Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Installment One of my Young Readers Guide. This guide will serve to help parents choose the right books for the young readers in their lives. Each title in this series will be marked with an *
My dad got me into reading. My mom definitely pushed it, but my dad was the one who made me into a reader. He was always promoting it. Every time I asked him what a word meant, he would respond with; “Look it up in the dictionary. The dictionary has every answer you need.” When I came to him and said, “Oh wow, Pocahontas was the daughter of the Powhatan Tribe chief. What was the Powhatan Tribe?” my dad responded with, “You know, there are books on that! How about we go to the library and check out some books on the Powhatan Tribe and Pocahontas?”
Every question led to a book, which would inevitably give me hundreds of answers that would lead to even more questions. By pushing reading, I developed a thirst for knowledge. As time went on, that thirst grew. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. The more I imagined, the more I wanted to create. Today, that spark is a full-on burning passion for reading and writing, but when it began, it was just a seed, a tiny spark that would eventually grow to be something else entirely.
Emilie Buchwald once said, “children are made readers on the laps of their parents”. I wholeheartedly believe that the love of reading begins during childhood. While I do believe that reading is a skill you can develop at any age, instilling the passion in your child when they are young gives them that extra boost that will carry on through into their adulthood and beyond.
If you want to get your kid reading, it helps to turn their interest to a series because the cliffhangers will push them to read the next book, and before you know it, they’ve read the first eight in a series, and then they’re turning their interest to a whole new series with a whole new set of adventures. For me, this series was The Baby-Sitters Club written by Ann M. Martin.
The Baby-Sitters Club is a series about a group of girls who start a babysitting business, and it follows them as they navigate their way through entrepreneurship and early adolescence. The first book in the series, Kristy’s Great Idea, begins with a simple idea, but as the series goes on, this idea turns into the vehicle through which we witness the growth of these young ladies.
The first book truly reads as if the narrator is recalling her own experience. The story is highly feminine with strict dads, fashion, and school-girl crushes, but the protagonist, Kristy, is a strong, business-minded girl who is focused on making money and building a fortune.
Claudia Kishi is a Japanese-American artist who has a bold taste in fashion and is beautiful enough to pull off any style. Mary-Ann is the shy daughter of a single dad who is still traumatized from the death of his wife, and then there’s Stacey McGill, the newcomer from New York City who comes across as more of a high schooler than a middle schooler. Having lived in an apartment in the big city and being allowed to stay out late on weekends intimidates Kristy early on. Similarly, we witness a gulf growing between Kristy and Claudia, as Kristy doesn’t like the boys she’s grown up with because she’s known them for so long, but Claudia, who has also known them all for forever, suddenly finds them all hilarious and is inclined to spend more time around them.
As an adult reader, it’s incredible to see Kristy experiencing feelings of insecurity in comparison to another girl, as these are struggles that don’t end once we grow up. On the contrary, it can often grow as we get older. When Kristy asks herself, “How was it possible to feel so much younger than someone who was the same age as you?” (35), I am immediately jolted back to middle school, remembering feeling the same way when the "cool girls" walked in on the first day of school with eyeshadow and highlighted hair, and I was arriving with natural hair, bushy eyebrows, and a makeup-less face because my parents would never let me look older than I was. At that time, it felt like some of us lived in completely different worlds. Martin’s ability to bring these feelings out of readers only grows stronger as the series goes on.
BSC #1 reads quickly. It’s written for a much shorter attention span, so it doesn’t get stuck in the details. The details are given to us pretty matter-of-factly, but readers are drawn in by Kristy’s spunk and fervor. The moment we meet her, she’s getting into trouble for not having enough decorum, leading her teacher to assign her a 100-word essay on the meaning of decorum. When I first read this book as a kid, I was being taught to research the answers to all of my questions. It was endearing to me that Kristy, the protagonist, was as well.
Part of what makes the book so much fun is how the four original members of the club aren’t brought together by anything other than the work they have in common. They are all babysitters and they all want to make a lot of money, but beyond that, they may not be friends if not for the club. Claudia and Stacey have a lot in common, and Kristy and Mary-Anne are best friends, but just as Kristy and Claudia begin to drift, the club brings them back together.
Despite their differences, they all come together during the brainstorming stage. It is during this time that we become acquainted with their individual strengths. When trying to come up with a logo, Stacey suggests putting each of their initials on a block, but Claudia turns down the idea due to the fact that only three sides of a block can be shown at one time. Readers really get a sense for her passion for art in this moment, but we also see how well these ladies work together, as Claudia plays around with Stacey’s idea, and ends up drawing the name of the club on individual blocks.
