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For people of a certain age, the 'Baby-Sitters Club' book series was everything.
These were chapter books (!) featuring strong female characters, focused on family, friends, and of course, baby-sitting, with plots often tackling serious subjects like bullying, divorce, and loss.
For us children of the '90s, the BSC series offered a step stool to maturity. We put ourselves in the shoes of these very mature 13-year-olds, imagining what it would be like to run our own business, wear funky clothing, and go on the occasional adventure. We collected those pastel paperbacks and asked each other “Am I a Kristy? A Claudia? A Dawn?”
This summer marks 30 years since author Ann M. Martin penned the book that started it all: “Kristy’s Great Idea.” While much of the world has changed in these three decades (Hello, internet!), the books remain remarkably timeless. TODAY sat down with author Ann M. Martin to get all the answers to our burning BSC questions.
1. Who really came up with the idea of the ‘Baby-Sitters Club’?
Though Ann M. Martin is the true visionary behind the 131 BSC books (plus Super Specials, Little Sister, and more), she was not the one who came up with it in the first place. An editor at Scholastic approached Martin with the idea for a 4-book mini-series titled “The Baby-Sitters Club.” It was up to Martin to determine what a baby-sitters club would be!
2. How were the original four main characters created?
Not only did Martin have to figure out what exactly a baby-sitters club was, she also had to create the club’s members. The club was originally composed of Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi and Stacey McGill — four girls to each narrate one of the original four books.
The characters of Mary Anne and Kristy were based on Martin and her best friend growing up. According to Martin, her best friend Beth was the “one with all the big ideas and who was just sort of out there and enthusiastic,” while she herself was definitely the quiet and shy Mary Anne-type “who loved having this larger-than-life friend.” It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Kristy is Martin’s favorite character of all the baby-sitters!
In creating the characters of Claudia and Stacey, Martin wanted to round out the group with two very different girls from the other two. The character of Claudia also contained a piece of Martin, with her love of art. The sophisticated New York City-born Stacey brought someone with a different background into the gang, and Martin admits “I’m not nearly as sophisticated as even Stacey was when she was 12.”
3. Why did Stacey move away (and why did she come back)?
The series proved to be so popular after the first four books that Martin kept writing. She was initially churning out a book a month as the club expanded (welcome, Dawn, Mallory, and Jessi!) and new plot lines developed. Devoted fans were particularly aghast when one book featured club member Stacey moving back to her native New York City. Martin and her editors had decided it would be natural with any group of friends for someone to move away, but little did they know the response they would receive. Martin said she received so much mail protesting the decision to move Stacey that she soon wrote a book moving Stacey back to the BSC’s hometown of Stoneybrook, Connecticut and rejoining the club full-time. Whew!
4. Where did Claudia’s outfits come from?
Claudia Kishi was the character that many fans idolized because of her style. Baby-Sitters Club books would dedicate whole paragraphs to describing her outfits, and now-grown-up readers even reveled in a recent blog that catalogued Claudia’s style. So how did Martin come up with outfits like “short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora” or “a shocking-pink tunic over a white shirt with pink and yellow umbrellas printed on it?”
Martin says she would look at the kids she passed on the street, go through kids’ clothing catalogues, or look at what kids were wearing on TV. She wanted to “create a character who was not only sort of fashionable, but also expressing her artistic side.”
5. Have the books been updated for modern times?
Martin penned the books in the '80s and '90s, aka the dark ages before cellphones, e-mail, and social media. Fans will no doubt recall that the club gathers in Claudia’s room for meetings because she’s the only one with her own phone, a landline.
The books were updated in 2009 for the series’ 25th anniversary in order to modernize slightly. While Martin knew she didn’t want to give her characters cell phones, she did take out references to technology that younger readers might not understand — words like “VCR” were turned into “recording device” in order to make the books more timeless. Martin also felt it was important to update details of Stacey’s diabetes and her subsequent treatment, which had changed considerably since the books were first published.
Aside from those changes, the BSC books have remained frozen in time (literally — after book #9, Martin made the decision to stop the passage of time, and keep the characters forever 13 years old and in middle school).
6. Will there ever be more BSC books?
The final Baby-Sitters Club book was published in 1999, after a total of 131 titles, plus spin-off series and "Super Specials." Martin herself wrote over 100 titles in the BSC realm, and was heavily involved in the outlining and editing of every single book. She returned to the Baby-Sitters club universe in 2010, with a prequel titled "The Summer Before."
But when asked about future books, Martin says she has no plans to revisit the characters at the moment. She also acknowledges that she prefers to write for young adults, so any older fans hoping for “Baby-Sitters Club: The Adult Years” might be waiting for some time.
7. Where would the members of the BSC be in 2016?
It’s hard to believe, but if the baby-sitters had aged in real time, they would be in their early 40s in 2016! What would they be up to? Martin likes her fans to come up with their own ideas and theories, but she does have some thoughts of her own on what her characters would be doing.
She once thought Kristy would go into politics (Kristy 2016!), but these days Martin sees her favorite character running a company, possibly a non-profit. Claudia would still be in the art world, “an artist or running a gallery or artist agent,” Mary Anne might be teaching, and Stacey would perhaps be in the world of fashion. In Martin’s mind, the original gang would all be living in Manhattan.
Thirty years after it all began, Martin is still receiving daily messages of gratitude and appreciation from her many fans — some nostalgic, some sharing the books with their children, and some discovering the "Baby-Sitters Club" for the first time. All aware that there’s just something special about this group of baby-sitters and world that Ann M. Martin created.
And as for what Ann M. Martin wants from her fans? She simply wants people (kids, in particular) to have an enjoyable reading experience with her books, then "go on and discover other authors, other kinds of writing, other books, and just be a really happy, eclectic reader."