What to Read When You Grew Up with the Baby-Sitters Club
There’s something special about the Baby-Sitters Club—something that compels those of us who grew up with it (or who are just discovering it today) to fully geek out when we find each other. The two of us certainly did, when we met years ago at an event where we each read work that explored ‘90s girl cultures. And though we’re very different, we share a particular sensibility that seems rooted in the BSC and its values—maybe it’s how we seek out and pursue collaborative friendships, or maybe it’s about how we as artists are forever aspiring to Claudia’s style.
Though the original series ended in 2000 after a fourteen-year run, the franchise has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the recent graphic novel and Netflix adaptations. It seems clear the BSC will live on and continue to find new readers and fans as it does. But what do you read when you’re an OG reader—when you’ve grown up with the Baby-Sitters Club and are eager to revisit its key concerns: issues pertaining to friendship, conflict, girlhood, collaboration, diverse family structures, entrepreneurship, and babysitting?
We chose the name We Are the Baby-Sitters Club for our anthology because it’s become clear to us that—for better and for worse—the BSC helped shape those of us who grew up reading the series into who we are today. Below are some books by our contributors and other writers we admire who grew up influenced by the Baby-Sitters Club and whose books tap into the series’ key values.
Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ‘80s and ‘90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss
Snap on your slap bracelets and get ready for some major nostalgia. More than just a book filled with enough glossy images of ‘80s and ‘90s middle grade and YA books to induce instant time travel (we all remember the BSC, but what about the Sleepover Friends series, or Samantha Slade: Monster-Sitter?), We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Gabrielle Moss’s Paperback Crush brings an anthropological eye to the candy-colored spines that once lined our childhood bookshelves.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
“Black feminism taught me my feminism and hip hop taught me my Crunk,” writes gender and race studies scholar Brittney Cooper, “but the Baby-sitters were the first to help me imagine what the contours of loving female friendship could look like.” In this insightful memoir, Cooper charts territory from her childhood—when the BSC books helped her navigate and escape the racist slights she experienced from white girlfriends—to the 2016 Presidential election and beyond. All the while, she takes a close look at the power of Black women’s anger—within her own life and American culture at large.
Babysitter: An American History by Miriam Forman-Brunell
After-school job. Horror movie trope. Feminized labor organizer. Fridge raider. From the advent of babysitting in the 1920s and sitters’ unions in the ‘40s to the “Super Sitters” that graced Ann M. Martin’s pages and beyond, Forman-Brunell shows how, throughout American history, the babysitter figure has been a lightning rod for cultural anxieties about the empowerment and independence of teen girls. Fans of the BSC will appreciate the eye-opening work this book does of placing the BSC books in the larger context of third-wave feminism and ‘90s “Girl Power” ideologies.
Girlhood by Melissa Febos
For all the very real challenges confronted by the Baby-Sitters Club members throughout the life of the series, the world of Stoneybrook is relatively anodyne. Not so the world of Girlhood, wherein Melissa Febos investigates some of the darker and more difficult dimensions of girlhood, particularly the oversexualization and devaluation of girls. Many of the essays collected here combine memoir and interviews with other women describing how their lives have been shaped by early experiences with bodily and sexual shame. The result is slow-burning, lyrical rage that is as invigorating as it is devastating.
Fashion Forecast by Yumi Sakugawa
In this illustrated collection, We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Yumi Sakugawa imagines a future where fashion is “intergenerational, spiritual, accessible, community-interactive, and celebratory of all body types, all gender expressions, and all ethnic backgrounds.” Some highlights include using gold glitter to accentuate your wrinkles, a bubble tea dress, a shared cape worn for community dialogue, and “emergency menstrual cup/tampon earring and necklace set.” BSC fashion goddess Claudia Kishi would approve.
With Teeth by Kristen Arnett
Queer readers need dysfunctional family stories, too, and We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Kristen Arnett delivers with a sophomore novel about a Floridian lesbian and mother who can’t seem to do anything right—not for her always-at-work wife; not for her confounding, unknowable son; not for herself, least of all. An anguished yet amusing portrait of a queer family steadily imploding, With Teeth is an unlikely page turner with bite.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
If the BSC taught us the value of close-knit girl gangs when we were kids, this is the book we can look to as adults for insights on how to make our friendships thrive over time and space. Hosts of Call Your Girlfriend, a “podcast for long distance besties everywhere,” Friedman and Sow co-write this important, honest meditation on the challenges and pitfalls of friendship amidst a culture that—from the BSC to Broad City—focuses mainly on its positive, uplifting qualities.
Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton
The latest by We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Jeanne Thornton uses fandom as a lens for exploring the self, belonging, creativity, and (our favorite theme) friendship. Taking the form of a series of fan letters from a young trans woman in the American Southwest to B—, lead singer of the Get Happies, a fictional California band from the 1960s, Summer Fun adopts the epistolary mode to wonderfully intimate effect. Written with Thornton’s characteristic warmth and sardonic humor, this delightful book demands beach time this summer.
You’re Invited to a Slumber Party by Siohbán Gallagher
Take a look back at the complex machinations of sleepover culture that permeated so many of our childhoods. Complete with a paper doll, a quiz, and “an illustrated essay comparing the Real Housewives of New York to childhood behaviours,” this illustrated zine by We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Siohbán Gallagher will have you LOLing as you reflect on these anxiety-inducing, cringe-worthy, and sometimes fun pre-teen rituals.
Twins: A Graphic Novel by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright
Move over, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. Introducing Maureen and Francine Carter, Texan twins whose relationship is beginning to crack at the start of sixth grade. As outgoing Francine begins to individuate, her book-smart, wallflower twin reacts with insecurity and anxiety. Featuring a mostly BIPOC cast of characters and written with depth and warmth—as well as sisterly conflict that is truly painful to watch—this will hit the sweet spot for fans of that other franchise.
The Goddess Twins by Yodassa Williams
Then there’s Arden and Aurora, who aren’t just twins—they’re twin goddesses, with telepathic and telekinetic abilities they’ve just discovered they have. This debut novel by We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Yodassa Williams cranks into action when the Caribbean American teens learn of the abduction of their mother (also a goddess, who has kept their powers a secret from them). There’s plenty of magic to enjoy here (mermaids and shapeshifters, to start)—but in true BSC fashion, Williams keeps the focus on the complicated and powerful relationship between the twins.
Mean by Myriam Gurba
“Being mean makes us feel alive,” We Are the Baby-Sitters Club contributor Myriam Gurba writes in her memoir Mean. “It’s fun and exciting. Sometimes, it keeps us alive.” Rooted in her experience growing up a queer mixed-race Chicana, Mean is a caustic interrogation of rape culture and a defense of meanness as a response to an unjust world. Daringly hilarious, Mean holds no punches as barks of bitter laughter erupt from the page.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, illustrated by Celia Moscote
Gabby Rivera’s beloved queer coming-of-age novel has now been adapted by the author into a graphic novel beautifully illustrated by Celia Moscote. Juliet is a college-aged Latina from the Bronx excited to spend a summer in Portland with her feminist idol, a white author named Harlowe Brisbane. When Harlowe fails to measure up to Juliet’s ideals of her, conflicts ensue. The story that develops centers friendship, allyship, conflict, and repair; it’s perhaps no surprise, then, to learn that Rivera (who also writes for the America comic series) grew up reading the BSC series.
Baby-Sitters Little Sister Graphic Novel #4: Karen’s Kittycat Club based on the novel by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Katy Farina
Illustrators including Farina, Raina Telgemeier, and Gale Galligan are doing the important service of bringing the BSC to a whole new generation, with graphic novels that translate the original books into irresistible illustrations. In this latest installment of the Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister series, Farina’s lively, expressive artwork follows Kristy’s stepsister Karen and her BFFs on their adventures in cat-sitting. Buy this one for your kid or your best friend’s kid—or, let’s be real, for yourself.
We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-Up Readers edited by Marisa Crawford and Megan Milks
First published thirty-five years ago, Ann M. Martin’s wildly popular Baby-Sitters Club series generated close to two hundred million printed copies that readers like us devoured with near-religious fervor. The books touched on issues that were underrepresented at the time like divorce, childhood illness, and racism, and centered young women as successful entrepreneurs who put their business first—before they’d even entered high school. The first anthology devoted entirely to the BSC, We Are the Baby-Sitters Club collects essays and artwork from twenty-four spectacular contributors, and looks closely at how the BSC series shaped our ideas about gender politics, friendship, fashion, and beyond.