When I was seven years old, I wandered over to the bookshelves in my classroom and looked for something I had yet to read. Smack-dab in the center of the display, facing out, was The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #2: Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation. I picked it up and went back to my seat. Soon, I found myself at Camp Mohawk, where seven best friends spent two weeks as CITs (Counselors in Training).
I was an avid reader who made frequent trips to the public library with my mom. I also liked going to the school library. I would read through an entire book during silent reading time, an act which often baffled my classmates - and my teachers.
By the time I found the BSC, I already had a bevy of classics under my belt and was reading way ahead of my grade level. I loved The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I had read titles by Louisa May Alcott, Jack London, and others. In other words, The Baby-Sitters Club did not inspire my love of reading, nor was it a challenge for me. It did, however, become a series I absolutely loved.
After reading that fateful Super Special, I started checking the BSC books out from the library. I wanted to read them in order, of course, starting with #1: Kristy's Great Idea, but sometimes, I just had to grab what was available. As quickly as I read, and with only a few dozen of the books out at the time, I got through all of the then-published books really quickly.
I began to collect the books, trading coins for beaten-up copies at the library book sale and getting new titles from the Scholastic book orders. I was very aware of the fact that we did not have a lot of money, and I had to tell myself that it was okay for Mom to spend three dollars once a month to get me a BSC book. I was so grateful to the public library for giving me free reading material, and I still am, because there's no way I could afford to buy all of the books I read!
Now we've established that I loved to read, and that I collected the BSC books for years. But why did I rank BSC ahead of all of the other popular monthly series?
First, the characters were believable. They had their ups and downs, good days and bad days, strengths and weaknesses. I could relate to each of the main characters in some way or another.
Mary Anne was my favorite. I shared her love of cats. We were both petite brunettes whose appearance masked our true age. We each had a single parent and a kitty. I wasn't shy like she was - no way! I was born talking, singing and dancing.
Jessi was a ballet dancer. I enjoyed any book that focused on one of her productions or dance classes. When I was little, I imitated any dance that I saw on screen or on stage, especially anything Gene Kelly did. It was actually through books - though not these - that I learned successful ballet dancers 1) were tall, not short, and 2) bled about the feet, causing them to buy new ballet shoes frequently. Because of this, I decided that I wouldn't be a professional ballerina and instead learned a variety of dance styles. I am still a dancer, with tap, jazz and character being my fortes.
Claudia and I had less in common. I was sad that she had difficulties in school. I wanted to tutor her, to help her with spelling and reading. I was glad she at least enjoyed Nancy Drew mysteries, as I did, and I totally envied her hollow book. I was at least twenty years old before I acquired one of those, but that's another story.
Like Kristy, I liked being in charge and was always full of ideas. Like Stacey, I was good at math. Like Mallory, I loved writing stories. Like Dawn, I was born and raised in California.
I simply loved the diversity of the characters. Each had her own interests and talents. They came from different backgrounds and had different family situations. Everything was accepted. It was okay to be different, okay to be a girlie girl, okay to be a tomboy, okay to be loud, okay to be shy, okay to wear funky clothes.
I enjoyed the stories because of the misadventures, not because of the baby-sitting jobs. When I started reading the BSC books, I was not old enough to be a baby-sitter myself. I was fortunate to have a fantastic older sister who took care of me when Mom was at work, so I never had a baby-sitter. I did not have a close knit group of friends, either. I was not your average kid, but I liked reading about kids who did all the things I didn't, like going to summer camp or taking a ski trip. I lived vicariously through all of their excursions, mundane and otherwise.
The first BSC book came out twenty years ago. For the majority of the fifteen years the books came out, the characters stayed the same age. In real life, Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and Dawn would now be in their thirties. Jessi and Mallory would certainly no longer be called junior members. Even their favorite baby-sitting charges would be grown up. It is so weird to picture the original baby-sitters with their own families and careers.
But then again, that's what their original readers have now. (In fact, I got such an overwhelming response to a little survey I posted while writing THIS piece that I have written another piece based on the feedback and stories shared by friends and strangers!)
I collected the books for years, including the Super Specials, the Mysteries, and the more artistic books, like The BSC Chain Letter. I read the first Baby-Sitters Little Sister book, but it was too easy for me, so I kept my focus on the originals. I got the board game and knew the answer to every single trivia question. I wrote my own stories based on the characters.
BSC reached beyond the page, spawning a TV show, a movie, and various soundtracks. In 1990, HBO produced a TV series based on the books. It was cute and well-cast.
In 1992, the album Songs for My Best Friends was released under the BSC banner. One of the tracks is Say Hello to Your Friends, the theme song for the BSC TV show. The other tracks are all original, with the main composers and singers credited being Jeff Barry, Kelly Sachs, and Leslie Spiro. All of the tracks are upbeat pop songs about school, friends, and slumber parties - and yes, I still know all of them by heart.
In 1995, a BSC movie was released. (Oh, how I wish I could have been in that movie!) Being an actress and a writer, of course I could name things I would have done differently. Being a devoted fan, of course I could name things that were wrong or contradicted the books. Nevertheless, the movie was still fairly true to the books and characters I knew and loved, I enjoyed it.
I wish I could say that I owned all of the books. I'm missing a good thirty from the original line of books as well as the final line of BSC books, Friends Forever.
I also wish all of the books were still in print. The books came out for fifteen years, yet the majority of them are out of print. Luckily, some public libraries still have them in circulation.
Last year, Scholastic hired Raina Telgemeier to bring four of the earlier books to life as full-length graphic novels. These new and adorable versions stay true to the series' innocent spirit and are approved by series creator Ann M. Martin. They retain much of the original dialogue and show the sitters in appropriate outfits, rather than stylized (or scandalous) ensembles. So far, two graphic novels have been released: Kristy's Great Idea and The Truth About Stacey.
I hope that my generation will recommend this series to their own kids as well as their younger relatives, neighbors, customers, and students. The Baby-Sitters Club encourages readers to be loyal and honest to their friends and family, to try their best, to be smart and creative. So many great values, so many good times.
This piece was published in The Edge of the Forest in October.
As stated within the article, I received so many fantastic responses to my reader survey that I wrote another article based on those responses. Read the follow-up.
I also interviewed Raina Telgemeier.
Also check out The Atlantic Wire article entitled The Legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club.