Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Remembering the Babysitters Club

Although I was a nineties kid and a noughties teen, I, like hundreds of thousands of girls across the globe, was affected by the work of Ann M. Martin. Her Babysitters Club series was first published in 1986 and sold over 176 million copies worldwide. Although I also gobbled up Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew stories, it was the world of preteen babysitters that truly enchanted me. My dad used to moan at me for reading books that weren’t particularly educational or enlightening, but I’d have to say that I’d encourage my own daughters to read this series. 

While so many young teens read about gossiping, stealing boyfriends, buying clothes and joining the popular crowd, the adventures of Kristy, Mary Anne and their fellow sitters focused on having slumber parties, looking after younger siblings, making friends and discovering new talents. Even though the girls did have crushes on boys and go shopping at the mall, there is more to life for the BSC. Kristy coaches a softball team, Mary Anne loves to read and knit, Claudia takes art classes, Stacey is a Mathlete, Dawn cares about environmental issues, Mallory writes stories, Jessi is a ballerina and Abby plays soccer. And of course, they all love to babysit! 

The focus on babysitting, I believe, shows how much the girls care about their families. Kristy always jumps at the chance to babysit for her stepsiblings, Karen and Andrew. Sure, Claudia always moans about her oldest sister, Janine, and Mary Anne resents her father’s over protectiveness of her, but they love them really. The girls have fights with their parents and siblings and friends but ultimately they always work things out. Even when Stacey makes friends with the popular crowd and leaves the club for several books, she returns because she does care about her old friends. Friendship is the basis of the club – there is no bitching, back-stabbing or gossiping here. Sure, the girls argue, but only as much as a normal group of a friends; a group that has foundations in more than just fashion and boys. 

As a teenager, I was definitely a Mallory. I had glasses and braces at the age of 11 and always felt rather dorky. I wore rather outrageous outfits that I'm sure looked hideous on me, just because I was trying to be "cool" like my older friends. But I also loved to read and write tons of stories. Now I think I'm more of a Mary Anne - I'm a bit conservative, sometimes shy, have a steady boyfriend and love both books and cats! This was the wonderful thing about the BSC - there was always a girl that you could relate to. There was even a boy babysitter, Logan Bruno, to appeal to the male audience (as well as Shannon, another extra sitter who wasn't mentioned quite as often). I actually knew one boy who liked to read these books!

Thinking of boys and the BSC reminds me of the time that my friends and I tried to start a Babysitters Club Fan Club. There were four of us who loved the books - three ten-year-old girls and one boy in the year above us. We made badges out of cardboard and safety-pins and wore them on our school uniforms, probably causing everyone to make fun of us. We tried to have club meetings at school and I vaguely recall being allowed to meet in the library at break time, so I suppose our teachers must have been happy that we were appreciating some form of literature. We even had three newsletters - two of them word-processed on our dad's computers and one laboriously hand-written and copied several times. Alas, the club failed after a while. But the amazing thing was that at least five kids who had never read the books wanted to be part of our club just because it sounded like fun. Clubs have always had some sort of appeal, which explains the popularity of the Babysitters Club. From the Sleepover Club to the Unicorn Club, children have adored uniting because of a common interest. And while me and my friends weren't old enough to babysit (we may have been almost the same age as Mal and Jessi but this was 2001!) we formed a fan club for the books that we loved the most.

The Babysitters Club still unites people all over the world - there are websites where fans blog, snark and generally chat about their favourite children's book series.  Just check out the list of book blogs that I follow and you'll find a few there. The love of the Babysitters Club series did not end when the final book was published in 2000. In fact, ten years later, Ann M. Martin released a prequel to the series, The Summer Before, which I read earlier this year and was incredibly satisfied with. The girls were exactly as I remembered them and Ann hasn't lost her touch after all these years. Although the books were ghostwritten as the series picked up popularity and thus slightly lost their Ann-touch, I still enjoy them as they contain the typical BSC values of friendship and families first, and also the general craziness of thirteen-year-olds who are allowed to babysit! 

I'd never allow a preteen to babysit my kids - nor would I allow my kids to babysit until they're at least sixteen! But this doesn't dampen my love for these wonderful books. Yes, they can be unrealistic, and yes, caricatures appear with more frequency as the novels became ghostwritten. But these books inspired me and made me happy when I was a dorky, Mallory-like child. And today, while I'm balancing John Milton's Paradise Lost and Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, I may find myself turning to Mallory's Mystery Diary or Claudia and the Genius of Elm Street to cheer myself up!

Check out Babysitters Club Week at Bri Meets Books.

1 comment:

  1. Ever since it started to snow extremely heavily here all i could think about was The Baby Sitters Club Super Special Snowbound.Since reading your blog I am completely inspired to find them again.I have been devastated to hear that they are being reprinted with updated references such as ipod instead of walkman - I realise it will make better for nowadays readers but I am 13 and I think that is what gives them their charm....
    What I really want is the Super Special series , not so much the originals ,because of what they mean to me. Thank you so much for creating this blog x