Read Up on These Fun Facts About The Baby-Sitters Club

Now that you've plowed through the entire Netflix series about your favorite '80s girl group, read all about how the story began for Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Jessi and Mallory.

By Sarah Grossbart Jul 05, 2020 7:00 AMTags
The Baby-Sitters Club, Then/Now, The Babysitter's Club movieSam Emerson/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

"Good afternoon, Baby-Sitters Club."

Well before Netflix's current release and even the 1995 flick staring the decade's most ubiquitous young actresses, Rachael Leigh Cook and Larisa Oleynik, there was Ann M. Martin's anthology. A key part of most '80s and '90s kids' adolescences, the 131-book collection, debuting in 1986, told the tales of a group of resourceful middle school-aged entrepreneurs from the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut and invokes such nostalgia that even the sight of those instantly recognizable block letters can leave us feeling some type of way.

That's because long before we were adults proclaiming ourselves to be Carries and Charlottes or even teens choosing our Hogwarts house, we were debating which of our friends was the Kristy, the tomboyish, tell-it-like-it-is leader, the Mary-Anne, the quiet, but loyal friend, the Claudia, the artsy dreamer, and the Stacey, the impossibly sophisticated native New Yorker. (California girl Dawn, aspiring professional ballerina Jessi and bookish, practical Mallory came into play later.) And, together, we were dreaming that we, too, could take the neighborhood babysitting market by storm. 

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For many millennial teens, the collection provided more than just a lucrative business idea and outfit inspo from OG influencer Claudia Kishi, the only girl we knew cool enough to pull off a hot pink tunic over an umbrella-printed shirt with a pink-and-yellow belt or "short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora". It connected us to other girls dealing with first crushes, divorced parents, rifts with friends and ailing grandparents, helping us feel a little less vulnerable during a time filled with puberty, braces and insecurities a'plenty. 

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"In everybody's mind, my publisher included, we thought it would be a nice series. They had asked for four-book mini-series, with one book each about Mary Anne, Stacey, Kristy, and Claudia," Martin told Elle in 2014 of the original aspirations. "They did nicely, and I think after the fourth, Scholastic signed up two more, then two more, and I think either the sixth or eighth book turned up on the B. Dalton best-seller list, which doesn't even exist anymore. Everything snowballed, and they were signing up 12 books at a time."

 

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By the time the 14-year original BSC era ended, there were several spinoffs (including Baby-Sitters Little Sister, an entree into the franchise for many a younger reader) leading to 176 million copies sold. The success meant Martin had to team up with some ghostwriters. "I obviously couldn't write them all," Martin told Bustle in 2016. "But I let go of them slowly. I was reluctant to let go."

Same, girl. Even now, decades removed from our childhood bedrooms stacked high with those pastel-hued beauties, we can still recall how much we wanted to dress like Claudia or have multiple ear piercings like Dawn, or simply have the best time with our closest friends. 

So as you enjoy the Netflix-provided serving of nostalgia, reflect back on how the story began for Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi and Stacey McGill. 

1. The Baby-Sitters Club wasn't actually writer Ann M. Martin's brainchild. Rather it was Scholastic employee Jean Feiwel who had the germ of an idea after noting the strange success of 1963 novel Ginny's Baby-Sitting Business. "The book was not really featured in the book club leaflet—it was buried on page four, but was a top seller," she recalled to Publisher's Weekly in 2010. "I realized that what must have been attracting readers was the notion of babysitting. And The Baby-sitters Club sprung from there." Reaching out to her former colleague, "I knew that Ann was then a freelance writer and I thought it might be an interesting project for her," she continued of the intended four-book series. "All I gave Ann was just a glimmer of an idea—a series about a babysitters club. She came up with everything else."

2. When it comes her babies, Martin has no trouble playing favorites. That honor goes to Kristy, she told Elle in a 2014 interview "mostly because I created her first. I feel she set the series in motion." (That's the same reason she gave Entertainment Weekly for labeling Kristy's Great Idea as her favorite book.) The New Jersey-born author also appreciated the chance to flex her extrovert muscles. "I'm much more like Mary Anne. Kristy is so unlike me that it was a lot of fun to write her." Really, the sometimes bossy club president is "who I would like to be;" she told Glamour in 2010, "she's outspoken and just sort of marches forward no matter what happens."

3. It's not as if she was operating blind in fleshing out her protagonist. "Mary Anne and Kristy were very much based on my best friend Beth and me when we were growing up; Kristy was based on Beth. Mary Anne was based on me," she explained to Glamour in 2010. "But only in terms of their personalities not in terms of their families. But Beth and I were very different from each other and we were best friends. We're still very close friends and I just I thought that was interesting, that two kids who were so different from each other could be so close."

4. Like Kristy, her BFF Beth had a penchant for big ideas. "We started a number of clubs and they were all her idea," Martin told The Washington Post in 1995. "They lasted for about two days, but it was like the old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies: 'Hey, let's start a club.' We'd meet in Beth's bedroom, eat cookies, and then go home."

5. The rest of her cast of characters came straight from her imagination, though she credited her one-year stint as a Connecticut teacher with helping her be particularly inventive. "I remember at the time being struck by how many came from families in which the parents were divorced or a lot of blended families," she told the mag. "And this was just a pretty typical classroom in Connecticut. So I did have that in mind when I was creating the characters."

