After reading Ready Player One, I decided to revisit my biggest childhood 80s obsession: The Baby-sitters Club. For those of you who were NOT adolescent girls in the late 80s and early 90s, The Baby-sitters Club is a series of novels by Ann M. Martin about a group of suburban middle-school girls who form a business offering their child-watching services to the masses of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Each book is told from the point of view of a different character and feature their various baby-sitting misadventures as well as the trials and tribulations of young girls living in the late twentieth century. And I devoured them over and over again. I grew out of them after awhile, but for 15 or so years, this publishing phenomenon produced over 200 books, several spin-off series, a cheesy TV show (of which I watched every episode), a movie, and LOTS of tie-in merchandise .
So last week I dug through a box in my parents’ basement and unearthed my favorite Baby-Sitters Club book, Super Special #4: Baby-sitters’ Island Adventure (Scholastic 1990). The Super Specials are different (hence the Super in the name) because they’re twice as long as the regular books and each chapter has a different narrator. They also always revolve around some sort group vacation (these kids were thirteen for 200 books. They went on a lot of vacations.) or dramatic event, in this case Claudia and Dawn get lost at sea. See Claud and Dawn have been taking sailing lessons at the community center and they challenge each other to a race. The first race ends in a tie because Claudia gets her gaudy earrings stuck in the sail (oh Claudia) and Dawn has trouble steering. Despite this demonstration of incompetence, the community center counselors allow them to not only have a rematch, but also take along a crew of children. Yeah, that will end well. So of course a bad storm hits during the middle of the race, and Dawn and Claudia get stranded on a deserted island with 4 children ranging in age from 4 to 11. From there the story goes back in forth between the crisis on the island and the frantic search for the missing in what the local media has dubbed “Connecticut Disaster” (Sign it’s not 2011 #1: 6 suburban kids lost at sea? This would be a HUGE cable news story now and they would come up with MUCH more creative names than “Connecticut Disaster” There would also be chyrons, graphics, and very dramatic music.) I don’t know about you guys, but I love lost at sea stories. I think it’s because they made us watch the Swiss Family Robinson movie every year in elementary school (that tree house is amazing!), but if anyone gets stranded on a deserted island, I’m there.
So in true Super Special style, I thought I’d break the story down by each character.
Let’s start with Kristy Thomas. She doesn’t get much to do in this book, but this whole operation was, in fact, her Great Idea. As President of the BSC, Kristy is the big-mouthed brains of the group. She’s also the resident tomboy and lives in her “uniform” of jeans, a t-shirt (or in winter, a turtleneck and sweater), tennis shoes, and a baseball cap. Her dad ran off when she was little and eventually her mom remarries millionaire Watson Brewer and moves their family across town to his big mansion. Kristy also coaches many of her baby-sitting charges on a softball team that she’s dubbed Kristy’s Krushers (sigh). They frequently play the athletically superior Bart’s Bashers, and there lies Kristy’s dilemma in this book. See, Kristy wants to help search for her friends but the Krushers have a game the next day. Whatever should she do? When she calls Bart (who she has a bit of a crush on) to cancel the game, he accuses her of chickening out because she knows her kids are going to lose. Hey dick, two of her best friends are MISSING. Have you not been watching the “Connecticut Disaster” coverage? Bart later calls to apologize, but I don’t particularly care because the whole thing is just manufactured drama to give Kristy some story. I did find it hilarious though when Kristy goes on at the end about how proud she is of herself for standing up for what she believes in. Umm Kristy, canceling a kiddie softball game does not make you Rosa Parks.
Claudia Kishi is vice-president of the BSC, mainly because the meetings are held in her bedroom since she’s the only club member with her own private phone line (Sign it’s not 2011 #2: all these kids would have cell phones now, so they could hold meetings anywhere they wanted to.) Claudia, a mystery enthusiast and notorious candy hoarder, is not the best student which often puts her in conflict with her parents and genius sister, Janine. But everyone knows that the best part of any BSC book is reading about Claudia’s outfits. Because she’s so artsy (and we are reminded of that. Often.), Claudia’s outfits are always a weird mishmash of handpainted jumpsuits, bodysuits, leggings, jewelry handmade out of buttons or lincoln logs or whatever strikes her fancy, and fedoras. We must never forget about the fedoras. Every BSC fan should check out What Claudia Wore. That blog is amazing.
