August 2, 2016
SVT #59, Barnyard Battle: Cowboys vs. Cowgirls
Summary: The SVMS sixth-graders are about to start a new unit in their social studies class, and they’re dreading the guest student teacher who’s going to lead it. Jessica’s sure they’ll end up with someone dorky and boring. As usual, Jessica’s wrong. Ms. Shepard is young and attractive, so the guys are already excited about whatever happens next. The girls get interested as well when Ms. Shepard uses visual aids to help teach, something that’s apparently unheard of at SVMS. What sad lives these children lead. Anyway, they’ll be studying the pioneers.
At home, Alice announces that she’s gotten a bonus at work, and she wants the family to use the money to buy something fun. Elizabeth suggests a computer, and everyone but Jessica gets on board. Jess thinks she’ll be branded a nerd for having a computer. Little does she know that, since this is 1992, she’ll actually be ahead of her time. She gets a little more excited when she finds out that they get a free portable boom box with the computer. She thinks she can claim that for herself, but Ned and Alice make it clear that it’s another family item.
Ms. Shepard arranges for her class to spend the weekend on a working pioneer farm. The kids will do chores and live like pioneers – no electricity, no running water, and nothing invented after a certain time period. Somehow, this is supposed to be exciting. Look, I’m pretty low-maintenance, but I wouldn’t survive. They should not be this happy about the trip, especially since it’s basically three days of unpaid labor.
Reality sets in when the kids learn that they’re not allowed to bring things like makeup or junk food. Elizabeth and her friends (hey, Maria Slater!) wonder how the Unicorns will survive. The Unicorns are horror-stricken, especially when they realize that the trip conflicts with a big benefit concern airing that weekend, and without electronics, they won’t get to watch it on TV. Recording it and watching it later just wouldn’t be the same.
Some of the guys in the class, including Todd and Aaron, think that they’ll survive on the farm better than the girls will. A lot of sexist things are said. Charlie Cashman’s parents have done a really poor job raising a contributing member of society, by the way. The kids decide to make a bet to see which gender will last longer without modern things. If the guys win, Elizabeth has to make a speech in the cafeteria about why guys are better than girls. If the girls win, Todd has to make the opposite speech.
There’s some fighting over the Wakefields’ new computer, and the twins get really mad at each other. As revenge, Jessica sneaks the boom box into her luggage so she and her friends can both listen to the concert and make Elizabeth lose the bet. See, this is why they need better stakes for the bet. Liz and Todd are the ones with the most to lose. Lila could bring lipstick and not care about losing because she’s not the one who has to make the speech. They should have made the person who loses for his or her team complete the punishment.
So: Farm stuff! It’s your basic cow-milking, horse-tending, egg-collecting stuff. Ms. Shepard and her two fellow chaperones (Mrs. Arnette and Coach Cassels) make sure both boys and girls are assigned traditionally male and female chores, which is nice. Elizabeth hangs out with the horses and learns how to milk a goat (from Ginny Lu, who I believe completely vanishes after this book). Everyone is working hard but having fun, for the most part. Then Jessica reveals to her friends that she brought the boom box with her. Elizabeth is unhappy that they could lose the bet, but Jessica doesn’t care. She’s much more interested in trading her chores with girls who want time with the boom box.
Elizabeth and Maria are chosen to ride horses and herd some cows. A thunderstorm suddenly starts, and Elizabeth’s horse, Slug (who names a horse Slug?), runs off. They wind up a couple miles away at the farm where Slug was foaled. The owners invite Elizabeth to wait out the rain with their 12-year-old daughter, who’s having her birthday party. So while everyone from SVMS freaks out about Liz being missing – especially Jess – Liz is eating cake and dancing to Coco CDs.
Once Elizabeth is rescued and makes up with Jessica, she reveals to the other girls that, by using electricity and listening to modern music, she lost the bet. (She knows that they’ve already used the boom box, which is really what lost the bet, but of course Elizabeth has to be the martyr.) The girls go to the boys’ cabin to come clean and discover that they’ve snuck in junk food and a TV. Coach Cassels is even in on the fun. The kids decide to call the bet a draw, so no one has to make a speech. And since they have a TV and a boom box, why not watch the concert together? By the way, no one seems to get in trouble for breaking the rules. If they had, they probably should have blamed Coach Cassels for encouraging them.
Thoughts: I don’t believe for a second that Jessica would think a weekend on a farm might be fun.
People who don’t want to go on the trip can write a 25-page paper instead. Read that again. 25. PAGES. That’s ridiculous. Even in college, the longest paper I ever wrote was probably 15 pages. They’re 12 years old, Mrs. Arnette! (Also, have fun reading those papers.)
“‘Oh, come on,’ Aaron said with a smark. ‘Girls can’t play baseball.'” I thought Aaron was supposed to be one of the good ones.
“‘Well,’ he began slowly, ‘I don’tt hink girls are as strong as boys are–.” Et tu, Todd?
I’m sure we’re supposed to laugh over Lila being attacked by a goose, but I actually feel sorry for her. Those things are mean.