This story is over 5 years old.


Looking Back on Our Collective Obsession with the Baby-Sitters Club

In honor of the series' 30th anniversary, Scholastics editorial director David Levithan discusses his experience editing the Baby-Sitters Club, the books' influence on pop culture, and the weirdest BSC memorabilia he owns.
Photos courtesy of Scholastic

Thirty years ago, Scholastic released author Ann M. Martin's Kristy's Great Idea, which launched the Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) series. The stories in the series revolve around a group of pre-teens who operate a babysitting service in their town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. The franchise sold 176 million books and spawned a popular HBO series, which the Disney Channel later reran for what felt like an eternity. The series entertained generations of kids (the block letter logo was ingrained in countless prepubescent brains), and its characters remain 13 years old forever.


Scholastic editorial director David Levithan edited many books in the series. He started as an intern at Scholastic and worked his way to the top, in between writing his own critically acclaimed New York Times best sellers. His book Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist became a cult movie starring Michael Cera. But the BSC remain a highlight of his career.

Read more: The Disabled Artists Creating a New Space in the Art World

To celebrate BSC's birthday, I spoke to Levithan about how he started editing the books, the hate mail he received from parents, and whether there would be a trans BSC member if the series debuted today.

BROADLY: Looking back over the past 30 years, when did you first realize BSC had become a phenomenon?
David Levithan: I started working on the series when I was an intern, age 19, in 1992. That was at the height of its popularity—between all of the BSC books and the other BSC series, there were at least 50 titles published a year—and the appetite for them from readers was insatiable. This was before the Internet, before social media, when books really had the power to define a common culture for a whole generation. It wouldn't really happen again until Harry Potter.

What was the hardest part of editing the books?
Keeping all of the "facts" straight! One of my first jobs on the BSC was to compile The Complete Guide—a list of everyone and everything that appeared in the books, so we could keep everything consistent. Because, goodness knows, if you slipped and said Claudia had two earrings in her left ear, not her right one, readers would let you know.


Why did Ann Martin step down from writing the series?
Ann wrote over a hundred of the books, including the last few, and was involved in the plotting and outlining of every single title—continuing to the graphic novel adaptations today—so she never really stepped down. It was just impossible at the height of the BSC's popularity for a single person to write four or five books a month.

Read more: Hanson Reveals the Surprising Story Behind 'MMMBop'

Was there anything that was off-limits in terms of subject matter?
I can't remember ever having a conversation where we said something couldn't be done—the books talked about a number of issues that really weren't talked about in commercial kids' fiction. After a while, I think we were afraid we were going to exhaust all the possible plots for a group of thirteen-year-old girls. I used to joke that the moment one of us proposed The Baby-Sitters in Space! as a plot, it would be time to retire. Luckily, we never got to that point. Though zero-gravity Kid-Kits would have been something.

What was fan mail like during the series' peak?
Let's just say that Stoneybrook, Connecticut deserved its own post office. Right next to the one for the North Pole.

Did Scholastic ever get hate mail for the series?
As with any kids' book that tells the truth to kids, the series sometimes received mail from adults who were afraid that kids weren't "ready" to read about the things that were already happening in their lives, but the mass majority of the mail was positive.


How often do people bring up the BSC to you, and what do they commonly say?
For me, it's amazing to see how many of my writer friends—like John Green, Jenny Han, Aimee Friedman—were BSC readers. We always said that the BSC raised a whole generation of readers. Little did we know that it was also growing a generation of writers. The best example of this is Raina Telgemeier, who started as a BSC reader, then became the artist behind the BSC graphic novels—and now inspires another generation of readers with her own work.

Have any famous writers mentioned the BSC to you as an influence?
Amy Schumer just mentioned it in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday! J. Courtney Sullivan did a great piece about it in Lenny, and Lena Dunham's also said she was a fan. And the YA authors I mentioned above—among many others.

Was there a particular character from the series that seemed to resonate with the audience?
The amazing thing is that all of them resonated. But I think there's a particular admiration for Claudia because she was so unabashedly herself in life, in junk food, and in fashion.

What were some reasons for ending the series?
Because we were getting very close to Baby-Sitters in Space! And no girl can stay in eighth grade forever.

What's the weirdest BSC memorabilia that was sold during its run?
I have a BSC boom box in my office. It's dibbly fresh. I could play "U4Me" on it all night long.

Will the series ever return?
What's amazing is that new generations keep discovering the series—so it's constantly renewing itself. The four new BSC graphic novels have been on the New York Times bestseller list for much of this year. And a fifth one, illustrated by Gale Galligan, is coming next year, so that audience will continue to grow.

What would be some story lines today that would be specific to today's social climate?
I mean, Kristy for President, obviously. If only we'd let her age, she could have been the country's first female president. Now hopefully she'll have to settle for second.

Would there be a trans BSC member?
As long as they were free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:30 to 6.

If you had to choose, what was more cutting edge: BSC, Sex and the City, or Girls?
I have to go with the BSC, since it got there first.