Ah, the Baby-Sitter’s Club. The (massive) book series that taught us that the pinnacle of cool was being 11-13 years old and spending all your time watching over little children. (Seriously, they had eleven year olds babysitting! Sometimes for ten year olds. Because that one year makes alllllll the difference.) And if you were from New York, or dressed like you grabbed random clothes in the dark, you were EXTRA COOL.
(The caption says: "How can a seven-year-old make Claudia feel so dumb?" Trust me, Claud--it ain't that hard.)
Basically, for those of you who didn’t own, oh, 50+ of these books, the Baby-Sitter’s Club revolved around a group of girls (the number ranged from four to seven at any given time), who, under their trusty leader Kristy, the ringleader of the cult…baby-sat. A lot. Like…all their spare time was spent either baby-sitting or planning some kind of festival or carnival or fair for their baby-sitting charges, all while dealing with the Serious Issue of the Week, such as racism, cancer, divorce, or Mary-Anne getting a hair cut without consulting her friends. And they did it all for low, low wages.
The Baby-Sitter’s Club was so successful, in my opinion, because it went the familiar, proven route of aiming their books at an audience slightly younger than the main characters. Kids and tweens liked having characters they could look up to (back when 13 seemed like the height of maturity), and honestly, who didn’t want, at that age, to have six or seven ‘best friends’? (Looking back at the characters’ Mean Girl attitudes towards anyone who wasn’t ‘in the club’, or the shunning of anyone who dared to make a friend outside of the ‘club’, referring to Kristy as a cult leader may not be too far-fetched.) And with the attempt to make the girls as diverse as possible, chances were that a reader would relate to at least one of them. (I was totally a Mary-Anne.)
But were the books actually any good? Well, they were formulaic to say the least. Anyone who read more than one knew to skip over Chapter 2, in which the club, its members, and those members’ Defining Characteristic (Kristy is bossy, Mary-Anne is shy, Claudia is illiterate, Stacey is diabetic, Dawn is ‘California casual’—aka a pretentious pain in the ass, Mallory is hideous, and Jessi is black (but they don’t mind!! They don’t even NOTICE she’s black, THEY SWEAR). Every book (except for the Super Specials) was fifteen chapters long and narrated by whichever girl is mentioned in the title. Chapters that started with an entry in the ‘club notebook’ would be a baby-sitting chapter and probably boring as hell.
On the other hand, you have to admire that author Ann M. Martin reached that golden mark of success—she had ghostwriters. Seriously, I enjoy writing but if I can ever become so successful that I can have other people write books FOR me, I get to slap my name on the cover and merely mention the writer in the dedication, where I thank them for ‘their help in preparing this manuscript’? I am so there. Pretty sweet deal, in my opinion.
Despite the fact that these books got churned out like they were factory made, they were widely successful. The books, which included the regular series, Super Specials, Mysteries, Super Mysteries, Portrait Collections, Reader Requests, and the Friends Forever series (in which after fifteen years and countless summer vacations and Christmases—suspension of belief was a necessity when reading these books—the girls finally graduate the eighth grade) sold over 176 million copies. It also spawned three spin-off series: Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister (which followed Kristy’s incredibly irritating little sister—yes, I read these too), The Kids in Ms. Colman’s Class, and California Diaries (which was actually a fairly decent series, in comparison to the rest). In addition, there was a short-lived TV series starring a bunch of forty year olds, and a movie featuring Rachael Lee Cook and the Girl Who Played Alex Mack.
The bottom line? These books were hardly masterpieces, but the diversity of the cast of characters made them enjoyable. While they don’t stand the test of time in regards to quality, I’d still recommend them to the tween crowd (although in this age, their wholesome nature might cause their popularity to soar like a lead balloon). They are what they’re meant to be—a fun, easy read for the 8-12 crowd.
For next post, put on your prairie dress and hikin’ boots—it’s time for Oregon Trail.