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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Remember Baby-Sitters Club??

In 1986, author Ann M. Martin introduced readers to a girl named Kristy Thomas and her Great Idea. Originally meant as finite series, The Baby-Sitter’s Club became a middle-grade publishing phenomenon, running from 1986 to 2000, and inspired several spin-offs, a movie and a short-lived television series–not to mention numerous real-life counterparts.

Women who grew up reading the books can still tell you which babysitter they most wanted to be like (Boy-Crazy Stacey, anyone?). “As I was touring for other books I’ve written in the last few years, I began to meet more and more older fans–fans who were in their twenties and thirties–who read the books when they were kids and said, ‘We loved the Baby-Sitter’s Club books but we can’t find them anymore’,” said Martin.

Children’s publisher Scholastic hopes a new generation of girls will discover the BSC this April, when they reissue the originals and release the series’ first new book in a decade, a prequel aptly titled The Summer Before. But can the wholesome babysitters compete in a market dominated by brooding vamps and gossiping Upper East Siders? Speakeasy spoke with Martin about the Baby-Sitter’s Club re-launch and the timeless appeal of the girls from Stoneybrook.

The Wall Street Journal: How did you decide to write a prequel?

Ann M. Martin: Many people had mentioned or suggested sequel ideas to me for various reunion books: high school reunion, college reunion or the members of the Baby-Sitters Club are all grown up and have kids of their own. And I thought about all of these ideas. But my favorite age group to write about is that very solid middle grade age group, and it was much more appealing for me to write about the characters when they were at the same age or even a little bit younger. So I began to think about what might have led the original four characters to start the Baby-Sitters Club and why it was so important to each of them.

Many of your original readers are in their twenties and thirties now, yet still love the books and are active fans. Are you surprised by the continued interest in the series of your adult fans?

It does, but I also find it very gratifying to know that the characters had that much influence over them and that the readers remember them fondly. It means a great deal to me. I hadn’t expected it but I think it’s wonderful

Today, a lot of people talk about the fact that kids are growing up too fast. What makes the BSC girls appealing role models for kids?

I used to get tons of letters from kids who compared themselves to the members of the Baby-Sitter’s Club and usually tried to find one character with whom they identified with most closely. Lots of kids found things they identified with in each character, but I think the fact that that the readers could so easily identify with the characters make them sort of timeless. The issues the characters tackled twenty-five years ago are not really so different than the issues kids today tackle. Yes, kids today have iPods, cell phones and all sorts of things that didn’t exist in 1986, but what are the things that are most important to them still? Their families, friendships, issues surrounding school. I have a nephew who’s twelve now and he, of course has an iPod and a cell phone and likes to use the computer, but his passion in life is baseball. And that doesn’t make him terribly different from a kid in 1986 or even a kid in 1940.

Despite the fact that she had diabetes, for readers, Stacey was the girl they most wanted to be. What do you think attracts people to her character?

I think that was actually it right there, that Stacey did have a lot of things to cope with in her life–also her parents go through a divorce in the series. So she faced a lot of challenges and she was popular. She had close friends and I think that kids were really able to relate to that, to know that because you face, for instance, a medical issue or something that’s going on with your family doesn’t mean that you can’t also overcome it and have a pretty normal life, which is what Stacey had. Also I think they thought she was cool that didn’t hurt!

People loved Claudia because she was the cool, artsy one and was always putting together some great outfit. How did you come up with her ensembles book-to-book?

Well, I have to say, not being any sort of a fashion plate myself…when I was creating Claudia I wanted to create a character that was very creative, very artistic, and I wanted Claudia to express that in her style of dress as well as the projects and things that she was interested in. But coming up with the ideas for her outfits, honestly, I was just looking though clothing catalogs, seeing what kids were wearing on television shows. Some of it came right of my head, but she wasn’t based on anybody in particular and her clothes weren’t based on any particular designer or anything.


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