6. While she never used the many, many ideas sent in by fans, pegging them as a bit too dramatic, she lifted more than a few things from her own life, such as Claudia's sibling rivalry and the loss of her grandmother, Claudia and the Sad Good-bye written not long after her own grandma passed, Stacey's love of the Jersey Shore, and Dawn's haunted house. The last one was a case of wishful thinking, having longed for her own hidden tunnel. "I grew up reading Nancy Drew books and loving mysteries in general," she noted to EW. "I desperately wanted to find a secret passage in my own home despite the fact that it was built in 1960."

7. Though Martin saw herself as the ultimate Mary Anne, she didn't base her longtime boyfriend Logan from Louisville on an old flame. "When I was writing about Logan, I was remembering the crushes that my friends and I had on boys in our classes," she shared with EW. (His southern hometown, though, was chosen because that's where many of her relatives lived.) "I think it was particularly fun giving the first 'big romance' to Mary Anne's character as she's probably the least likely to have a boyfriend." 

8. While you never forget your first, Martin told Glamour she also has a soft spot for the editions that tackled tough subjects, introducing her younger readers to autism in Kristy and the Secret of Susan, living with a severe hearing impairment in Jessi's Secret Language and coping with loss, in Claudia and the Sad Good-bye. Said Martin, "I tend to like the more serious books better, I guess."

9. At the height of BSC mania, Martin was basically a YA factory. "I didn't write them all, which is no secret, they were coming out once a month for a long time," she told Elle. "But even when I wasn't writing them all, I was usually working on one a month. With the other books I've written, I like to have at least a year to work on them. I have a lot of percolating time before I start working." In 1995 she detailed her workload to The Washington Post: "I'm responsible for 12 Baby-sitters Club books a year. Twelve Little Sisters books, six mysteries, and about four Ms. Coleman books, and two or three other titles...It totals over 30 books a year. I don't even think Stephen King could do it."

10. Perhaps more impressive (or possibly sadistic?): She originally wrote each book out longhand on a yellow legal pad. 

11. Even when she ceded control to a team of ghostwriters (who had to study up by reading every iteration in the series they were working on), she still had a hand in outlining the books and editing. "I really enjoyed it," she told CNN in 2014. "I had been an editor before I became a full-time writer, so this was like putting my editorial hat back on."

12. When you're cranking out books like Bachelor contestants do podcasts, there are bound to be a few errors. That was the explanation Martin offered for why she accidentally named two characters—both a popular eighth grader in Mary Anne's Makeover and her pageant-winning elementary school-aged alter ego in Little Miss Stoneybrook...and Dawn—Sabrina Bouvier. 

13. Raise your hand if Stacey was the first person your age you knew with diabetes. Martin has said choosing to diagnose one of her main characters with the chronic condition, the result of raised blood glucose levels, definitely moved the conversation forward. "I got a few letters from kids who thanked me, and then a few letters from kids who had diagnosed themselves and gone to the doctor; in one case they'd caught it just in time," she revealed to Elle in a 2014 interview. "From some of the kids, it felt like I was feeling relief."

14. It wasn't until she penned Good-bye, Stacey, Good-bye that she realized how beloved the trendy New York transplant was with her readers. "I thought it was reasonable that in a group of friends the size of the Baby-sitters Club, one member might move away at some point," she explained to Entertainment Weekly. "Since Stacey hadn't grown up in Stoneybrook, I thought it made sense that she might have to move back to New York City. We didn't expect the backlash from fans when Stacey moved. This is when I found out that Stacey was the most popular character at that time." Fifteen books later, the sophisticated teen returned to their fictional Connecticut town after her parents split up.  

15. Let's just all accept that something was in the water in Rockwellian Stoneybrook that caused the girls to never age. Sure, by the end of the BSC run they were the world's oldest eighth graders but "logistically, for the series to go on for as long as it did there was no way they could age," Martin explained at a 2010 Women in Children's Media and Scholastic sponsored event. "It did become challenging by the end of the series."

16. Claudia's outfits (dreamt up after Martin pored over catalogs and magazines to see what trends the kids were wearing), were described in such breathless detail that it inspired the now-defunct site, What Claudia Wore. 

17. Those hand-written journal entries at the start of each chapter may have seemed as diverse as the characters behind them, but they were really the product of one Scholastic art department employee with excellent penmanship. 

18. The books provided child star Kirsten Dunst with one of her earliest gigs. Asked by Parade about the many magazines she graced, the actress revealed, "Actually, my first cover was a book in the Baby-Sitters Club series, Claudia Gets a Phantom Phone Call. I was a child model slash actress and I did it strictly for the money."

19. A 2010 rerelease saw Martin modernizing a few details of her books, including changes in diabetes treatments and deleting mentions of technology such as VCRs. She decided that introducing one advancement was a bridge too far, however, telling Elle, "We felt if we set ourselves going down the road of cellphones it would have been crazy."

20. Don't hold your breath for a novel about The Baby-Sitters Club, LLC. Penning The Summer Before, a prequel about their origin story, in 2010, "was a lot of fun," Martin told Elle. but she's put the characters to bed for now: "So many people have asked me to write a reunion book, with the characters grown up, but nothing has come to me."

21. Though she does have some thoughts on what her creations are up to now. Kristy, naturally, is "probably the head of something, maybe a business" she shared at the 2010 Scholastic event. Stacey is doing "something in fashion, not necessarily design, but maybe the business end", Jessi is still "passionate about dance, but not a professional", Claudia is an artist (duh), Mary Anne is a teacher (makes sense) and as for Mallory and Dawn, she admitted, she didn't really have "strong feelings" except that Cali girl Dawn has permanent defected to the West Coast.