Unfortunately, aside from the aforementioned gaudy earrings (were they made out of some wacky material like fish hooks? We never find out!), the clothes in this book are understandably practical. Luckily, Claudia gets to be a badass in other ways. She rigs up a way to collect rain for drinking water and finds a piece of mirror in the island jungle that she uses to signal the rescue plane. And most importantly, she stays calm so that she doesn’t freak out the young kids in her care. She learns that there are more ways to show your intelligence than getting a good report card, which is lesson I feel that she learns multiple times over the course of the series, but whatever. She’s awesome.
Mary Anne Spier, BSC secretary, was never one of my favorite characters. Probably because as the mousy, quiet, studious one, she (sadly) reminded me the most of myself. She was the only one with a steady boyfriend (southern dreamboat Logan), but most of her drama involved her being quietly upset. BORING. And Mary Anne does not come off well in this particular story. See Dawn forgets to pass along a message that Logan can’t meet her at the library. Mary Anne, who thinks she’s been stood up, yells at Logan and they get into a big fight (Sign it’s not 2011 #3: now Logan wouldn’t need a go-between as he would just text Mary Anne. Miscommunication solved!) Logan is insulted that Mary Anne thinks that he would do something like that (dude has a point) and Mary Anne is furious at Dawn for making an innocent mistake and hisses at her, “I wish I never had to see you again. I wish you would get out of my life — forever.” I totally rolled my eyes reading that line, but then I remembered that 13 year-old girls really are that melodramatic. So naturally when Dawn gets lost at sea, Mary Anne feels terribly guilty. As she should. After the rescue they vow never to fight again! Good luck with that.
New York transplant Stacey McGill is the last original member of the BSC. Stacey is known for her math skills (which is why she’s club treasurer), her sophisticated fashion sense, and her terrible secret. Stacey has (gasp) diabetes. Diabetes sounded like the worst disease in the world when I was a kid. Having to take shots every day and not allowed to eat chocolate? No thank you! This is one of the reasons that I chose Stacey when I had to make a speech about my favorite character in the 5th grade. Her brave struggle with diabetes gave me a LOT to work with. I so rocked that speech.
Anyway, by this time in the series, Stacey’s parents have divorced and she starts the book visiting her father in New York. She’s baby-sitting her favorite New York kids (What is UP with these girls? Can they not go anywhere without baby-sitting something? The answer to that is no.) when she gets the call about the sailboat race from hell. Well Stacey wants to head right back to Stoneybrook to help with the search, but her dad refuses on the grounds that it’s his weekend with her and he has really expensive theater tickets. While I sympathize with the fact that he wants to spend time with his kid that he doesn’t get to see that often, HER FRIENDS ARE LOST AT SEA AND POSSIBLY DEAD. This isn’t about you! The males really aren’t coming off so hot in this story are they? When Stacey does make her escape, she writes a really heartfelt, dramatic letter (Sign it’s not 2011 #4: people write letters! On paper!) telling him that she’s tired of her parents fighting over her and putting her in the middle. I joke, but I’m sure it’s a storyline that resonated with a lot of other kids with divorced parents. Oh, and when she does make it back to Stoneybrook, Stacey is the one who finds the shattered remains of Dawn’s boat leading everyone to fear the worst. I loved it.
Dawn Schafer, who first shows up in book #4, is originally from California. And that pretty much encapsulates her entire identity in these books. Everything from her fashion style (I still haven’t figured out what the hell California Casual is) to her healthy eating habits are all attributed to her California-ness. I pretty much bought it until I moved to California myself at the age of 10 and realized it was total BS. Guess what, kids in California like junk food too! It was a revelation! I will concede that you’re more likely to find a tree-hugging hippie like Dawn in California then say … Georgia. So point to Ann M. Martin. I was also super jealous that Dawn found a secret passage in her house. And there was that time that she and Stacey used the secret passage to scare the pants off of Kristy, Mary Anne, and Claudia as revenge for them stuffing their faces with junk food. It sounds super bitchy now that I say it out loud, but I thought it was hilarious at the time.
