It’s not often that you get to encounter someone famous that you admired growing up, which is why it was such an honor for me to meet Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-Sitters Club series, last night.
The Baby-Sitters Club was created 25 years ago, and spawned several spin-offs and sold millions of copies worldwide. The books were about friendship, growing up, and – of course – baby-sitting. Readers were first introduced to the original four BSC members (Kristy Thomas, Claudia Kishi, Stacey McGill and Mary Anne Spier) in Kristy’s Great Idea, and over the years the club expanded to include more sitters from diverse backgrounds - including a boy!
As a child, I was addicted to the Baby-Sitters Club; the pages must have somehow been laced with crack. I constantly needed a fix, and I got one every month, as the books were cranked out that often during the series’ heyday.
Now, ten years after the final BSC book, they’re back. Martin has written a prequel, The Summer Before, delving into the lives of the original four baby-sitters before the club started. It was released yesterday, and to celebrate, Women in Children’s Media and Scholastic sponsored a special event, “The Baby Sitters are Back.” Attendees were treated to an intimate conversation between Martin and David Levithan, editorial director at Scholastic. He first started working on the BSC with Martin as a 19-year-old intern, and knew stuff about the series that even the most die-hard super fans in attendance didn’t. Levithan told the audience that introducing Martin was “like introducing Sarah Palin at a tea party event,” and it was true. She laughed as he said this, and took her seat to hearty applause.
Levithan asked her questions both that he had come up with and that the audience had submitted earlier. Martin was soft-spoken, and told the audience that she identified most with shy Mary Anne, but wished she were more like tough, take-charge Kristy (her favorite character). She also said she didn’t expect the level of excitement that accompanied the release of The Summer Before and the re-issuing of the first few BSC titles.
Much was discussed, so here are some of the highlights:
*The sitters seemed a lot younger to Martin in the beginning of the series than later.
*She was surprised with how easy it was for her to fall back into writing about the BSC.
*It was easiest for her to write about super-sophisticated, she-of-the-permed-hair Stacey.
*The biggest mistake she made was to write Stacey out of the series in #13, Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye. She had her move back to New York City because many readers had asked her to write about a friend moving away. This caused an avalanche of reader mail, and Stacey was brought back as soon as possible, in #28, Welcome Back, Stacey!
*She wrote the earliest books longhand, and now writes for about five hours a day.
*Some of the changes in the re-releases include updates to Stacey’s diabetes treatment. Also, the pay scale for babysitting has been increased, and “thongs” have become “flip flops.”
*One of the most memorable gifts Martin received from fans was a videotape from two girls in Australia singing their own original song about the club, as well as a clay figure of Louie, Kristy’s dog.
*The reason why the girls stayed in eighth grade for most of the series is because logistically, for the series to go on for as long as it did there was no way they could age. “It did become challenging by the end of the series,” Martin said.
*She enjoys reading contemporary fiction and non-fiction. She’s recently read The Thirteenth Tale (“loved it”), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Olive Kitteridge. A recent re-read was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
*It just so happens that soon after creating Stacey, her cat became diabetic.
*Dawn was harder for her to write about. “I didn’t feel like I knew her as well, and didn’t spend a lot of time in California,” she said. (No offense, but as a Californian, I could tell. We don’t all shun red meat or have long blonde hair and perma-tans!)
*Claudia’s crazy outfits came about after poring over catalogues and magazines and seeing what kids were wearing on television.
*She knew the series was a hit when book number six appeared on the B.Dalton Best-seller List.
*The reason behind two Sabrina Bouvier (one in elementary school, one in eighth grade) characters? It was a simple mistake.
*Her views on the girls today: Kristy is “probably the head of something, maybe a business”; Claudia’s an artist; Stacey’s doing “something in fashion, not necessarily design, but maybe the business end”; Mary Anne’s a teacher; Jessi is still “passionate about dance, but not a professional”; Dawn is “permanently in California.” Other than that, she doesn’t have any “strong feelings” about Dawn and Mallory.
After the Q&A section, attendees were able to have copies of the prequel signed by Martin. Fans took photos with her, and she was kind enough to sign older books that had been brought as well. There were a lot of things I wanted to say to her – that I’m pretty sure the money my parents had spent on BSC books was in the trillions, that my friends and I started a club that lasted approximately twelve seconds – but I held myself together and just told her that I was a huge fan as a kid and some other gibberish (I honestly can’t remember what else I said). Martin was so gracious accepting all the praise we were heaping on her, and I thought about how incredible it must feel to make that much of an impact on people. She still seems a bit stunned by it all, telling the audience, “It’s amazing to think that 25 years ago was the beginning of all this, and that 25 years later there are still so many passionate people. It means a great deal to me.”