A magician rode the subway today. Maybe he was a magician. He had a dove in one cage and when a woman asked what was in the other he pulled out a fluffy white rabbit. True story unless I imagined it. Firetrucks woke my block rather early as the scaffolding on a new construction down the street showed signs of coming loose in the weekend’s high winds. In my dream the sirens belonged to a cruise ship sized tank and they were rounding us up. I woke up thinking there’s no place to hide, which is silly. We have closets. They never look in closets.
Riding the subway with a maybe magician didn’t perk me up. The news and local crime blotters are getting me down. I subscribed to crime updates after hearing about a few violent attacks and burglaries within a few blocks of our apartment. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but now my guard is always up and that’s exhausting.
Books to the rescue.
Colorful stories from my childhood are an effective antidote to mean world syndrome. The small brick library I grew up in, since torn down and made into a parking lot, had spinnable racks of books set between the kids’ room and adult fiction shelves. Clearly these were the books for me as I was neither kid nor adult. The racks were home to Fear Street, Christopher Pike, Sweet Valley High and others. The Baby-Sitters Club served as my gateway series and it all started with Kristy’s Great Idea.
Kristy (sporty), Mary Anne (brainy), Claudia (artsy), Stacey (boy crazy). All these years later, remembering the four main characters and their personalities is a breeze, and with them comes a slew of random memories.
In grade school I read dozens of these books to fundraise with the MS READaTHON. For participating or raising a manageable amount, we always won tickets to a Phillies baseball game and looked forward to going every spring. One year my dad tried sneaking in a 3 liter bottle of orange soda. Why he thought we’d drink 3 liters of soda in a few hours is a mystery. The bag searchers caught him, shockingly. He surrendered the soda, teaching us a valuable lesson in concession sneakage. A lesson my boyfriend, who brought a jar of peanut butter and rice cakes to Carnegie Hall In case we got snacky, never learned.
But back to Kristy.
The series begins with Kristy’s mom in need of a sitter for her little brother. Kristy watches her call one babysitter after the next to no avail. Seeing the annoyance, she wonders What if there was one number everyone could call for a babysitter?
Kristy and her friends all love earning money by taking care of the neighborhood children. Together they form The Baby-Sitters Club. We spend the book getting to know these four girls and the dynamics of their relationships. We see who they are on the outside and when they think no one’s paying attention. Kristy doesn’t like her mom’s new boyfriend because he’s not her dad. Marry Anne squirms under the thumb of her overprotective dad, still coping with her mom’s death. Stacey tries to hide her diabetes, while wound-up, over-achieving Claudia is one cram session away from burning out.
These characters were the coolest to kid me. They start and run a business. Kristy doesn’t just have an idea, she follows through and creates something relatively big from it. I didn’t think about why I liked the series back then, I just did. Now I suspect kid me liked how easy and accessible they were.
The books aren’t bad, but they’re not that good either. Blame all of the incredible children’s books I’ve read since, or maybe I was looking too hard for the magic or I’m too old to appreciate the simplicity. The preteen drama falls flat, the dialogue is flat and characters lack the nuance and complexity that makes this age so special. Many of the books I loved as a kid hold up. That this one doesn’t is disappointing, but not surprising.
Regardless, any series that stokes an insatiable reading appetite in kids is a good one. The Baby-Sitters Club series does do that. For that reason I’m still fond of the series as a whole and must checkout Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel versions.