As one of the castaways, Dawn shares the majority of this book with Claudia. And I remembered her becoming a total basket-case on the island and leaving Claudia with most of the work. Dawn even tells her mother after they’re rescued that she’s disappointed in herself for falling apart. But upon rereading the book, Dawn was fine! She was calm and collected for the most part, and only got a little crabby at the end. Staying up all night with a fevered and delirious 4 year-old would do that to anyone, much less a teenager stuck on an island without proper medical supplies. Lighten up, Dawn! If I ever get stranded on a deserted island I imagine that I would either be curled up in the fetal position or shaking my fist at the heavens screaming “Why!!!!!” Probably both.
Jessi Ramsey is the first of our two junior officers, so titled because they are only 11 years old and therefore not allowed to babysit at night for anyone besides their own siblings. I was really into dance as a kid, so I was always a bit partial to Jessi, the hardcore ballerina. Although it wasn’t until I got older that I realized how ludicrous that was. Most 11 year-olds are not even allowed en pointe yet (their ankles usually aren’t strong enough and the bones in their feet are still growing) and the ones who are allowed are just beginners. They’re certainly not winning the lead in a company-wide production of Sleeping Beauty while a rival dancer tries to sabotage their performance in order to steal the part for herself (BSC #42 Jessi and the Dance School Phantom. That book was really fun.) Jessi’s family is also apparently the only black family in Stoneybrook, CT. I think there were a few racist incidents when they first moved to town, but things are fine after that. At least, I don’t remember a Jessi Learns About Racism book, but that could have come after I stopped reading.
Jessi probably has the toughest time in this book of any of the sitters who are not on that damn island. See Jessi’s parents have left town for the weekend, leaving her in charge of her two younger siblings, Becca and Squirt. When Becca, who is one of the kids on this sailing misadventure, goes missing, Jessi has to call her mean Aunt Cecilia to come and help out. At least we’re supposed to think Aunt Cecilia is mean, but the first thing she says is “How could a couple of intelligent adults leave an eleven-year-old in charge of two younger children for three whole days? And how could you and your parents be irresponsible enough to let Rebecca go out on some sailboat?” AMEN, AUNT CECILIA!!!! Seriously, even at 10 I thought this was ridiculous. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night alone or be responsible for my younger brother overnight until I was 18. And Jessi’s brother is a baby! Call Child Protective Services! On all those parents really. What were they thinking allowing their young children out on sailboats operated by 13 year-olds? Oh and Aunt Cecilia calls the parents and Jessi is like “you’ll ruin their vacation!” THEIR DAUGHTER IS MISSING. I THINK THEY’D WANT TO KNOW. Hmm. I’m apparently not too impressed with Jessi in this book either.
And last but not least, we have our other junior officer, Mallory Pike. Mallory is … also there. To be honest, I don’t really remember much about her. She has red hair, glasses, and is the oldest of eight kids. I think that she eventually gets an Australian love interest. You know, at 11. Oh, and in the later Super Special when the baby-sitters win the lottery and use their winnings on a trip to California, Mallory spends all of her money on blond hair dye and drugstore make-up. And by all her money, I mean several thousand dollars. How is that even possible? Is that not the dumbest thing that you’ve ever read? And surely all that same make-up would be available in a drugstore in Connecticut, so nice critical thinking skills there, Mal. But in this Super Special, Mallory goes out on a boat to help search for the missing and comforts her friends. That’s it. Even Kristy gets a faint hint of story, but Mallory is just there, even in her POV chapter. Poor, neglected Mallory.
Revisiting old childhood favorites can be a bit risky. Jem is not nearly as outrageous now as I once remembered her and have y’all watched She-Ra: Princess of Power recently? That show is ridiculous! I was actually worried that my childhood passion would turn out to be total crap, but I was pleasantly surprised by The Baby-sitters Club. I mean, it’s not like it deserves a spot in the great pantheon of children’s literature or anything, but it’s a solid series and a lot of it holds up even today. Super Special #4: Baby-sitters’ Island Adventure is a bit awkward at times and the writing is merely serviceable, but it also has (mostly) appealing characters and an interesting story. And while the plot of this particular book is a bit out there, The Baby-sitters Club was always about ordinary kids going through ordinary situations. In this era of supernatural domination, that sounds downright refreshing.
So what are your favorite Baby-sitters Club memories?