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Ann M. Martin on the new Baby-Sitters Club revival

At BookCon, the Ann M. Martin-led Baby-Sitters Club panel was a nostalgic celebration.

Kristy’s Great Idea, by Ann M. Martin Scholastic
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

The Baby-Sitters Club, the beloved series of books that was a mainstay of girls growing up in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, is back. In February, Netflix announced that it would adapt the series into a 10-episode family dramedy; this August, Audible plans to release all 131 titles in the main series (not counting spinoffs like the Super Specials and Mysteries) as audiobooks, with the first five titles to be narrated by Elle Fanning. Millennial nostalgia now comes with a lesson in the powers of tweenage entrepreneurship and carefully chosen alphabet block letters.

So at this year’s BookCon, a New York-based fan convention for book lovers, Baby-Sitters Club creator Ann M. Martin participated in a panel discussion with representatives from Audible and three of the audio series’ narrators to talk about the books’ legacy.

“I have distinct memories of having that boxed set,” said Brittany Pressley, who narrates the Kristy books. (BSC aficionados will recall that each book in the series was narrated by a different member of the club; Kristy was the bossy tomboy one.) “That was like, the thing. You had to have that little box [of the first four books]; it was yellow, slotted right in. That was like your status symbol. ‘Come on over to my room, here’s my boxed set.’”

In contrast, narrator Bahni Turpin says she was a little taken aback by her fellow narrators’ fandom. (Turpin reads the books narrated by Jessi, the BSC’s only black character and a budding ballerina.) “I’m older than the rest of y’all,” Turpin explained. “I did not grow up with these books, so I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.”

She recalled that the group had put together a spreadsheet to keep track of different characters. “The spreadsheet was called, ‘BSC OMG!’ I was just like, ‘Are they teenagers?’ But I would have loved them [the books], had I had them when I was a teenager!” she hastened to add.

Throughout the panel, Martin was quiet and reserved: The BSC character she most identifies with is Mary Anne, the shy one, she admitted, although brash Kristy was who she aspired to be. But Martin did discuss how she and Scholastic were able to churn out 131 titles in the main series, plus spinoffs.

“After the first 20 or so books, when the books were being published once a month, instead of a few times a year, I couldn’t write them all myself,” Martin explained. “This is no secret. There were eventually other writers for the books.”

Martin says she outlined and edited all the books that she didn’t write, and she required the ghostwriters to read all the other books in the series so that they knew the characters and the continuity. “We actually had — this was similar to ‘BSC OMG’ — we had what we called the Baby-Sitters Club Bible,” she said. “Which originally was just sheaves of paper with all sorts of details about the characters that everyone could refer to, and eventually it was published as The Baby-Sitters Club Guide.”

As Martin spoke, the audience reacted with the sort of worshipful enthusiasm often reserved for the most famous of pop stars. It was a crowd of mostly women, mostly old enough to have read the books when they were first published, and during the question-and-answer portion of the panel, one woman who identified herself as a teacher began to weep as she faced the stage. “I’m really nervous, sorry,” she said, voice shaking.

Her fellow audience members rose up to support her. Shouts of “You got this!” and “We’re here for you!” reverberated throughout the room. Another woman slipped forward in the question line to wrap a supportive arm around the teacher’s shoulder.

It seemed that the kids who grew up reading The Baby-Sitters Club had thoroughly internalized all their favorite books’ lessons about how important it is to stand by your friends.