Great Adaptations: The Baby-Sitters Club
Retellings as reminders
I remember reading and loving the original Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin, carefully saving up birthday and Christmas money to buy the next installments. At one point, I owned hundreds of the books, but in a rash attempt to show how grownup I was, gave them all away to a younger cousin. (Who, I believe, also gave them away shortly thereafter)
Despite my childhood devotion to the series, very little of the books remain embedded in my memory. I can remember the essentials of the main characters, a few stray story lines, and a rabid devotion to Mary Anne and Logan needing to be together forever, a fact to which I’m sure many of my old Lisa Frank folders could bear tribute.
But unlike other childhood favorites like Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Little Women, The Baby-Sitters Club seemed like something very much relegated to my childhood past.
I have revisited Anne Shirley, Mary Lennox, and Jo March as an adult, many times, but something about The BSC inspired as much embarrassment to my adult self as it did to the eleven-year-old girl who gave away her books to prove she wasn’t too little-kid-ish anymore.
There is a sort of childish whimsy in saying Gilbert Blythe was your first childhood love, or that Charlotte’s Web made you weep, or that you wished you could go to Narnia someday. These are childhood memories that we might gladly share with others.
But admitting that your first crush might have actually been Logan Bruno, or that you learned about grief from Mimi, or that you wanted to grow up to be a combination of Mary Anne and Stacey, felt somehow embarrassing, not as culturally cool or significant.
They were just little kids’ books, after all, and worst of all, they were targeted to girls.
Netflix’s latest adaptation of the series has accomplished quite a number of impressive feats. It has reinvigorated the story of The Baby-Sitters Club, almost seamlessly blending the characters to the 21st-century and using the familiar characters and plots to provide insightful commentary about how much our culture has changed, and how much it hasn’t.
As many other media outlets have reported, it highlights important issues that children of today might face, like multicultural/blended families and transgender rights. (In this writer’s humble opinion, Dawn’s simple explanation of being trans is one of the best I’ve heard, and not just for a children’s show.)
On a more personal level, the series has accomplished something even more impressive, at least to me: It has reminded me why I loved these books so much as a child, and it has also reiterated to me how often society needlessly berates and belittles things that little girls love.
Just like I can’t remember much from the original series, I also couldn’t tell you a specific person or particular words that were used to make me feel I should pretend to be too grown-up to like the books I used to love.
But something convinced eleven-year-old me that it was embarrassing to hold on to these books in particular.
Not Peter Pan. Not The Chronicles of Narnia. Not A Little Princess.
These other books I kept and read and reread over time. Maybe it felt okay to me because these books were so-called classic literature, and therefore supposedly had some more intrinsic value.
Never mind that The Baby-Sitters Club was written about a group of girls close to my age, from my time, going through issues that I might actually encounter as I developed friendships, went to school, and yes, baby-sat.
Never mind that it was a series about a group of female friends from different racial and economic backgrounds, each with unique personalities, who all were strong and funny and cool in their own ways.
Never mind that it promoted friendship, responsibility, and independence.
What could I possibly learn from a series like that?
It’s been a long time since I was a little girl, and I hope a lot has changed, and that kids are no longer told (explicitly or implicitly) that things targeted toward little girls are silly or inconsequential or stupid.
I hope that we have learned as a culture to recognize the value in newer literature, regardless of what age demographic it is geared toward.
I suspect there is still some room to grow. As much as I absolutely adored each and every episode of The Baby-Sitters Club series, as a “serious adult” I find myself wanting to qualify my love of the show to people by saying it’s cute or feel-good or nostalgic.
It’s all of those things, and there’s nothing wrong with being those things. But those words are also often used as a way to dismiss things that aren’t cutting edge or serious or important.
I.e. Things that are made for little girls.
I’m going to challenge myself not to belittle my love of the show, because I did absolutely love it. It was one of the very bright spots of my 2020 — and those, as we all know, are very much needed.
I could probably write more in-depth about The Baby-Sitters Club as an adaptation and theorize about what it accomplishes as a retelling, but I’ve decided rather to start here by admitting that I just really, really loved it and thought it was great. That it made me happy and hopeful and reminded me why I devoured the books as a little girl.
If that isn’t high praise for an adaptation, I don’t know what more I can say.
Now if only someone could manage to do the same thing for my other childhood obsession, Sweet Valley High…