Ready to feel the crushing weight of mortality? Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club series of YA novels is officially 30 years old this month, as the first book (Kristy’s Great Idea) was published in August 1986.
In the three decades since, Martin’s determined group of teen girls — from take-charge Kristy to shy Mary Anne to artsy Claudia, and everyone in between — have headlined more than 130 stories in the original Baby-Sitters Club book series, several spinoff book series, and a handful of TV and movie adaptations. And of course, there is a fiercely devoted fan base that has continued to love Martin’s babysitters long after they graduated middle school in the final book, published in 2000.
Most of the books I read as a kid belonged to what I affectionately refer to as the "plucky girls make shit happen" genre. This category includes your Matildas, your Ramona Quimbys, your Harriet the Spys, and, of course, The Baby-Sitters Club. The members of the BSC were smart, funny, each flawed and bold in her own particular ways. They were the group of friends I always aspired to have — and then I realized that reading these books meant I had them all along.
When I first read Kristy’s Great Idea, I wanted to be Claudia Kishi. Claudia was the effortlessly cool, creative, and fashionable one who could find inspiration in any pile of junk (when she wasn’t busy hoarding junk food, that is). Our introduction to Claudia — through Kristy’s eyes, since she narrates the first book — is truly spectacular, as she greets Kristy and Mary Anne in "short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and red high top sneakers without socks." (Here is where you remind yourself that Kristy’s Great Idea was published in 1986.)
In Kristy’s words: "I felt extremely blah compared to her."
But I was far more of a Kristy than a Claudia — and as I later realized, that’s something to be proud of.
Kristy is loud and impulsive, quick to say what she’s thinking when she’s thinking it. While this trait can often backfire, for Kristy it more often means she’s the only one willing to try to turn her ideas into reality, regardless of whether she’ll succeed or fall flat on her face. And while her personality is often distilled into "bossy" — a word that followed me throughout my childhood — there’s a reason she’s always the leader.
Recall the very first line from Kristy’s Great Idea, straight from Kristy’s brain into ours: "The Baby-sitters Club. I’m proud to say it was totally my idea." Kristy is a girl with ambition who gets shit done, not because she has to — she’s 12 years old when the series begins — but because she wants to. (Also, she started a softball team for younger kids called "Kristy’s Krushers," which is just about perfect.)
I still love Claudia and her feather belts, but learning to embrace my inner Kristy helped me figure what I wanted in life, challenge myself, and dream just a little bigger than I thought I could.
But if I’m telling the truth, I’m now 15 years older than Kristy is in the BSC books, and I’m still striving to be half as bold as her. Even 30 years later, that kind of relatable yet aspirational heroine is a rare and wonderful thing.