baby-sitters-club-books

In defense of “The Baby-Sitters’ Club”

This might seem completely out of the blue, and many people might not get the context of it all, but recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts making fun of the books I grew up reading. Those of y'all who grew up in middle-class America know what I mean: the kind that shows up at the “purchase” rack in front of the library, already 10-or-so years old, costs $1-$3, the kind you have a thousand of at home before you donate them back to the library system. 

A notable representative of these books is the “The Baby-Sitters’ Club” series, a book series from the 90s that started as a four-book miniseries but by the end of it contained, last I knew, around 200 books, including spin-offs. It was marketed at grade-school girls, following the adventures of four friends who decided to kick off a club for baby-sitters, make spending money, etc. It’s also the butt of a thousand internet jokes. 

And, sure, some of the books are cheesy. I say that as an eighteen-year-old who’s well on their way to college now. But as a kid, they touch on so many important themes. 

Forgive me if I don’t remember details; I read the series last when I was in fifth grade  

There is, of course, the obvious: the series follows four grade-school girls (eighth grade, so aged 14-15), who take initiative and start a business of their own and make it work. It tackles responsibility and teamwork and cooperation, and balancing hobbies with schoolwork with family life

But there’s also so many of the books that follow and address specific problems, problems following a diverse cast of girls with diverse problems that are often addressed in healthy ways… problems rarely addressed in mainstream media  

Stacey is diabetic and has divorced parents, one of whom lives in New York, is a bit naïve, and has a tendency to get herself into trouble. She doesn’t only have plots revolving around living her life, learning to accommodate her new eating habits, etc., but she also has books about topics like peer pressure and saying ‘no’ to friends and getting mixed in with the wrong crowd  

 Kristy has a tendency to be selfish and bossy, which works okay when you’re the middle child of… five-ish? Her parents recently got divorced and remarried. She has books dealing with that, with learning not to jump into things, with learning how to resolve disputes between her and the girls in a healthy manner.

Claudia is Chinese-American. She’s an incredibly talented artist in a family who favors the sort of intelligence her sister possesses- school smarts. A direction in which Claudia isn’t really that talented… to the point where she thinks she’s adopted. 

(A book that doesn’t just deal with talking things out as a family, but also features accommodating babysitting a neurodivergent, likely autistic child, if I remember correctly.)

On the left: another book starting Claudia, as well as a babysittee… a child struggling with the ‘gifted child’ problem before it became mainstream to even question the ‘gifted child’ mentality. Little Rosie felt like her life was being sucked dry of whatever she enjoyed or showed any aptitude in because it was turned into a full-blown affair with her parents; when she said she liked music, her parents made her take many daily hours of piano, when she mentioned she liked reading, etc., etc. She ended up hiding the fact that she loved to draw from her parents, afraid they’d suck the joy out of that, too, by taking it out of her hands and making it a ‘gift.’ 

On the right, Mary Anne dealing with a boy who’s been through a traumatic experience, helping him  address it and talk it through with his parents. 

And Mary Anne. Mary Anne. She grew up in an extremely strict, conservative household with her single father, who treated her as if she was a little child. 

Mary Anne, who hasn’t been allowed to even decide how to wear her hair, is now placed into a situation where a charge of hers is suddenly taken very ill… and learns to ask her father to take a step or two back. 

Dawn’s family is torn apart when her parents divorce. One of them moves across the country to California. After ages of exhausting back-and-forth, Dawn moves to California, too. 

Later, Dawn’s mom and Mary Anne’s dad get married, and they have to get used to living together. Also a very important issue, as they are total opposites. 

Mallory is the eldest child of eight (nine?). Jessie is an African-American girl who wants to be a professional ballerina and deals with institutionalized racism. I’m not even sure if that’s all the members right now. Abby is a Jewish girl who has to deal with establishing a separate identity from her twin sister, as well as numerous familial issues (including her mother’s irresponsible younger sister leaving her newborn baby on their doorstep because she’s suddenly taken very ill but doesn’t want her family to know).

What I’m saying is, it’s a series that tackles a great deal of situations that little girls, the target audience, may encounter in their lives. And for the early 90s, that’s progressive as hell. 

10

To know my journey as a Black disabled woman, you have to know my past.  

I was born with OI (Osteogenesis Imperfecta), better known as brittle bones disease.  My beloved Grandmother raised me in a loving home, & showed me what unconditional love was about.  I have part of her name, & have always been proud of that name - Vilissa.  Unbeknownst to me until I reached adulthood, Vilissa is French, & means, “to love & cherish life.”  How fitting of a name for a young disabled Black girl who was smart, caring, loving, fun, kind-hearted, sassy, loved to learn, & knew how special she was by the praise she received at home, at school, and from those she met.  

The young Vilissa would experience many successes as she went through school, which empowered her because she knew she was just as good, if not better, as anyone else.  Her excelling in every subject motivated her to do well in the subjects she loved - reading & writing.  She had no idea how powerful words would be to her as an adult, but at this time, she loved reading her Baby-Sitters Club books, & writing in countless journals, sometimes creating worlds & characters that didn’t exist, but her imagination & ability to tell a story grew profoundly.  

As I grew into my teen & adult years, I changed in ways that I didn’t imagine, but the loving, supportive foundation I had in my younger years caused me to be steadfast as I grew & navigated an able-bodied society.

This is Part 1, showing my years from 1st birthday to 12 years old.