‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ is turning 30: Why the popular book series still matters

the-baby-sitters-club-books-ann-m-martin-scholasticvia Scholastic

The Baby-Sitters Club were a series of books by Ann M. Martin, who grew up in Princeton (the inspiration for the fictional hometown setting of Stoneybrook, Connecticut), that were pretty much the literary equivalent of a viral hit for many young readers in the 1980’s and 1990’s, so it’s no surprise that the excitement over them is just as strong now as it was back in their heyday. As the name suggests, the books were about girls who babysat, but they were just as much about the strong friendships among the four main characters, the shy, quiet Mary Anne, who was based on Martin herself, along with pals Kristy, Claudia and Stacey, with varying personalities and backgrounds, and the issues they faced.

babysitters-club-kristys-great-idea-ann-m-martin-scholasticvia Amazon

This summer marks the series’ 30th anniversary; it debuted with the first title, Kristy’s Great Idea, which led to a runaway hit for Martin. To celebrate that momentous occasion, TODAY asked Martin about the origins of the books and what’s happened with them over the years.

As it turns out, Martin was originally only supposed to write four books, the brainchild of a Scholastic editor, but she went on to write almost 100! “The success was a big surprise to everybody,” Martin told Bustle. There wound up being over 300 Baby-Sitters Club books, which includes spin off series and other related titles. Since 1992, they were overseen by now-author and Scholastic editorial director David Levithan, who also worked on the runaway hit The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, which of course went on to become a film series starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.

The books have also been turned into graphic novels based on the originals, featuring artwork by Raina Telgemeier. Bossy, loud tomboy Kristy was Martin’s favorite character, and when asked what she thought they’d be doing in 2016, Martin revealed to TODAY that Kristy would “running a company, possibly a non-profit.” Claudia, who was vice president of the club and the only one lucky enough to have her own phone line (hence meetings were held in her bedroom) “would still be in the art world, ‘an artist or running a gallery or artist agent.” Martin suggested that Mary Anne might have become a teacher, while Stacey, who loved shopping, “would perhaps be in the world of fashion. In Martin’s mind, the original gang would all be living in Manhattan.” Hmmm…might a modern Stacey mingle with the world of the Real Housewives of New York?

So why have they remained so popular that women still reach out daily to Martin to thank her for them? The books, for many girls, were more than just books: they were representation. As J. Courtney Sullivan wrote in Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny Letter, “For many girls coming of age in the ’80s and ’90s, The Baby-Sitters Club, the best-selling middle-grade series, was a PG precursor to Sex and the City: a story of female friendship in all its complexity, it featured a cast of highly appealing characters in whom almost anyone could locate some aspect of herself.”

Sullivan went on to add, “The series originated 30 years ago, but the characters remain fresh in our minds. The books still resonate. Maybe because they recall a simpler moment in life — memories of the babysitters intertwined with memories of our earlier selves. But perhaps it’s also because the characters had some essential qualities that transcended adolescence. When we talk about The Baby-Sitters Club now, we don’t talk about which characters we were. We talk about which characters we are.”

Sullivan interviewed Martin, who revealed that she used to receive over 1,000 each month (and keep in mind, this was before e-mail; yes, there was a time when people sent letters via snail mail, with stamps and everything!). Of the personal tone of those letters, Martin said, “Some of them really thought the characters were their friends. Others knew they weren’t real, but still they felt like they knew them.”

Martin told Elle in 2014 that there’s even readers who want to own every title. “There are people out there trying to collect every book in the series, asking people if they can find them. But my favorite thing to hear about are people who grew up reading them, and have gone on to go into writing, become librarians, teachers, authors, editors. I just love hearing about that.”

If you loved the series, take a trip down memory lane with Bustle’s “9 Things Every Baby-Sitters Club Fan Knows To Be True.” Or you could take Scholastic’s “What Type of Baby-Sitters Club Member Are You?” quiz. I got Claudia Kishi, which seems spot on since I’m now a writer, and according to the results, “You’re so creative you’ve probably made up an even better word to describe yourself.” Want to do a really deep dive into every detail of the series? Visit the Baby-Sitters Club Wiki.

And if you never read them but are looking for a callback to a simpler time, pre-cell phones, pre-internet, pre-social media, to a series that was a little less racy than Sweet Valley High (though I’m here to say plenty of us devoured both series), give the Baby-Sitters Club a shot—even if you’re old enough to be hiring babysitters of your own. Yes, you can read them on your Kindle, but I recommend going old school with these books to really take you back.

Fun Fact: Ann’s summer vacations at the Jersey Shore — in Surf City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Cape May —inspired Sea City, New Jersey, the fictional town where the girls enjoyed summer adventures in Boy Crazy Stacey.