In with the Old, Out with the New … Wait, What?!

Jamen Willis

Figure 1 A picture of my BSC collection. Image: (c) Jamen Willis.

Whether you’ve read one of the books or not, chances are you’ve at least heard of the ultra-popular series from the late 80s called The Baby-Sitters Club. It revolves around a group of girls who, as different as they may be, come together to form a babysitting service in their town. While the series is far from being realistic and is not without flaws, it does a good job at teaching its readers about responsibility, friendship, and compassion. Ann M. Martin, the author whose name is plastered on each of the pastel covers, surely made her mark in the literary world. The Baby-Sitters Club series is comprised of over 200 books and has “more than 176 million copies in print” (Woytus). Talk about a financially successful series for the publisher, Scholastic! Especially now that Netflix has taken it upon themselves to turn the beloved series into a TV show, its audience is bound to grow.

Now, my experience with The Baby-Sitters Club, or more colloquially known as the BSC, begins long before any 2020 TV adaptation which, by the way, is really awesome and got 100% on the Rotten Tomato ratings). I first heard about it when I was around 9 years old thanks to my mom who gave me some of her old copies to read. I still have those original copies in all of their page-yellowing glory, and I’ve read them several times over throughout the years. I would zoom from one book to the next, and I’d beg to be taken to the public library to be able to check-out more.

Figure 2 One of the covers featuring all of the girls in the BSC! Image: (c) Jamen Willis.

While Mary Anne Spier, one of the main characters in the series, shared many of the same attributes as me — shy and sensitive, she was not the character who I looked up to. I reserved that role for the one and only Dawn Schafer. She was consistently described as being the super cool “California girl” with hair “the color of cornsilk” and clothes that were cooler than anything I could conjure up in my imagination (“Dawn on the Coast” 2). She loved the sun and grew up near the beach. You see, I didn’t just admire Dawn, I wanted to be her.

Now, I want to bring up a few things I noticed while watching the show on Netflix. It is not new to see film companies take a few liberties along the way when making an onscreen adaptation of a book. For example, the group’s meeting time changes and the order of the episodes is slightly different than that of the books. Not a big deal, right? Well, here’s when things get wildly different.

Firstly, the time period in which the show takes place is far from what it once was. Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club is modern and very relevant. The show’s screenwriters did not shy away from using current slang and even have the girls talk about websites like Google Docs and Postmates, both which definitely did NOT exist in the 80s (Puckett). I actually laughed out loud when Kristy Thomas, the fictional character who thinks of creating the babysitting club, says something along the lines of, “My mom is not as clueless as she seems” in one of the episodes. To clarify, Alicia Silverstone, the real-life actress who plays Kristy’s mom in the show, is the lead in the film Clueless. All of the references that Netflix made sure to incorporate are appreciated.

The TV show is doing something that the books didn’t — educate viewers/readers about sensitive matters. Yes, some of the books do talk about topics that were generally shielded from children’s literature in the 80s. The racism that Claudia faces in “Keep Out, Claudia!” is an example of that. However, the books just barely scratch the surface. This snippet from an article says it best; “The show steals a scene directly from the book, in which Claudia’s grandmother, Mimi, has a stroke. But it layers on a new historical dimension: After the stroke, Mimi suffers from memories of her time in a Japanese internment camp as a five-year-old” (Puckett). While the show drew inspiration from the books, it does a much better job at educating its audience because it is not afraid to speak up.

Remember Dawn, our lovable blonde-haired hippie babysitter? She was always described as being this cool girl who was ahead of her time. Additionally, she took it upon herself to educate her friends about wellness, vegetarianism, and sustainability (Vincent). Not only do they amplify that side of Dawn in the TV show, but they also give her tons of screen time such as in the episodes “Dawn and the Impossible Three” and “Hello, Camp Moosehead!”.  Most importantly, she’s being played by the lovely “Latinx pre-teen” actress (Mejia), Xochitl Gomez.

Figure 3: the cast of the Netflix series. Image: Netflix.

The fact that Dawn is being played by a Latinx actress means that more people can relate to the series. Having diversity onscreen is important because it better reflects what the world actually looks like.

As we continue to progress, the need for inclusivity onscreen and in books will only grow. This will very much affect the way that The Baby-Sitters Club series will be read in the future. It will always be cherished by more nostalgic readers like me, but it is probably not the kind of series that will stand the test of time. The only African American character in the books is constantly described as having “chocolaty skin” (“Mary Anne Misses Logan” 18). None of the other characters’ skin colours are being talked about in every single book. That is the kind of thing that modern day readers/viewers notice as well. We are tired of the lack of inclusivity and even when there is inclusivity, it isn’t being talked about in the right way. That is why the TV show adaption of the Baby-Sitters Club is being so highly praised. It is more likely to grab the attention of audiences because it’s modern and revamped in a way that feels genuine.

Works Cited

Gomez, Xochitl, performer. The Baby-Sitters Club, directed by Lucia Aniello, Netflix, 2020.

Martin, Anne M.. Dawn on the Coast. Scholastic, 1989.

Martin, Ann M.. Mary Anne Misses Logan, 1991.

Mejia, Jacquelinne. “’The Baby-Sitters Club’s’ Xochitl Gomez Talks The Importance of Her Activist Latinx Characterm Dawn Schafer.” Bese, 10 Aug. 2020, https://www.bese.com/the-baby-sitters-clubs-xochitl-gomez-talks-the-importance-of-her-activist-latinx-character-dawn-schafer/

Puckett, Lauren. “Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club Reworks The Book Series You Grew Up With. The Result Is Perfect.” Elle, 6 Jul. 2020.

Tenderly, Jan. 2020, https://medium.com/tenderlymag/in-praise-of-dawn-schafer-the-baby-sitters-club-vegetarian-ebe6b27d8b6f

Woytus, Amanda. “How The Baby-Sitters Club Reflected Our Dreams of Safety.” JSTOR Daily, 9 Nov. 2016, https://daily.jstor.org/how-the-baby-sitters-club-reflected-our-dreams-of-safety/

 

 

 

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