I was a late reader. I know it is shocking since I was a teacher, managed a bookstore and I’m currently a professional writer, but it’s true. My remedial reading skills quickly improved after a third grade sleepover where my two best friends told me all about the Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books by Ann M. Martin.
From then through the end of fifth grade, we read and exchanged books in school, at sleepovers, and at Girl Scouts. The three of us soon read all of Baby-Sitters Little Sister, The Kids in Ms. Coleman’s Class then all of BSC, and the BSC Super Specials, Mysteries, Super Mysteries, Portraits, BSC Friends Forever and California Diaries; that is hundreds of chapter books!
In addition to this series (along with Judy Blume books) sparking my love of reading, it also inspired me to start my own babysitting business. I created a website, made flyers, created business cards, took training classes with the Red Cross in babysitting and first aid/CPR. I quickly developed a list of other trained babysitters to share the long rooster of clients I had over the next few years. My business helped me raise money to travel outside the US, buy my own cell phone, and every glittery hair clip at Claire’s and Icings. When I moved across the country several times and when I was between traditional jobs, I always had my babysitting skills. The down-payment for my first car, babysitting money, my first semester of college, babysitting money. To me these were more than books, these were a gateway to adulthood and responsibilities I never knew I wanted.
Film depictions help readers.
When I worked in a bookstore and parents worried about their young readers struggling, I would recommend the BSC graphic novels as an entry point to chapter books. Graphic novels are a great way to inspire young readers because strong images help young readers stay motivated about an interesting story. I often talked with parents about finding the right series for your child to fall in love with whether; that’s Percy Jackson, My Little Pony or Spirit Animals. Once a kid clicks with a series you will have a reader that wants to struggle through difficult words to finish a great story.
When beginner chapter books (like Baby-Sitters Little Sister) or graphic novels are not available and/or the child is struggling to stay motivated, I recommend film. Movies and TV shows are a great way to get a child excited about a story. I also recommend using closed captioning. Even if a child does not know all the words their eyes are drawn to them and they will naturally pick-up some new words.
Films not only spark interest in stories but they can reignite interest when a child is bored or not sure what to read next. When my friends and I found out there was a Baby-Sitters Club movie we had one of our parents get it from the library (movie checkouts were for adults only). Ok, I’m a 90’s kid but I was too young to have seen it in the cinema and by the early 2000s I was spending more time at the library than blockbuster, and we still totally watched it on VHS tape. We loved it, in fact this was when I finished reading Super Special books, prior to that I was scared…they were so long (to my 10-year-old self), but the movie made me excited about the books again and ready to give the ‘big chapter books’ a try.
When we went to the library to return the tape before our next sleepover, the librarians told us there was also an old TV show! Of course we binged that way before bingeing was a thing. After that I finally tried the ‘scary’ mystery series and Super Special Mysteries. At this point I was 11-year-olds, starting sixth grade, while I was sad I had finished the books, I so thrilled to be old enough to actually babysit!
The Netflix show is not a real reboot, it’s a reincarnation.
Flash-forward to 2020, when I heard there was going to be a remake of the BSC tv show I was there for it, 100%, without even seeing a preview. While everyone else was bingeing Hamilton (probably even fictional BSC member Mary Anne) I was watching BSC on Netflix. Ok, I watch Hamilton a couple of times first, but then BSC all the way.
To start with the casting is great. For most of the leading girls this is their first big role. But some of the faces may seem a bit familiar, Claudia Kishi is played by Momona Tamada played young Lara Jean in the To All the Boys Netflix movie series, Dawn Schafner is played by Xochitl Gomez who played young Anna in Gentefied (which if you haven’t seen Gentefied stop now and add that to your Netflix queue), Karen Brewer (my childhood favorite character) is played by Sophia Reid-Gantzert who play young Anastasia in Once Upon a Time. The adults are also amazing and give grown-up viewers something to enjoy too with Alicia Silverston and Mark Feurstein leading an amazing adult ensemble cast. My favorite thing about the adults is they all have storylines of their own that heavily draw on the ones in the original book series, plus as an adult viewer these plotlines make the show much more engaging.
Reboots should not just be the same story as told with better equipment, they should add something, build on the original and this certainly does. The writing and directing work together to fairly seamlessly show the modern society we live in. To start with Mary Anne is bi-racial, Dawn is latina and has a dad that is gay, and Watson is a one-percenter but only the latter is a plotline. Much like in real-life 90% of the time race just is and it is not explored in conversationals of 13-year-olds, with one exception: Claudia Kishi.
In every incarnation of the BSC Claudia is Japanese. This series really lets the reader see her race be directly addressed in a meaningful way that helps her grow as an individual and connect to her family. In an episode about where her grandmother Mimi has a stroke the audience learns Mimi was interned at a U.S. camp for Japanese Americans when she was a small child. At this vulnerable moment she speaks Japanese for the first time in years and vocalizes to her family about the childhood trauma that haunts her. This was not in the books. Inequality and racism were only directly discussed in two of the many, many books, most notably BSC 56: “Keep out, Claudia.” In that book Trump look-alikes make racism comments and the family refuses to have Claudia babysit for them.
