Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Baby-Sitters Club

In the sixth grade I convinced my friends to form a babysitting club inspired by The Baby-Sitter Club books. At first it was all about fandom and nothing about the business, another of our elaborate imagination games where we each picked parts. I remember feeling torn because the character I most wanted to be like was artistic, unique Claudia, but in reality I felt more like shy, plain Mary Anne. When it came to picking officer titles we were in a real pickle, for one because there were six of us and only four in the original books. The process of assigning offices went more along the lines of relating ourselves to the characters--“Well she has blond hair like Stacy so she should be treasurer,” “But she’s an only child like Stacy so maybe she should”--than talking about our various skill sets and what we each could contribute. We named our club Sitters Unanimous but when we drew up our first flyer for advertisement we spelled it Sitters Anonymous. We proudly showed my mom and she gently suggested we double-check with a dictionary before we had copies made and went out distributing them. Our club lasted at least a year because I remember celebrating our one-year anniversary with an awards ceremony in my living room. And business-wise we actually ended up having a good deal of success. I met a lot of families who I babysat for through the end of high school. I continued to be a fan of the books long after my fellow club mates had moved on to other interests and more sophisticated reading, although I kept my enthusiasm for the books on the down low. You get a lot of weird looks if you bring up The Baby-Sitters Club when everyone else wants to discuss the homecoming dance or their honors English essays for East of Eden.

This series of books is dusted with nostalgia and fond childhood memories for me, so you can imagine how ridiculously happy I was when I came across this article last week about Scholastic planning a Baby-Sitters Club comeback. Not only will they be reissuing the early books (updated to give them a contemporary feel), but Ann M. Martin has also written a prequel. I’ll be very curious to see what she does with that. I have mixed feelings about the updates to the original books though. I understand the reasoning--they want them to be relatable to the sixth-graders of today, not twenty-some years ago. There are a lot of original details that I could see might cause confusion to a new reader (“Mom, what is a perm? What’s a Walkman?).* I wonder how they’ll handle other things too--will the girls still place an ad in their local paper or will they list themselves online at Craigslist? They originally decided to hold meetings at Claudia’s because she was the only one with a phone in her room. With the prevalence of cordless phones and cell phones, I doubt that logic will remain in an updated version. Maybe now Claudia will be the only one with a computer in her room, or Wi-Fi. The entire mystery premise of the second book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls is going to need updating in this age of caller ID, call return, and number blocking.

I know my mixed-feelings are rooted in nostalgia. I grew up with these girls and so I prefer the books that reflect my childhood experiences, sans cordless and cell phones, texting, and Internet. Back when my friend with the dot matrix printer was the techie of the group, when the adults got in heated debates over Beta versus VHS, not Mac versus PC. When I still had to get up off the couch and turn the dial on my TV to change the channel from Full House to Alf.

I’m glad they’re reissuing the series for a new generation of girls, and I’m sure I will read them out of curiosity. But for me, the magic of The Baby-Sitters Club will always lie in the yellowed pages of my 80s paperback versions.

*Not that I don’t think young readers could appreciate books set in their original time periods that are different than present day. I gobbled up the original Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a child and never batted an eye at outdated references. If anything, it opened up conversations with my parents about the differences between their childhood and mine or my grandparents’ childhood and mine. Regardless of how much I like these new versions of the BSC and how well they do, when the time comes I’ll be introducing my future children to my original paperbacks for the opportunity they will offer me to walk my kids through a piece of my childhood. (Not to mention by then, these new “contemporary” versions will be dated once again, so why not introduce them to the originals?)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coincidences and Katherine Paterson

The world is a funny place. I sat down with my breakfast this morning and a book I’d just pulled off the shelf. I wanted something different than the thriller mystery I’m currently in the middle of (I’m not so keen on eating a poached egg while reading the description of a three-day old murdered man). When I skimmed my bookshelf for something to fit my mood, my eyes landed on The Invisible Child by Katherine Paterson. I finished my egg about two pages into one essay, but I sat there to read on, finished that essay and then read two more. When I closed the book it was amazing to me how much I felt like I’d just been in her presence. I don’t know how her voice sounds in reality, but I could hear her talking to me as I read, as clearly as if I’d been sitting in an auditorium with her spellbound by her thoughts and stories. I headed upstairs to get to my work, marveling over how writing can do that--transport a person into your kitchen so you’ve felt like you’ve spent time with them (while they have meanwhile been vacuuming, or checking their pantry to see if they need more chicken stock as they draft their grocery list, or some other activity that keeps them occupied and completely oblivious to the time they’ve also just spent with you in your kitchen). I resolved to read more of her books and then redirected my focus to my day and my To Do list, stopping first to check my email. And there in the subject line of the first new email waiting for me was the name Katherine Paterson.

How weird is that? It is totally mind-bending to me when coincidences like that happen. I think, “I should call my mother” and then the phone rings and it’s my mother. Her book wasn’t even the book I had in mind when I went to my bookcase, but the blue spine of The Invisible Child winked at me and I couldn’t resist.

Since typing this, I’ve had two more emails come in with Katherine Paterson as the subject, the reason being she was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature this morning, succeeding Jon Scieszka. An excellent choice I think. Having freshly finished those essays, I’m especially curious to see what she does over the next two years.

Switching gears a bit, I’d like to thank the handful of you who have continued to check in over here on my little patch of internet. This blog has been neglected for sure, but it wasn’t forgotten or abandoned. Since my last post many months ago, I’ve half-drafted about a dozen posts but never finished any for various reasons. I’ll just say, 2009 was a challenging year for me. Emotionally turbulent, is the best way I can think to summarize it. It’s the type of year that I can now see might be one I look back on in a decade’s time as being pivotal, although that never occurred to me in my present day-to-day as I was going through the year. It was just a year of hurdle after hurdle, and just when you think you’ve leaped over the biggest one and are finished with the hurdles for awhile, you run smack into the next and land on your a**.

So, sincerely, thank you to those of you who have come back to check in. Your interest has been motivating and uplifting. I do have plans for future posts, some ideas I’d like to pursue for interviews with writers, and an inclination to spruce up the place around here a bit, so please keep coming back.