I am talking, of course, about that figment of Ann M. Martin’s glorious and at times inconsistent imagination: The Baby-Sitter’s Club.
Maybe, unlike me, you didn’t have your nose stuck in a pastel-colored chapter book between the years of 1993 and oh let’s say 1999, so allow me to explain (if you’re familiar, you can skip this paragraph…consider it the Chapter 2 of this post). The Baby-Sitter’s Club is a series of novels about a group of 13-year-old girls who baby-sit and have adventures, sometimes with each other and surprisingly often with the kids they babysit (their charges). There are 132 titles in the regular series, but there are also 15 Super Specials, 36 Mysteries, 4 Super Mysteries, 3 Special Edition Readers’ Requests, 6 Portrait Collections, 12 Friends Forever books, and a handful of other special titles. And this is to say nothing of the spinoff series, Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister, which follows the insufferable Karen Brewer, stepsister to club President Kristy Thomas. I am groaning just thinking about it.
Though the last Baby-Sitter’s Club book was published in 2000, the fandom has grown up and is now experiencing something of a creative renaissance. What Claudia Wore has become increasingly awesome as her “funky” 90s aesthetic has found its way back into the mainstream. Stoneybrookite operates the BSC Wiki and points to items of interest to 20something BSC fans. The BSC Snark Livejournal community is still very active, too. And among my favorites are the parody Twitter accounts–I never could have guessed I’d be able to follow Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Mallory, and basically every resident of Stoneybrook via social media.
Over the past few years Scholastic attempted to take advantage of this underground support and introduce the BSC to another generation of girls by rereleasing the first four books in graphic novel form. While Raina Telgemeier did a decent job of updating the books for a 21st century tween, so much of the books’ charm is in the way it portrays young teenagers who are mature, responsible, independent, and yet still innocent. And let’s not forget about the glorious 90s fashion! BSC just wouldn’t be the same without the overalls, the scrunchies, the turtlenecks, the high-tops.
But now! Now Scholastic is releasing the first 20 titles in ebook form. They’ve updated the series’ official site and post regularly to its Facebook page. You may notice that a majority of the posts are from 20something Scholastic employees who gush about how their obsession with the BSC gave them a love for reading that led them to a career in publishing.
I would guess you would hear something similar from a pretty big majority of 20something women in publishing. In fact, my Scholastic cover letters included an anecdote that portrayed just how deeply the BSC impacted my life.
Picture this: it’s my freshman year of college. I’m an eager English major in my second lit class, 17th-20th Century British Literature. The only person in the class I know is a girl named Julie, and since the class is right before lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we often end up eating lunch together. At one of these first lunches we realize that one of the many childhood experiences we share is an insane enthusiasm for the BSC. We joke about checking out BSC books from the public library, and since it’s a Friday and it’s one of those surprisingly warm early spring days and we don’t have any more classes for the day, we ride the energy wave we’ve built exchanging stories and decide to do it.
Thus a tradition was born. We started referring to it as “T. S. Eliot” to disguise our lowbrow literary pursuits as something more “worthy” of our English majors. We kept doing it, nearly every Friday that semester and for the rest of our college careers. We still do it, though far less frequently.
Maybe over time the series will inspire another generation of readers, but right now their strength is their nostalgic base of first-generation fans. I have never been one to easily embarrass, but Julie and I have certainly raised some eyebrows and found ourselves struggling to explain exactly why we as 24 year old women were reading children’s chapter books in a Starbucks in our free time. I would definitely think twice about reading a BSC book in a trendy coffeeshop downtown, or on a crowded subway. But in an ebook? I would gladly plunk down a few bucks to discreetly relive my childhood for a few hours.
Hopefully this relaunch of the BSC brand will lead to more than just ebook releases. If Scholastic published a where-are-they-now follow-up novel a la Sweet Valley Confidential, I honestly do not know what I would do. It might be the best day of my life. And if it leads to the BSC’s most prolific ghost writer, Peter Lerangis, who now has a legitimate writing career under his own name, to finally start talking about his work on the BSC, well, it will have been worth the wait.