The Baby-Sitters Club
Sound familiar? Then you probably also attended Stoneybrook Middle School - or at least you wish you had. I know I did.
In spite of the fact that the book series began twenty years ago and ended six years ago, The Baby-Sitters Club still lives on in the hearts and minds of loyal readers.
"Even now, at 25, I can recall vivid details like the names of all 8 Pike kids and the name of the ghost at Dawn's house," said Dani.
Those who read the books in the eighties and nineties are all grown up now, just as the main characters would be, but for many of them, mention of the BSC brings up pleasant childhood memories.
"My sister brought them home from the library, and I read them when I was done with the books I took out." This from E.C., who also said, "Yes, I'm a guy, but I read whatever my sister had around too."
When I posted a survey about the series, I received a surprising number of responses. Friends filled out the survey, then sent the link to their friends and siblings. Adults and teenagers alike checked in. Booksellers, published authors, and perfect strangers answered. Thanks to everyone who participated.
"Since I used to live and breathe BSC, I couldn't resist answering," said Brooke.
Michele had a similar reaction, saying, "I used to adore this series."
Of those surveyed, a few picked up their first BSC book at age six or seven, a few at nine or ten, but the overwhelming majority started reading The Baby-Sitters Club at age eight. Some were the right age at the right time and read the first book, Kristy's Great Idea, right when it was published in 1986. Others found the series up in the late 80s or early 90s.
"I remember being very anxious for each new one to be released," Jennifer L. said.
At the height of their popularity, the books were everywhere. Jennifer L. recalls picking them up from the supermarket. Lou maxed out her library card getting the back catalogue of books. Jennifer B. got them at Sam's Club. The titles also could be ordered from the Scholastic forms passed out in class or purchased at bookstores.
"I never, ever asked for toys as a kid," Nicole shared with me. "I only asked for books. My family [asked], 'Can we please buy you a BARBIE or something?'"
Some kids traded and shared books with friends. Those who tried to set up their own baby-sitting clubs had varying levels of success. More than one person tried to dress like Claudia (she was "creative" and "cool") or Stacey (deemed "glamourous" by two different people).
When asked to name a favorite BSC member, lots of people answered almost instantly, and plenty picked two favorites. Mary Anne (my favorite) and Stacey each grabbed nine votes; Dawn and Claudia tied with seven votes each; Kristy got five votes; Mallory nabbed one vote; and Jessi had no votes.
I cannot believe that no one picked Jessi. She's Jessi Ramsey! She's a ballerina! She knows sign language! If she were real, she would be performing in a professional production of THE NUTCRACKER right now. She might even be on BROADWAY, people!
Ahem. I digress.
Abby also was shut out. I wasn't surprised by her exclusion because she came into the series quite late and some of those polled stopped reading the books prior to her introduction. I have my own story about Abby, but I'll save that for another time.
Neither of the associate members were singled out by anyone. Shannon Kilborne was always on the fringes of the group, only tied-in through Kristy. The only time she shocked me was when she purposely flunked her test. Those who liked Mary Anne had varied opinions on Logan Bruno, her mostly-steady (but for a little while on-again off-again) boyfriend.
Speaking of which, I once asked Jenny Han, "Who is the better guy, Logan Bruno from BSC or Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars?" She replied, "Best. Question. Ever!" (For the record, she picked Echolls and I picked Bruno.) I will gladly ask this question of anyone. I will even throw Logan Huntzberger from Gilmore Girls into the conversation. However, if I do that, be prepared for me to mention Matt Czuchry's work on the television series Hack - at which point you should just smile and nod.
But back to the main sitters.
Dani's favorite character varied over the years. "I used to say Stacey because she was always the glamourous one, but the older I got, the more I identified with Mary Anne and found a kindred spirit. I very much liked Mary Anne's journey, since we'd both lost a parent at a young age and seeing her grow up without one and then merge into a blended family."
Once again, Jenny Han provides the soundbite: "I liked that Claudia was repping the Asian girls well with her cool clothes and general hotness."
Tiffany Wilson, who runs BSC Headquarters (http://claudiasroom.blogspot.com/) also picked Claudia. "I fancied myself an artist. And, as a fair-haired, fair-skinned girl, I wanted to be exotic."
Many girls wished for Claudia's artistic talent -- and her secret stash of junk food. Jennifer B. was one of them. So was Claire, even though she didn't need to hide her food.
Different storylines resonate with different readers, naturally. When discussing favorite books and settings, the secret passageway in Dawn's house was brought up a countless number of times. Stacey's struggle with diabetes, Kristy's work with the Krushers baseball team, Mary Anne's shyness and Claudia's loss of her grandmother also hit home for many. Some readers loved it when the friends fought (oh, the drama!) while others couldn't stand any arguments nor big changes within the group.
One book that stands out for Jennifer B. is Kristy and the Secret of Susan. "I remember reading it and just being fascinated by Susan, an autistic girl, and really affected by the fact that Kristy couldn't give her some kind of miracle cure. That book was the first time I'd encountered autism in any form, and it struck an interest that stays with me to this day, as I'm currently doing autism research at Cambridge."
Super Specials were also reader favorites. In these extra-long stories, the BSC members visited New York, put on a play, survived a snowstorm, went to summer camp, and more. The characters were pretty well-traveled for middle schoolers. At least, it seemed that way to the 8-year-old readers who looked up to the characters and read about them while sitting in small rooms in small towns. In this way, the books provided escapism. Both Bri and April first went to DisneyWorld through the eyes of the BSC, then compared the descriptions in the book to the real deal when they really visited different Disney theme parks.
I've never been to DisneyWorld. I haven't baby-sat in years. I've never set foot in Connecticut. I have been to Stoneybrook -- in my mind's eye, where I can still see it today.
Another participant in this survey was none other than Raina Telgemeier, the illustrator of the new BSC graphic novels. Read our interview here.
Miss the first part of this study? Find out What the BSC Means to Me.
Also check out The Atlantic Wire article entitled The Legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club.