Book it back to your childhood.
“The Baby-Sitters Club” — the middle-school series about tween entrepreneurs who learned life lessons while running a suburban babysitting monopoly — is coming to the Amazon-owned
Audible and being adapted for Netflix
within the next several months.
Audible announced this week that all 131 titles in the core Scholastic
series that ran from 1986 to 2000, selling more than 180 million books world-wide, will be available exclusively on the audiobooks service beginning Aug. 13. They are available for preorder now at audible.com/bsc for $14.95 apiece.
(There were also 15 “Super Specials,” three dozen mysteries, and dozens of other spinoffs, such as “Baby-Sitters Little Sister” featuring BSC founder Kristy’s younger stepsister Karen. Author Ann M. Martin told Publisher’s Weekly she thinks that she wrote somewhere between 60 and 80 of the original novels, and ghostwriters grabbed the rest.)
“Maleficent” actress Elle Fanning will narrate the first five stories. “The fierce friendships and babysitting adventures of ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ have been so much fun to perform,” she said in Audible’s press release, adding, “It has been such an exciting and new experience for me to bring this entrepreneurial squad to life as Audiblebooks. People can now relive these coming of age stories in a whole new way or enjoy them for the very first time!”
The series follows a group of 11 to 13-year-old girls in the fictional town of Stonybrook, Conn., who start a local business sitting for their families and neighbors. Each book is told from the perspective of a different girl, so Audible tapped several voice actors to narrate each characters’s series of novels (apart from the first five books that Fanning guest narrates on.)
Vanessa Johansson, who plays Mallory (a book-loving 11-year-old who has seven younger brothers and sisters), told MarketWatch that she was such a huge fan when she was younger that she and her friends formed their own version of the babysitting club. The voice actors ended up creating a social club of their own, in fact, because the characters they portray pop up in each other’s stories.
“One of the most challenging things is that we had to voice the other members of the club, so there was a lot of coordination going on,” she said. “There were, like, three Google Docs set up, because there was so much information across all of these books, and so many characters to keep track of. So all of us had to be on the same page … and this was very collaborative in a fun and unusual way for audiobooks, which can sometimes be a very solitary kind of thing” to perform.
The BSC is also being adapted for Netflix (with the cast and premiere date TBD) in a live-action 10-episode series that will “contemporize the story lines and adventures of this iconic group of girlfriends to reflect modern-day issues,” Melissa Cobb, vice president of Kids & Family at Netflix, said in a statement.
Because some parts of the beloved 80s and 90s-era books are dated — such as the core concept that parents are trusting their young children, and sometimes infants, with 13-year-old girls. (These were times when “free-range kids” who walked to school alone were the norm, before helicopter and snowplow parenting became a thing.)
Plus, the 33-year-old series takes place before everyone was available 24/7 by cellphone, text and email, so the club met in Claudia’s bedroom for parents to call and schedule appointments by landline each week. “The notion that they have this whole group based upon landline phone calls that take place three days a week between 5:30 and 6 p.m … that stuff is hilarious now,” said Lauren Fortgang, who plays Abby (who came along later in the series). “And it worked flawlessly. Meanwhile, without call waiting, if every parent in town was calling during a half-hour window, there would be a permanent busy signal.”
But in many ways, the books were also ahead of their time. The club includes members who come from single-parent and blended families. One girl (Stacey) has diabetes. Bahni Turpin plays Jessi, an 11-year-old ballet student who becomes one of the first African-Americans to move to the mostly-white town in the story.
“She was a little black girl living in the suburbs — and I was that; that we moved to the suburbs when I was 12. And (Jessi) does talk about the fact that there was a little racism, some pushback about her family moving into the neighborhood. So I like that there is conflict, there is struggle,” she said. “It’s really great to have all these strong characters, and for kids to learn that everyone is not supposed to be the same.”
Fortgang agrees. “As an adult reading them, now I see there’s actually some pretty deep issues from book to book, dealing with death, or illnesses, or just interpersonal relationships,” she said. “Growing up with the struggles of what these other girls were facing made a really relatable guidebook.”
And it’s an inspiring blueprint for young entrepreneurs. After all, Kristy (the leader) identified a need in her community. Parents wanted one place where they could reach several qualified babysitters at once, instead of calling and asking around, similar to how online services like UrbanSitter and Care.com work today — and she started a business to meet that need. The club kept an organized record book tracking which sitter was scheduled to watch which kids at what time, and it also included detailed information about the clients and their children (such as emergency contact numbers, allergies and the kids’ likes and pet peeves.) The girls kicked in dues every week, as well, to cover Claudia’s phone bill and to pay for snacks and other incidentals.
“It was hugely ahead of it time. Now we’re looking to make sure we’re seeing books focusing on girls and women, and showing how they can take leadership roles … and these books were a nice depiction of what it means to be a young lady creating a business for yourself, relying on your friends, and having to struggle with that,” Fortgang said. “They’re entirely self-sufficient.”
Author Martin couldn’t be reached for comment, but she told Netflix that, “I’m amazed that there are so many passionate fans of ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ after all these years, and I’m honored to continue to hear from readers — now grown, who have become writers, editors, teachers, librarians, filmmakers — who say that they see a reflection of themselves in the characters of Kristy and her friends.”