By the end of their first night with babysitter Marge, 7-year-old Jemima’s 4-year-old brother, Jake, says, “We have a royal babysitter…but we have to babysit her!”
There are three chapters: “Marge Babysits,” “Marge at the Birthday Party,” and “Marge at Large in School.” Black-and-white illustrations in a Quentin Blake–esque style show some children of diverse backgrounds, but the main characters are white, middle-class, British—and stereotypical to a fault. Jemima, who narrates in present tense, is the respectful, obedient older daughter, worried about meeting all the requirements on her mother’s to-do lists; about being on time; about socializing; about Jake’s obstreperous behavior, which she generously calls “naughty.” In the first story, tiny Marge manipulates Jake into doing two things left on Mommy’s list primarily because of Mommy’s ineptness (and Dad’s apparent abdication of parenting): eating broccoli and washing his hair. Marge’s methods range from telling outrageous tales of her supposed previous life as a royal duchess to helping the children create enormous messes in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. When the mess still prevails with the parents five minutes away, there is no Cat in the Hat solution; somehow, the children manage to clean up while Marge falls asleep. Throughout the book, Marge vacillates between outlandish, sometimes-irresponsible behavior and jolly, imaginative storytelling and problem-solving.
Younger readers with intermediate reading skills may have fun with the silliness and the surprises. (Fiction. 7-10)