There's really only one thing that gets ladies of our generation more nostalgic than Jesse Spano's caffeine pill addiction
: the Baby-Sitters Club.
Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey guided us through adolescence. They taught us that it's OK to have diabetes. Or a deadbeat dad who ran out on your family. Or a single father who's waaay
overprotective. Or even to wear two different earrings at the same time.
We grew up with these ladies -- even though they stayed in the eighth grade -- and that's why we were super-excited
that Scholastic is re-releasing the books (by Ann M. Martin), complete with a Claudia Kishi–approved cover makeover.
Oh, but there's more. Ann M. Martin wrote a prequel called "The Summer Before." And unlike "Dumb and Dumberer" or "Hannibal Rising," this is a prequel worthy of the dynasty.
Lemondrop sat down with Martin to talk about the series. Lemondrop: What do you think it is about the Baby-Sitters Club that captured a generation?
The characters were very relatable. They were kids that you could easily know in your school, or in your neighborhood. They were everygirl.
We all liked to play the "Which Babysitter Are You?" game -- then and now. How do you think today's generation is going to relate to those girls?
They faced the same problems that a lot of kids face, and those kinds of things haven't changed between 1986 and today. Friendships, fitting in, boys, school, families ... The characters were all such close friends, even though they fought occasionally. I think having a close-knit group of friends like that was maybe something that readers aspired to.
You can't help but notice the lack of cell phones and Facebook in the books. How do you think new readers will react?
My nephew is 12, has a cell phone, computer ... all that. But his passion is baseball, and from that respect, he could be any 12-year-old boy in time. He can be a kid in 1940, it doesn't really matter. I think they'll be concentrating on other aspects of the book, like the babysitting or the things that, thank goodness, haven't changed, like friendship. Or even some of the scarier topics that kids experience, like the death of a grandparent, bullying or racism. It will be more about the issues than the fact that there's no mention of cell phones.
Is there anything you did change to modernize the story?
Yes, when we re-issued, we made very minor changes. We took out outdated references like VCRs and cassette players. We also updated some of the info about Stacey and her diabetes because so much new information is available [ed note: for the unfamiliar, Stacey has a severe case of diabetes that the books don't shy away from discussing.]
For example, in terms of treatment, instead of saying specifically how she tests her insulin levels, we changed it from "fingerprick" to the more general "she took a reading." This way, it will still hold true 25 years from now, and we won't have to update again. But, no, we didn't make any changes like giving the characters cell phones.
Reading "The Summer Before," which instantly took me back to Stonybrook, Conn., I was surprised by the maturity of the sixth graders. They deal with some heavy stuff. I don't remember thinking, Wow, these girls are so mature! when I read the books as a kid, but rather, Wow, I know what she means. How are you able to put yourself in their mindset?
That's just the voice that seems to come most naturally to me whenever I sit down to create new characters or write a book. I have a lot of memories of myself when I was that age that I pull from. Kristy and Mary Anne are loosely based on me and my best friend Beth growing up. I pull things from my childhood -- if not actual events, then certain emotions, memories. I don't have any difficulty putting myself back in that same spot. And I did an awful lot of babysitting growing up.
Did you ever look back at your journals from that age?
My mother kept diaries for herself, me and my younger sister. I can remember these vividly -- she'd lie on her bed and write in all three of the diaries every night. They were those five-year diaries, so there wasn't much room, just four or five lines per day. She did it for the first 15 years of my life. The first diary is blank from January 1 through August 11, 1955; it starts on August 12 -- my birthday. My sister is doing the same thing for her son. Sometimes, I'll flip through and see what I was doing on a particular day in 1954.
When I was young, I couldn't wait to start babysitting and earning my own money. Thinking back, a lot of my eagerness was fueled by the BSC. But a WSJ article about the new books brought up how fewer teenagers are babysitting these days -- not only because parents don't trust their children with a teen, but because as colleges get more competitive, teens are spending more time at school and with extracurriculars and less time working. How has babysitting changed since the days of the BSC?
Well, there aren't as many 11-year-olds babysitting now. I based the books on my own childhood. I started working as a mother's helper when I was 10. Yes, that was the '60s. Things have changed. For adult readers who are thinking, I would never let a 13-year-old babysit for my kids
, there has to be a little bit of willing suspension of disbelief.
Your books spawned countless home-grown babysitters clubs across the country. How would a club of today be organized? Would it be all online?
I think one of the most appealing aspects of the club was the way that it was organized. It was a change for all the girls to get together and spend time as friends, be independent and run a business. You could do it as a Web site, but you'd lose the personal aspect, the interactive aspect.
How do you think the BSC books will compare to the "Twilight"s and "Harry Potter"s of today's generation?
It's a different kind of writing. There's room for both kinds. When I was a kid I was a really eclectic reader. I read fantasy, Mary Poppins, Doctor Dolittle and realistic fiction, and I'm hoping that kids today are readers who will be just as eclectic. They'll get something out of these books that they don't get from fantasy, and they'll find things in these books to relate to and aspire to.
What's your favorite reader story?
It's great today to hear from adult fans who read the books as kids and then grew up to become writers, editors, teachers or librarians. The other thing that has been incredibly meaningful is the number of kids who contacted me through Make-a-Wish and the Starlight Children's Foundation to meet me. I've gotten to meet quite a few incredible kids, many of whom I'm still in touch with today. And I really want to say thank you to everybody -- and to the adult readers fondly remembering the books who are eager to introduce their own kids.
Finally, one of our favorite questions here at Lemondrop: If you were a Golden Girl, who would you be?
I'd be Rose, Betty White. She cracks me up. I do particularly like that show, so it's hard to choose a single one, but her story line used to make me laugh very loud. And she's involved with animal rescue, something that's very near and dear to my heart.
And, of course, we had to give readers a chance to ask Ann some questions.
@thisisthebang: Do you think the trend for overseas adoption started with Watson, putting ideas into Angelina Jolie's head?
(laughs) I don't think so. I have absolutely no idea, but that would be awesome.
@LoriFradkin: Where would Claudia shop today?
Probably smaller boutiques where she could find unusual things she couldn't find at stores. She'd want to look for vintage, or things that you couldn't find anywhere else.
@damiella: Which of the Baby-Sitters Club characters are you most like?
Mary Anne -- she's the shy one. But my favorite babysitter is Kristy. I'd love to be that outgoing and open and loud-mouthed. She's my alter-ego.
While researching this article, we learned something: Zach Braff was in an episode of the 1990 BSC TV show. True story. Check out the clip -- and more of our favorite BSC moments on film -- here.