When I was young, I read… indiscriminately. I read ‘highbrow’ kid’s lit – Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Robinson Crusoe, Little House on the Prairie – and supplemented it with pulp trash like Animorphs, Sweet Valley and Saddle Club. I had no shame. Once in Year 7 I borrowed an entire 20+ book series from the library about teenage girls getting cancer, and worked my way through them like a stoner might work through 20+ bags of Doritos. For a year, I informed my mother every time I had a bruise of unknown origin.
‘I probably have leukaemia,’ I’d announce drastically, thrusting an elbow at her.
‘You got that yesterday getting hit by a dictionary,’ she’d remind me, turning from her gardening, ‘You kids really gotta stop throwing dictionaries at each other.’ She’d sigh into the tomatoes. ‘Every school year we have to buy dictionaries. We’re not made of money, you know.’
I read anything I could find – especially if the alternative was, like, doing maths or some shit – but I also had a very specific niche RE: favourite reading topics: wagon adventures, boarding schools, pony clubs, being marooned on islands, introverted girls who read or wrote (meta, right?), twins, kids running their own businesses and/or other independent pursuits, and summer camp. While I don’t like to play favourites, there was one series that encompassed so many of these tropes and more…
Baby-sitters Club, say hello to your friends! Baby-sitters Club, say hello to the people who care, nothing’s better than friends, Baby-sitters Club, ‘cos you know that your friends are always there…
Maybe you don’t remember the jingle from the 90s television adaptation. Maybe you weren’t a bona fide member of the ‘Club. That’s cool. But I feel sorry for you, bros, because The Baby-Sitters Club was where it was AT.
Did you know, as a ten year old, the best places to camp out in your house if there’s a hurricane? Were you well versed in African-American history, an expert on international adoption and fluent in pig-latin? Did you know the best ways to treat diabetes? Were you able, as you slouched your way into adolescence, to diagnose your own scoliosis? Did you at least kind of understand baseball? Maybe. If you were a member of the ‘Club.
The ‘Club helped me decide as a pre-teen that I wanted to become a vegetarian. The ‘Club was worldly, wholesome, mature. Despite a frustratingly obvious chapter structure (a template for ghost-writers) and a focus on fashion that usually went right over my head but once resulted in a teacher aide asking me if my mother had forgotten to do my hair that morning, The Baby-sitter’s Club allowed me to explore my identity at a time when I needed it the most.
When I picked up the books, I was an army brat fresh from a big move and heading towards another. When I put them down I was done with moving, and almost but-not-quite a teenager. I outgrew them. But, more than a decade later, I still don’t eat meat, and my crooked spine is at least a little better now. I’m still fluent in pig-latin and as of yet have not died in a hurricane. Like it or lump it, I guess I’m always going to be a member of The ‘Club, which probably isn’t the worst thing in the world. Nothing’s better than friends!
This September, we’ve asked eight writers to revisit their favourite books from childhood for our new series, When I was young.