Of course Netflix Is not naive about the power of Claudia. One July 10th Netflix re-released the South by Southwest award-winning documentary The Claudia Kishi Club, which about Claudia in all her wondrous forms. The documentary sheds some light on how loved Claudia and by extension the Kishi family are. This is mainly because Asian Americans in a less stereotypical fashion are rarely seen in any form of media. This reboot is an opportunity to change that.
This wasn’t the only hot button issue highlighted in the Netflix series. The other adults have storylines with subject matter including divorce, remarrying, dating, sexuality and financial struggles are touched on to varying degrees. Nothing is over-the-top, everything has a realism to it, just like the original books. In the Netflix how, we learn Dawn’s dad is gay but its not directly discussed, because it is just part of life not form of tokenism or a ‘very special episode’ of BSC. What is directly discussed is divorce and to a lesser but no less important extent, classism.
The classism storylines perfectly follow the authorial intent of the novels. Martin’s books often focused on the wealth disparities between both the girls and their families. Stacey comes from an upper class family from New York City and her high-end fashion and tech savviness in the show perfectly matches the way the book character would be in 2020. Watson Brewer is described in the book as a man in his late-thirties and balding so the show is a departure with the appearance of the character but he is also described as living in a mansion on McLelland Road and is CEO of Unity Insurance. These latter character traits are absolutely seen in the Netflix show, but are taken to a new level when Brewer buys his future stepson a Mercedes SUV and his wife-to-be confronts him about it. That confrontation between adults is not seen too often in the books, because as in most children’s novels the parents are often a backdrop to the children’s stories and the adults’ storylines only come up when they affect the children. This is very true in the show but the way it is done adds layers and depth to a greater conversation on wealth disparity.
What’s a babysitter without clients?
The babysitting clients aren’t seen that often with a few exceptions being Karen Brewer, the Barrett family that Dawn sits for, and Bailey who Mary Anne sits for.
Karen Brewer is just as wonderfully written as the eccentric child in the books, and I hope she gets a spin off in this format too. I won’t tell you too much about her since this sort of character needs to be observed in the wild.
Dawn’s storyline with the Barretts is also taken from the source material but the writing, directing, sets and props add more layers to the difficulties of sitting for a larger number of children with parents who are going through a divorce. Dawn’s storyline also really deals with burnout and being taken advantage of. Her situation is unfortunately very common for domestic workers and younger employers in general. The show notes how third parties often have to intervene on the workers behalf to enact real change. To no lesser extent, it also depicts how people who work hard and are good at their job are often mistreated, which is a valuable lesson for viewers of all ages.
Finally, there is Bailey, who Mary Anne sits for. Throughout the episode the directing, costumes and props cue the viewer into knowing that the child is transgender, without having to direclty say it. When Bailey becomes ill and is taken to the hospital, staff members do not use the correct pronoun, heightening the child’s fear. The writing here is expertly done showing Mary Anne respecting authority, calling out misgendering, and knowing when to ask for help. As a sitter who has experienced similar situations I was thrilled to see this executed so well.
What the future could hold for the BSC
Historically this series was pretty popular. The later editions of the original books included flyers and postcards to join the fanclub and later the collectors club to get exclusive BSC merch, that gets into bidding wars to this day on eBay. Not to mention multiple doll lines.
As this series develops a new fan base and the existing loyal fanbase has their interest renewed, crafters are posting unique items on Etsy and designing and selling cool merch. on websites like Redbubble. At first I thought all the items were pre-dating the news of the new show, but then I found face masks for BSC and some other creative merch. you can see in the gallery below.
This show is already gaining a massive youth following and hopefully will grow like Stranger Things, Kissing Booth, Sabrina and To All the Boys series. Maybe this means there will be an officially produced merchandise line as well, at this time there are no reports of that happening. What we do know for sure is that there will be at least one more season, but when it will start filming is unknown.
There is so much room for this show to grow. It would be great to follow the girls as they age and complete some of the plot lines from the spin-off series, showing them grow up in a way the books were unable to. This series could really expand the space it takes up in terms of expressing issues that affect young people. Both the cast and crew have both expressed in media coverage that they already have some ideas in mind. What I really want, which probably won’t surprise you, is that Karen Brewer has a Baby-Sitters Little Sister spin-off. I’m putting that out in the universe for the Netflix gods to create.
These past few months of staying home and this summer without traditional camps is an opportunity to give children the time to read, play and discover new interests. Shows like this might introduce them to a whole new world. That world could be art, a business, or you never know, maybe your child will just love the BSC books as much as me.