The View from Saturday

A heart full of love and a bookshelf full of hope and some books.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Remember the Babysitters Club?

Man, fiction for girls has gotten out of hand in recent years. Oh sure, series that feature the Olsen Twins may sell books, and that new Dear Dumb Diary set actually seems kind of cool. But where's the heart? Where's the carefully-developed character writing, the lightly-handled social issues? Where, I ask, is the Babysitters Club?

Scoff if you want to, but author Ann M. Martin is no Cathy East Dubowski (and if anyone catches THAT reference, I will buy you a coffee for being even more into mass-market kids' publishing than me). She won the Newbery a few years ago for the very heartfelt A Corner of the Universe, which explored the now-popular trope of the child getting to know a mentally unstable adult as more than a scary stereotype with sincerity and grace. Waaaaayyy back in the day, she also wrote such classics as Ten Kids, No Pets and collaborated with Paula Danziger on P.S. Longer Letter Later, one of the books that helped spawn the current trend toward epistolary novels for kids. That's why the Babysitters Club books were so damned good--they were written by an AUTHOR, not a publishing house lackey.

There was something for everyone in the series. All my friends had their favourites. Mine alternated between Claudia, the artist with junk food hidden all over her room and clothes that seemed exotic and daring at the time but now sound more like the rags of an escaped mental patient, and Stacey, a New York City transplant, Claudia's best friend and a sophisticated gal who shopped at The Limited before anyone knew what The Limited was. She made me wish I had diabetes so I could be as cool as her and learn to give myself insulin shots. I also had a soft spot for Dawn, who ate weird health food and had long blonde hair, but I thought Kristy was a total bossy bitch. But you have to hand it to her--it WAS her big idea to start the club in the first place. The rest--Mary Ann, Mallory, and Jessi--I could take or leave. I know they introduced some new Club Officers (yes, they were actually called Officers) later in the series, but by that point I had lost touch (or else I was, like, nineteen years old and had realized that I could no longer check these books out from the library without looking like an asshole).

And what a club it was! Three meetings a week, free snacks from Claudia (meetings were at her house because she had her OWN PHONE LINE--LUCKY!), responsibility and wonder it spawned a board game and a horrible movie (which inexplicably stars a couple people who actually became semi-famous...if you count being in Orange County as fame, which I DO). The board game was wicked, though. Danielle and I used to play it at sleepovers and it was far more fun than Girl Talk--no embarrassing "zit" stickers to wear, just killer trivia about our favourite books and the occasional poorly-executed truth or dare question ("What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?" OMG, SCANDALE!).

The Babysitters Club ruled because it had all the qualities of pop preteen lit that girls love--an exclusive clique (conveniently devoted to a socially responsible cause), a cast of characters wide enough for everyone to identify with at least one, and lengthy descriptions of clothing, malls, and dates--combined with quality writing and problem plots that never seemed heavy-handed. Martin struck gold with the series, and I, for one, miss it a lot. I feel sad that girls today won't have these books in their lives. Instead of learning about how eating disorders are a bad thing (like Jessi did in her ballet class), they're learning to emulate girls who treat anorexia like a character trait. On the plus side, the series is now being morphed into graphic novel format. I've had a look at the first installment, and while it doesn't quite suit me, I hope it'll bring a new generation of readers back to Martin's series, so that they, like me, can learn about the joy of readerly guilty pleasures. And about how to know if a kid is being abused. Or how to stand up to your dad so you can choose your own clothes. And what to do if you're getting weird phone calls on the job. And how to deal with your parents' divorce. And how to manage diabetes. And what to say when a boy calls you on the phone. GOD, I learned a LOT from those books.


At 5:03 PM, Blogger ...j said...

Your writing is like a steaming cup of herbal tea with a jackknife of hilarity stabbed in the middle of it. I also wished I had diabetes, or spina bifida. Moreso spina bifida because I love saying it. Then I would know authenticity.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous jane! said...

I am crying across the pond...
I loved Claudia and Dawn, and still have my (almost complete) set of, those were the days!
I'll move to Ottawa and we can start anew.
See you in a few short weeks, m'dear! I'll have to get cracking on this ever-growing list of books to read.
xx Jane

At 5:58 PM, Blogger cait said...

Oh Jordan, spina bifida is the new black. I am SO with you.

Jane, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who squandered away my allowance on cheap paperbacks. Move here NOW.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Commie Commie Commie Chameleon said...

All right. As usual, I'll be the cranky one. Sorry to be a steaming pile of dog poo in the middle of memory lane, but I hated those books. Sure there was something for everyone, that is, unless you were taught to fear exclusive groups like that because membership was based on forms of social status which were, for a po' girl and a budding communist like me, unattainable. Some evil rich biotches at my school tried to start something similar called "The Unicorn Club" which basically consisted of them sitting around the playground admiring one another's $60 Benetton sweaters and laughing at kids with single mums and holes in their shoes. Say what you will but I think those books did a lot of damage to kids who found absolutely nothing to identify with in the phoney "problems" these girls were supposed to have--like dads who tried to control your wardrobe--and instead made them feel somewhat angry and ashamed that a group supposedly made from all walks of life apparently didn't include the East side, G. Don't get me wrong, Imogene Herdman I was not (how's THAT for a kid lit reference?) but I was a latchkey kid who felt more of an affinity with pathetic Dickensian waifs than the budding trophy wives who took horse riding lessons in the Blandysitters Club.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger ...j said...

I never read the babysitters club, but I enjoyed that post by the paper-bag princess. My kid-lit references are pedestrian, I realize, but it's been a few years.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger cait said...

Dear Commie,

Obviously those rich jerks were also Sweet Valley Twins fans. That stupid unicorn club ruined the colour purple for a generation of young fashionistas.

Hey, remember when everyone had to have Vuarnet shirts? God the 80s were rough.

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