Gabby Duran and the Unsittables is a funny story that pretty much lives up to its name. Gabby Duran is a babysitter so good that her clients are willing to fly her to her challenging babysitting gigs. The first job we see her on is the triplet daughters of an actor who needs someone to keep his darlings safe and happy on set of his current action film. On her way home from this job, she’s offered a try out for an even more challenging job—it turns out that aliens live among us, and some of their children are particularly hard to find sitters for. But all parents deserve a break, and no child should be considered unsittable, so Gabby takes the job.
Gabby is in many ways a typical sixth grader. She’s struggling to balance her academics, her French horn, her family, her friends, her rival, and her babysitting career. It’s a precarious balance that occasionally tips over, usually with amusing consequences. She is overall optimistic and cheerful, trying to see the best in everyone and hoping things will work out—this is a skill that helps her a lot when facing the reality of aliens and dealing with challenging babysitting gigs.
The action gets very cartoony and over the top, but in my opinion it stayed charming rather than annoyingly ridiculous. It kind of begs to be an animated TV show.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Secrets and Lies
Gabby is sworn to secrecy about the existence of aliens living among us. Most of us just aren’t ready to know the truth. The reasons for the secrecy is better than many books, and Gabby is uncomfortable keeping the secrets. Plus, she’s an atrocious liar. She justifies taking a job that requires her to lie to her mother and sister because it pays really well and they really need the money—she’s not afraid of getting in trouble, nor is she afraid of adult interference. She hints around to her best friend Zee until Zee figures it out, and she flat out tells her other friend Satchel that he doesn’t want to know. He agrees—he’s easily freaked out and terrible at keeping secrets, so he just tunes out everything about Gabby’s secrets.
Violence and Kidnapping
Gabby is babysitting little shapeshifter Wutt during the school day (she gets kind of pushed into doing this, not given a choice—she knows it’s a bad idea, and she’s not really wrong, but she doesn’t find a way to firmly say no). There are anti-alien activists trying to kidnap Wutt, and at some point they finally succeed after lots of dangerous chases. Things turn out ok, although more through luck than through anything Gabby does. It’s pretty much a babysitter’s worst nightmare, though.
Suicide & Ghosts
There’s a rumor that the Tower at the school is haunted by the ghost of an 8th grader who threw himself out the window after failing his finals. Of course that’s not at all true—it’s just an excuse to keep the kids from exploring an abandoned part of the school. (Thanks to my daughter for pointing this one out—it just registered to me as one of those legends every school seems to have, but it was the suicide that stood out to a reader less familiar with the trope.)
Like many books for this age group, most of the adults are barely functioning. They aren’t terribly helpful, mostly getting in the way or getting kids in trouble. None of the ones we meet are particularly malicious, though. Even the anti-alien person had reasons that were more selfish than evil. Gabby can’t really get any adult to listen to her—I’m sure this is how plenty of kids feel, though.
Deductive Reasoning and Observational Skills
Part of what makes Gabby a really good babysitter is that she observes things around her, really gets to know the kids, and makes logical conclusions about the things she learns. Kids aren’t so tough to deal with if you really pay attention to them and what’s important to them. She doesn’t let emotions get the better of her, even hoping that her rival Madison can someday be friends with her—she can’t think of any rational reason that they shouldn’t be friends. Gabby is logical and great at deductive reasoning, even though she struggles with math class.
Most stereotypes are turned on their heads in this book.
Gabby seems kind of flighty and busy—her sister keeps track of her schedule for her, to make sure her hectic schedule doesn’t get the best of her. Yet she’s dedicated to her French horn and is one of the best musicians in the school. She’s hoping the extra money she makes babysitting aliens will help her save enough money to go to a performing arts school.
Zee is an inventor who’s fascinated with making robots. She’s also very rational and open to new ideas and experiences. Satchel is a boy, but he has no problems hanging out with his two best friends who are girls. There’s no hint of romance. He’s on the emotional and nervous side.
Gabby’s mom was a chemist, but after Gabby’s dad is declared MIA, she becomes a cook so she can work from home and more easily take care of her girls.
The celebrity couple that Gabby babysits for met when the mother was the love interest in the father’s latest action flick. Turns out she’s a brilliant actress, and her career is more successful than her husband’s. The father has the girls with him on his movie set.
Gabby tries to be a good daughter, stepping up to help her now-single mom. Her younger sister Carmen seems like she may be on the autism spectrum, although nothing is ever explicitly said about it. Carmen keeps track of schedules and budgets so she’s vital to keeping the family running smoothly.
This is a cute and funny book that I think both my kids will enjoy. It’s a little slapsticky for my personal taste, but manages to never cross the line into annoying. Gabby’s attitude and desire to see the best in people, even really difficult or scary alien kids, keeps the story upbeat and fun. All the pages have a decorative border of vines and alien faces (my advanced reader copy is in black and white, but I noticed the PDF is in color). It’s pretty obviously setting up a series, but it brings this story to a satisfactory close. Great book for independent readers ages 8 and up, probably a good read aloud for many ages.
My daughter (age 14) read the whole thing in an afternoon! She liked it, thought it was a lot of fun, but isn’t sure she agrees with my age recommendation—she’d suggest a slightly older audience, what with the life and death themes. She really appreciated the Abbott and Costello reference! She likes Gabby a lot and thinks she’s a great babysitter (my daughter is also a babysitter). She liked that Gabby is really serious about music without that being what the story was about. She also appreciated that Gabby’s family wasn’t quite whole while also not being overly weird or dysfunctional. She looks forward to the future books that it obviously hints at, and we agreed that it would make a really fun animated series!
Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen & Daryle Conners
Published in 2015 by Disney Hyperion
First in a series, followed by Gabby Duran: Troll Control
Read an advanced reader copy supplied by the publisher