Revisiting The Baby-Sitters Club Series By Ann M. Martin 20 Years Later

Italian editions of The Baby-Sitters Club book series

A few days ago I watched the second and final season of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix and it brought to mind so many different moments from the book series it is based on. Watching the show was very emotional for me, since I grew up with these books. I own plenty of them and, along with the Goosebumps series, they remind me of my childhood, when I would consider them as friends because they kept me company on many afternoons, as I would immediately pick up a book to read after finishing my homework. The Netflix show brought me to reread a few of the books from the Baby-sitters Club series and it felt very nostalgic because they meant a lot to me when I was a kid.

The story follows four middle school girls who decide to found a Baby-Sitters Club; Kristy, one of the girls, comes up with this idea after she witnesses her mother struggling to find a baby-sitter when Kristy and her older brothers are too busy to take care of their little brother. Kristy thinks: “Wouldn’t it be great if a person in need of a baby-sitter for their kids could easily find one by calling an organization that provides baby-sitting services?” She pitches the idea to her friends Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey and they go on to establish a successful club, attracting many customers in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and holding club reunions three times a week in Claudia’s room. The book series is very educational and it is one of the smartest and most innovative example of entrepreneurship for pre-teens I have ever read about; everything regarding the club is organized down to the smallest detail and each of the girls plays a specific role, like people in a work team or a company. Aside from Kristy, who is the president and founder of the club, Claudia is the vice-president and she provides the phone line at which clients contact babysitters. Mary Anne is the secretary and keeps track of all the client appointments and personal commitments. Stacey is the treasurer and, being very good at math, she is in charge of club funds and collects dues. During the course of the series, other people join the club, such as Dawn, who befriends Mary Anne at school after moving from California, junior members Mallory and Jessica, who are a couple of years younger than the other girls, and two other associate members, Shannon and Logan, who are respectively Kristy’s new neighbor and Mary Anne’s boyfriend; they substitute the girls as babysitters when none of them are available.

Not only does the book series recount the misadventures of the characters during their baby-sitting jobs, but also it deals with the typical daily challenges that pre-teens have to face; first love, fights and misunderstandings between friends (the babysitters themselves have several confrontations throughout the series, sometimes even funny ones), school issues and disagreements with parents. Moreover, The Baby-Sitters Club is a series that can touch on significant and profound issues, introducing and explaining them to young readers in the right way; an entire book is often devoted to a particular topic, like when Claudia becomes convinced that she is an adopted child and starts researching to find out who her real parents are. I recently reread this book and it is strange to see how a little girl was still able to find information in an era when there was no Internet (the BSC books were published between 1986 and 2000 and sold about 176 million copies; Ann M. Martin wrote the first 35 books in the series but later they were written by different ghostwriters).

As I have previously mentioned, the books are set in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, so they gave me Gilmore Girls vibes and reading them I always felt the cozy, suburban atmosphere which is typical of New England places, so I used to love reading the series in the fall season. Some of the books also deal with more adult themes, such as the loss of a loved one, or divorce. The series also raises diabetes awareness through the character of Stacey, who has Type 1 diabetes and over the course of the series she feels sick more than once.

There are books featuring social issues, like “Keep Out, Claudia”, in which a racist family does not want Claudia to babysit for them, or “Dawn Saves The Planet”, where we get to witness Dawn’s commitment to protecting the environment; I loved that book because it explains some basic ecology principles to children, such as recycling, although I know many people found Dawn’s character unbearable in that book because she becomes quite bossy at some point. But that’s the beauty of the series; the characters are not perfect, each of the girls have their own flaws and they all have sides to their character that they need to work on. When I was reading the books I loved Kristy’s character, I thought she was very strong and I wanted to be her because she always seemed to have the right answer to everything and she was an ace at sports. However, all the characters present their own originality that makes them special and well-liked by the reader. Kristy is a leader and is very outspoken. Claudia is of Japanese descent and loves art and painting. Mary Anne is very shy but is sensitive and knows how to listen. Stacey loves fashion and is quite sophisticated because she is from New York. Dawn is a true California girl, prefers healthy food and is interested in environmental issues. Mallory loves to write children’s stories and Jesse studies ballet; they both love to read and even though they are only eleven years old they are very mature for their age.

I started reading the series in the early 2000s, when I was in primary school; I must have been about eight years old and loved following the adventures of the Baby-Sitters Club. Having grown up in Milan, I read the Italian editions of the books that were freshly published at the time. I used to feel a lot of admiration for the characters but also some healthy jealousy because their baby-sitting activities seemed like something far removed from me, as I was living in a completely different reality.

How does it feel to read the Baby-Sitters Club twenty years later? It brings back images from my childhood because I remember the exact moment I was reading a certain book from the series. At the same time I feel a deep tenderness toward the child version of myself and I also remember that at some point one of the books made me fall in love with New York (when the girls visit Stacey in the city, where she went back for a time, in “Stacey’s Mistake”); the book describes many places that I later rediscovered by visiting New York many years later. I remember I even wrote about being inspired by “Stacey’s Mistake” in a school essay during fourth grade, so the series also makes me feel nostalgic for those years. These books formed me and are part of the whole set of books of my childhood that I still care about today. I advise anyone who has kids to introduce them to the series because they will probably enjoy reading it, especially young girls; although it is set in the late ’80s/early ’90s, many of the topics the Baby-Sitters Club deals with are still relevant to this day.

The series has been adapted for the screen multiple times over the years. It spawned a 13-episode TV show that aired on Nickelodeon and HBO in 1990. A film based on the novel was also released in 1995 (I didn’t watch the 1990 series because it never aired in Italy but I saw the movie on TV when I was reading the books and I really enjoyed it).

In 2020 Netflix ordered a reboot of the TV series, which aired in July of the same year and lasted for two seasons. The series was very successful and well-received by the audience because, although it is set in present times, it stays faithful to its source material and true to the spirit of the books. It has a diverse cast (Alicia Silverstone plays Kristy’s mother and I was really excited about this because she’s an amazing actress!), the characters are well-written, the episodes explore what it’s like being a teenager in the age of social media, and topics such as homosexuality and being transgender are depicted in the series as well, which makes it very of our time.

The costumes are also great, as the style gives a nod to the ’90s era; the yellow plaid pantsuit worn by Claudia is a clear reference to Clueless, an iconic teen comedy that came out in 1995 and stars a young Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, the main character wearing the iconic yellow pantsuit. For styling the characters, costume designer Cynthia Ann Summers told Refinery29: “Most of the characters’ looks were purchased from places these girls would shop in real life: Zara, H&M, American Eagle, Gap, Urban Outfitters, Kate Spade, Alice + Olivia, Anthropologie, Nordstrom… Because we shot in Canada, 80 percent of everyone’s fashion was purchased at Simons in Vancouver. Also lots and lots of vintage shopping and upcycling.” I love most of the outfits worn by the girls in the show, so I think it would appeal to young audiences and fashion lovers as well.

In conclusion, all things related to The Baby-Sitters Club book series are fascinating and enjoyable, including all the adaptations and book spin-offs; I know what the series means to many of the people out there who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, so I hope younger generations will have the chance to discover the Baby-Sitters Club books and realize it adds meaning to their lives, too.

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