of the 1986 original version, go see this blog post that includes visual representations of several of Claudia’s outfits from this book.)

As for the experience of reading this in French, it was excellent. A lot of the prose was straightforward enough for me to understand easily, like when Kristy describes herself thus: “J’ai envie de dire quelque chose, je le dis. J’ai envie de faire quelque chose, je le fais. Maman dit que je suis impulsive.” There was definitely a lot of vocabulary I needed to look up (words I didn’t learn from Duolingo include: barking, hairy, suspicious) … I probably should have written down all the words I looked up in a notebook as I went along, but I guess I’ll have to save that for my next French read. I also had to look up a bunch of cultural references—most of the candy, books, and board games mentioned are Frenchified, so I learned about things like petits-chevaux. I think I may see how many of these books the library has in French, because yeah, this is such a good combo for me of nostalgia and language practice!

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