Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club series was basically what comics could have been to me growing up. Between no local comic shop in my area and 90s mainstream comics being a menagerie of violence and boobs, grade school me just did not feel comfortable jumping into comic books despite loving the crap out of the superhero cartoons of the time. However, I did have my school and public libraries, as well as the glory that was the Scholastic Book Fair. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but sometime around third grade my mom got me a subscription to the super fancy Baby-Sitter’s Club fan club. Every month a big package would arrive with random BSC knick-knacks (lots of bookmarks), a newsletter and one book in the series starting with #1.
I can’t remember how many years I kept up with the series, but by the time my parents moved years later our downstairs bookshelf had dozens and dozens of Baby-Sitter’s Club novels, along with the several tie-in and spin-off books. The series was a major part of my childhood and my experience as a young reader.
Adapted by Raina Telgemeier (best known for her award-winning young adult graphic novel Smile), The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea is an adaptation of the first book in the series. It works as the origin story for the club itself and is the start of Kristy, Claudia, and Mary Anne’s friendship with new girl Stacey. The comic adaptation was originally published in 2006 in black and white (the next three books in the story were also adapted), while this brand new version includes colors by Braden Lambs. I was torn between kicking myself about not getting the book years ago because it’s such a nostalgic treat and being glad I got to check it out in color.
As I indulged my yearning for my long-past childhood, here are the few thoughts that popped into my head while reading the graphic novel (warning – spoilers for a nearly 30 year old book):
- It’s crazy to me how much I remember about this first book in the series even after twenty years have gone by. And it’s crazy how much happens in this first book.
- The girls all look so young! I mean yes, the book clearly says the characters are in seventh grade and Telgemeier has drawn them to be that age, but when I was reading the books growing up, the girls seemed so much older than me. Maybe it’s just because seventh grade seems so far away when you’re a lowly third grader? I don’t know, I blame the book’s original covers for that skewing of my perception.
- Reading the parts where Mary Anne tip toes around her dad’s super conservative parenting made me want to jump forward in the series when he started dating Dawn’s mom and allowed Mary Ann to date and get a cute haircut.
- The story itself has aged relatively well for a 30 year old series and Telgemeier keeps the character and background designs looking like they could fit in with the present, but it’s rather humorous when you start noticing the lack of certain modern elements. They think a newspaper ad is their best bet for advertising and they use a landline for their meetings. Oh, the wacky world of the 80s and 90s.
- I’m impressed by how Telgemeier’s art manages to decompress the adaptation. The original books were so short, but the graphic novel spreads out the scenes. With the spread out pacing plus the pictures at the end of each chapter , it feels like you’re getting a lot of story and have more time to get to know the characters.
- The parts with Mimi just reminded me what happens to Mimi a couple dozen books later. And I had a sad.
- I completely forgot just how much of a jerk Kristy was to her future stepfather in this first book. I vaguely remembered her being resistant to Watson in the beginning, but she flat out calls him a bad father out of spite. She realizes almost immediately that she was out of line, but kudos to Ms. Martin for writing her narrator with some major flaws.
- However, I do think Kristy was totally right to call out Stacey for her behavior. Just saying, if a friend blows you off and then lies about why, it’s totally okay to call her out on it.
- Speaking of Stacey, you can tell that I’m nearly 30 now because I’m reading the part where 13 year old Stacey is flirting with Kristy’s 15 year old brother and I want to shout into the book, “He is too old for you, McGill!” (Annnnnd I’m also having flashbacks to the not-in-canon BSC movie where a still 13 year old Stacey has a romance with a 17 year-old. I am cringing.)
Okay, getting away from my squicking out about The Baby-Sitters Club movie (17, Stacey!), I did have a revelation about the book around the time I got to Kristy having her “great idea” of the title — this series gave me my first exposure to young women starting their own long-term, profitable business. Oh sure, I knew about kids starting lemonade stands or setting up yard sales, but this series lasted a whopping 131 main books; while the time frame of the series was always rather flexible — how long were they in 8th grade, again? — there were well over 100 stories of this group of girls running a (usually) stable business, building their reputation and even taking on new members.
Reading the first of The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels was just the nostalgia boost I needed this week. I was reminded of how huge an impact this was on my reading life. Between this and the Wrinkle in Time graphic novel, I’m ready for all my childhood favorites to become comics. How about Animorphs next?
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