Home » Children's Books » As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.

As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.

31 August 2016

From Slate:

“The first time I ever saw a Baby-Sitters Club book, I was 7 years old, browsing the spinning racks at the public library near my house. It was Baby-Sitters Club No. 2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls. On the bright pink cover, a preteen girl in a funky, oversized sweater clutches a baby in one arm while she cradles a telephone under her chin. Claudia looks slightly haunted, but also—to my young eye at the time—competent, collected, and hopelessly cool. I wondered exactly how sinister this phone call was. I wanted to know more.

The book called to me on a primal level. I took it home, read it twice in one day (it was short), and then a third time the next. I pored over the checklist of books in the series, trying to decide which ones sounded most fascinating. (BSC No. 8: Boy-Crazy Stacey especially piqued my interest.) On my next trip to the library, I walked out bearing an armful of the slim, pastel paperbacks.

I felt like I had just hit the jackpot. My mom looked a little concerned. Even in my progressive community in suburban Maryland, the world of babysitting was considered an eccentric and perhaps worrisome interest for a little boy. This was not something that I understood. I just thought the books looked fun and exciting, with their poppy, late-1980s color palette and painted covers depicting exciting tableaus of babysitting in action. And, of course, there was something incredibly alluring to me about teenage girls, whom I had already learned from TV sitcoms were the most glamorous and exciting creatures on Earth. I couldn’t wait to be a teenager myself and hopefully start my own Baby-Sitters Club.

I almost always carried a Baby-Sitters Club book with me wherever I went, and proudly read them on the school bus, under my desk during class, and in the school cafeteria. Somehow, by age 7, I was still oblivious to the strict gender cues that other kids my age already responded to on a gut level, and I was blissfully ignorant—at least for awhile—that the books were, in no uncertain terms, For Girls.

When other boys would ask me why I was reading those, I was confused by the question. Really, I was put off that everyone didn’t find the books as enchanting as I did and wasn’t sure why discussions about the exploits of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne (“America’s Favorite Girls!” as the covers billed them) were such a conversational dead-end with my male peers. Weren’t boys supposed to like girls, I wondered?

My obsession did, however, make me a hit with friends’ older sisters, whom I’d take aside during play dates and birthday parties for rollicking, barb-filled debates over who was the best baby-sitter (definitely Claudia or Stacey, depending on whether you preferred Claudia’s boho-hip fabulousness or Stacey’s sleek, urban sophistication) or which BSC members should be kicked to the curb. (No one liked homely, bookish Mallory.) Some of these big sisters were already old enough to be embarking on their own babysitting careers, and I loved picking their brains for insider tips and behind-the-scenes dirt about the profession, while my friends ran around playing capture the flag outside.

Eventually, I started to catch on. When I went in search of more Baby-Sitters Club books, librarians began urging me to expand my horizons, often trying to interest me in the books of Matt Christopher, which had names such as The Lucky Baseball Bat and The Boy Who Only Hit Homers. My parents, who had mostly humored my interest without too much judgment, started to set some limits. When I tried to rent the classic Adventures in Babysitting from the video store, my father gave me a fed-up look and told me I had already reached my monthly limit on babysitting-related media.

I kept reading the books, but I had learned to be self-conscious about it. On my monthly pilgrimages to the bookstore to pick up the latest installment in the series, I found myself sneaking them to the register, concealed in a larger pile. At school, I became openly scornful of girls who read the Baby-Sitters Club, just to make sure everyone knew that I had moved beyond all that.

Eventually, I just outgrew them. As I approached middle school, my fascination with teenage girls diminished just as my friends became more interested in them. I knew plenty of girls, and if I wanted to talk to one I could just call her on the phone. Anyway, part of what I had enjoyed about the Baby-Sitters Club as a small child was their comforting sense of repetition, not to mention the fact that they were often almost conflict-free. (There’s one book that revolves around Dawn organizing a sleepover party.) But as I got older, I wanted a little more friction in my reading material. I discovered the X-Men and realized that the lives of superheroes were much more suspenseful than the lives of babysitters. I moved on.”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Children's Books

18 Comments to “As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.”

  1. What kills me is that accounts like this never go the other way. “A boy likes books targeted to girls” aka “man bites dog”.

    I grew up reading anything I could find. The overwhelming majority of those books were adventure-related stories with male heroes. I didn’t care (and still don’t). So what? It was the stories I was after, and I could live in anyone’s mind. I think this is a pretty normal experience.

    It seems to me that what he was after was books about peer-to-peer relationships (vs parent-child), and those (as children’s books) are mostly targeted to girls. Nothing wrong with his taste. Bet he would have liked “A Little Princess.”

    • peer-to-peer relationships

      At last I have a way to describe that style. I liked the BSC’s peer-to-peer relationships, and they did have adventures, after a fashion. They were entrepreneurial and resourceful and I loved that about them.

      I still remember the one (maybe it was the Phantom Phone Calls?) where the girls are getting strange phone calls and they come up with a plan to handle the menacing stranger they fear might show up. Shy, quiet, young-for-her-age Mary Ann improvises traps around the house like the A-Team … always beware the quiet ones 🙂

      Not shocked the kid liked them.

    • I really enjoyed Little Women when I was in elementary school. It never occurred to me that anyone would find that strange.

      I recall reading a book called Little Men at about the same time and it wasn’t nearly as good.

      Somehow, I didn’t (and don’t) draw any larger truths from either experience other than that I like good stories regardless of anything else.

      • Little Women was indeed much better than Little Men or any of its other successors. I searched in vain for my next hit at the time.

        Alas, what I really remember Little Women for at the time was social isolation. I switched schools at the end of 4th grade (all-girl in both cases), and when my new classmates asked what I’d done over the summer, I threw out Little Women as the most recent book I’d read. Then they asked me how long that took, and I made the mistake of telling them: two days.

        First they didn’t believe me, and then they did, which was actually worse. Good thing I acquired a thick skin. 🙂 I grew it then.

        • It is funny. In spite of Little Women being Louisa May Alcott’s most famous book I much prefer An Old-fashioned Girl and Eight Cousins/Rose in Bloom.

          • I never read LITTLE WOMEN, but I tried to get my sons to read it. The reason I thought it would be good for them to read it was because they both did Scholastic Bowl and there was without fail at least one question at every match I ever attended that dealt with LITTLE WOMEN. And my sons NEVER got the answer to any of those questions.

          • Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, yes. I reread both of those many times. My favorites for a few years. I read as many of Alcott’s books as I could find for a while, though Under the Lilacs made me angry and I couldn’t finish it after the archery scene. Never read another one of her books after that.

          • I also re-read Eight Cousins and An Old-Fashioned Girl from time to time. Yes! So glad to discover like-minded readers! Most of my acquaintance love Little Women (I don’t) and have never even heard of the other two. I always felt a little odd about my preference in their company.

  2. And now this guy writes for Slate. Excellent cautionary tale.

  3. When I tried to rent the classic Adventures in Babysitting from the video store, my father gave me a fed-up look and told me I had already reached my monthly limit on babysitting-related media.

    I take it dad never saw the film.

    I discovered the X-Men and realized that the lives of superheroes were much more suspenseful than the lives of babysitters. I moved on.

    I’d like to see the X-Men get through a night in downtown Chicago with a lower body count than Elisabeth Shue managed. 😉

  4. It’s a shame when parents allow their own biases to affect their children. As long as the kids are not doing something that would truly harm themselves or others, most of the interests parents object to fade with time as the children find new interests.

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