During their first meeting, we see how fair each of the girls are. When Stacey suggests to elect officers for the club, Claudia immediately votes for Kristy as President since the club was her idea. Both Mary-Ann and Stacey support the nomination. Kristy is beaming with pride, but doesn’t hesitate to nominate Claudia for Vice President since the club would be using her room, her phone, and her phone number to retain clients. She wins the nomination unanimously, and readers feel the warmth of these four young ladies coming together in fairness to make an honest dollar.
Although the book is lighthearted, we do see the girls deal with their own set of challenges throughout the story. We learn of Mary-Ann’s mother’s passing from cancer and of Kristy’s parents’ divorce. We see Kristy struggle with accepting a new father figure into her life, and we see artsy Claudia wrestle with feelings of inadequacy as she compares herself to her certified genius of an older sister.
Stacy is gorgeous and stylish and interesting. She has lenient parents who allow her to stay out until 10pm on weekends, and they pay for all of her cool clothes, but there is something about her that seems a bit off. She reacts rather oddly when asked why she moved to Stoneybrook from NYC, and she seems to always keep a wall up no matter how close you get to her. Eventually we learn the reason behind her secrecy. We learn that Stacey is diabetic and that she is embarrassed about her disease because she was made fun of at her previous school. This revelation serves as a great reminder to young readers that no matter how perfect or confident someone might seem, everyone has something they are struggling with, and that often times, what you see is a façade.
Like any good protagonist, Kristy is not without her faults. She shows zero interest in giving her mom’s boyfriend, Watson, a chance even though he’s very nice and is liked by all three of her brothers. We see her resentment towards her non-present biological father come out through her lashing out at Watson. Kristy is also impulsive and impatient, and lashes out at her friends when she doesn’t get an answer at the moment she wants it. These traits are all aspects of her incredible confidence, but they are juxtaposed by her compassion and her ability to not focus on what others think.
When Stacey finally comes clean about being diabetic, readers witness a heartwarming moment when the other members are left unfazed by her condition and vow to support her and help her stay healthy. Kristy leads the charge in this discussion because she has a cousin with diabetes and is very familiar with how to handle a situation where the patient’s sugar is too high or too low.
“It’s rotten, but I mean, you’re not a freak or something.
We’ll quit offering you candy, okay?”
In this moment, we see one of Kristy’s best attributes, and we are delightfully reminded of what it means to be a good friend.
Apart from the fun sleepovers and annoying older brothers, BSC is a series that ignites the entrepreneurial spirit. These girls are young, but they take something they’re good at and turn it into a business. They hold themselves accountable, they analyze the numbers, and they are constantly innovating. From creating a journal to document their experiences to making changes to their flyers based on mishaps they encounter, they are continuously changing the way they manage their business.
Kristy, the protagonist, is an inspiring, natural-born leader, and readers have the privilege of watching a young leader grow up. As a child reading this, it made me believe that I, too, could turn a great idea into a business. As an adult now reading this, I think it is a fantastic book to not only get your kid reading, but to get them believing in their ideas and in their own power. Kids always need something to aspire to. They need something to relate to, and they need to be reminded to believe in themselves, but this isn’t just a fact for children. This holds true for adults, as well.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Children’s literature is often overlooked simply because it is written for the younger reader, but great children’s literature targets adults just as much as it targets children. Having read BSC as a child and as an adult, the stories and their messages carry different meanings depending on the stage of life you’re in. As a child, I found four girls I wanted to be friends with, four girls I wanted to be like. As an adult, I am hit with a sense of nostalgia, and I am reminded of the potential that can lie within a simple idea. As I continue down this path of running a small business with my sister, much like Kristy and her friends, I am reinvigorated to push through hurdles, to reimagine ideas, and to find a window when a door closes.
BSC has experienced a resurgence as of late. The 90’s kids have grown up, and they want their music, books, shows, and movies back. An audible version of the series was just released with Elle Fanning serving as narrator, and I am delighted to see that a new generation of readers are falling in love with this wholesome, captivating, and inspiring series.
Thank you, Ann Martin, for creating a story that ignited my mind as a child and touched my heart as an adult. I hope you know just how beloved your books are by a girl who read them 20 years ago. Great children’s literature is literature that can be enjoyed by all ages. After all, weren’t we all children once?