Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Baby-Sitters Club

In the sixth grade I convinced my friends to form a babysitting club inspired by The Baby-Sitter Club books. At first it was all about fandom and nothing about the business, another of our elaborate imagination games where we each picked parts. I remember feeling torn because the character I most wanted to be like was artistic, unique Claudia, but in reality I felt more like shy, plain Mary Anne. When it came to picking officer titles we were in a real pickle, for one because there were six of us and only four in the original books. The process of assigning offices went more along the lines of relating ourselves to the characters--“Well she has blond hair like Stacy so she should be treasurer,” “But she’s an only child like Stacy so maybe she should”--than talking about our various skill sets and what we each could contribute. We named our club Sitters Unanimous but when we drew up our first flyer for advertisement we spelled it Sitters Anonymous. We proudly showed my mom and she gently suggested we double-check with a dictionary before we had copies made and went out distributing them. Our club lasted at least a year because I remember celebrating our one-year anniversary with an awards ceremony in my living room. And business-wise we actually ended up having a good deal of success. I met a lot of families who I babysat for through the end of high school. I continued to be a fan of the books long after my fellow club mates had moved on to other interests and more sophisticated reading, although I kept my enthusiasm for the books on the down low. You get a lot of weird looks if you bring up The Baby-Sitters Club when everyone else wants to discuss the homecoming dance or their honors English essays for East of Eden.

This series of books is dusted with nostalgia and fond childhood memories for me, so you can imagine how ridiculously happy I was when I came across this article last week about Scholastic planning a Baby-Sitters Club comeback. Not only will they be reissuing the early books (updated to give them a contemporary feel), but Ann M. Martin has also written a prequel. I’ll be very curious to see what she does with that. I have mixed feelings about the updates to the original books though. I understand the reasoning--they want them to be relatable to the sixth-graders of today, not twenty-some years ago. There are a lot of original details that I could see might cause confusion to a new reader (“Mom, what is a perm? What’s a Walkman?).* I wonder how they’ll handle other things too--will the girls still place an ad in their local paper or will they list themselves online at Craigslist? They originally decided to hold meetings at Claudia’s because she was the only one with a phone in her room. With the prevalence of cordless phones and cell phones, I doubt that logic will remain in an updated version. Maybe now Claudia will be the only one with a computer in her room, or Wi-Fi. The entire mystery premise of the second book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls is going to need updating in this age of caller ID, call return, and number blocking.

I know my mixed-feelings are rooted in nostalgia. I grew up with these girls and so I prefer the books that reflect my childhood experiences, sans cordless and cell phones, texting, and Internet. Back when my friend with the dot matrix printer was the techie of the group, when the adults got in heated debates over Beta versus VHS, not Mac versus PC. When I still had to get up off the couch and turn the dial on my TV to change the channel from Full House to Alf.

I’m glad they’re reissuing the series for a new generation of girls, and I’m sure I will read them out of curiosity. But for me, the magic of The Baby-Sitters Club will always lie in the yellowed pages of my 80s paperback versions.



*Not that I don’t think young readers could appreciate books set in their original time periods that are different than present day. I gobbled up the original Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a child and never batted an eye at outdated references. If anything, it opened up conversations with my parents about the differences between their childhood and mine or my grandparents’ childhood and mine. Regardless of how much I like these new versions of the BSC and how well they do, when the time comes I’ll be introducing my future children to my original paperbacks for the opportunity they will offer me to walk my kids through a piece of my childhood. (Not to mention by then, these new “contemporary” versions will be dated once again, so why not introduce them to the originals?)

13 comments:

  1. I LOVE The Baby-Sitters Club. Well, actually, my relationship with it is kind of complicated; there's so much that I love, and SO MUCH that is problematic. I'm cautiously optimistic about the updates. I found the updated details in the graphic novels (which I loved) to work really well with the story. I still harbour the idea that someday I'm going to do something 'scholarly' with the BSC...but that might be just a dream!

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  2. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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  3. Thank you My Bambino!

    Caroline, I'll have to check out the graphic novels to see how they handled the updates. I thought I'd heard they stayed pretty faithful to the originals, but I've never read them. I'd be curious to hear more of your thoughts on what you find problematic with the series. Reading the books as an adult I can definitely see them in a way I didn't as a child. But it's so easy for me to read them through the lens of my 10-year-old self, and to that kid they were pretty perfect.

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  4. I love to read books about young people who grew up in different eras--their music, the games they played, what was in fashion, language. I learn so much and it's a fun way to absorb history.

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  5. I have middle grade students who pick up old copies of the Baby-Sitters Club and read them. The good books never die. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog.

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  6. In the BSC books (which I fully admit to loving), there's this odd mix of female power and limiting views. Like, almost all of the mothers work, and several have really high powered jobs. Many of the principals, doctors, and executives are women, and the girls in the club are shown to be talented and enterprising (which is great). At the same time, though, there's a very strange undercurrent where people are put into boxes and change is not tolerated. Like, when Mary Anne has a makeover (she gets her hair cut and puts on some different clothes), the club is so teed off that she didn't consult them that they basically freeze her out. Everything is done within the club, and any time anyone tries to have some outside friends, it's totally shut down.

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  7. (From the comment challenge) Have you ever read any of the new Nancy Drews? I have to say it about killed me when she ate pizza instead of some sort of roast beef with coconut cream pie for dessert. But at least they still had her eating...

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  8. I never read the Baby-Sitters Club - but I agree with you - so much is lost when books are updated for reissue to contemporary readers.
    Thanks so much for commenting on my blog - glad you like my interviews with young readers. I really enjoy your blog too.

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  10. My daughter Gracie loves the new graphic novel versions is is upset that there are only 4 so far...

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  11. I loved reading the BSC when I was in junior high! I always identified with Mary Anne the most.

    My mother, on the other hand, wasn't thrilled with my interest in the BSC. I wonder if it's the same feeling I have now when my son brings home Hardy Boys graphic novels from the library! To judge or not to judge, that is the question ...

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  12. Thank you all for visiting here! I'm glad I'm not the only one who's still hooked on the BSC. :)

    Caroline, I've never thought about the books in that way but you're absolutely right! There is a bit of a contradiction going on there. I wonder if it has anything to do with the later books in the series being written by ghost writers? A mix of Ann M. Martin establishing this world of empowered females, but others not carrying the same ideals through in their plot premises?

    Madelyn, I haven't read the new Nancy Drews. I think I'd have the same reaction as you!

    And Hannah, my mom was the same way. She was fine with the books at first, but once I was about 14 and she'd still find me reading them she kept urging me to read more adult books. I think she meant "the classics" but when I moved on to Stephen King and Anne Rice I think she just threw up her hands with it all. :) (I'd throw in a Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre in there as well, to keep things civil.)

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