Ode to the BSC
As a child, Friday was always my favorite day of the week. It wasn’t because of the weekend; I liked school and didn’t really look forward to breaks. No, Fridays were payday for my parents and that meant that I would spend the evening hanging out with my best friends: Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. When I discovered the books in second grade, The Baby-Sitters Club turned me into an absolutely insatiable reader. Every single Friday my mom knew that I would be expecting a trip to the bookstore in the next county over to purchase the next in the series of babysitting adventures. So deep was my obsession that I automatically loved all things babysitting-related. ‘Adventures in Babysitting?’ That was my favorite movie. Plans for earning money to buy a car? Why, babysitting of course, just as soon as I became as old and worldly as the girls in the BSC. These girls had done it all; they had boyfriends, they solved Super Mysteries, and they earned pretty decent money. This was all certainly impressive to the eight-year-old me.
These books transported me every week to Stonybrook, Connecticut, and I felt so much a part of the picturesque town that New England became, and remains, the place where I would most like to live. These girls became my friends, the people I lived vicariously through, and consumed so much of my thought that I tried my hardest to get my friends to create a Junior Babysitting Club with me, but they weren’t interested. Eventually, though I love these books dearly to this day, I grew older and they didn’t resonate with me quite as much. I moved on to Sweet Valley High, and though I was older, the obsession I would develop with books and their characters and their worlds didn’t lessen. One of my most vivid tweenage memories is of a character-based role playing game that my best friend and I would do each afternoon after school, one that was so involved in character exploration that any teacher would have been proud. One of us would call the other and assume the character of either Elizabeth or Jessica Wakefield. We would then have truly ridiculous and long conversations, all while still in character. Much like The Baby-Sitters Club from just a few years before, Sweet Valley High completely consumed my thoughts and I could never read enough.
I always call this my reading lineage, and it all started with The Baby-Sitters Club. Much like the sometimes more embarrassing branches of a biological family tree, there are many current “experts” on YA and children’s literature who would view the beginnings of my reading heritage as less than exemplary. In fact, they might call what I was reading “fluff,” something that may find its modern day equivalency in the Twilight series. I was never really exposed to classic children’s literature except for sometimes at school and a tattered copy of Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes that I had at home. In the eyes of the experts who find no value in anything that isn’t a critic’s darling, I would be doomed to read nothing but Teen Beat and dime store romance novels forever. My literary taste was stunted, and I, as a reader (much like the many young girls who are devouring Twilight and The Hunger Games) was a failure.
However, I would have never known this as a child. My mother referred to me as “her little bookworm,” and I was proud of that. I always won prizes for summer reading from my library, and my friends had happily labeled me, “our book freak.” They didn’t care what I was reading; they just knew that I was. My family has always reveled in storytelling and that same fascination manifested itself in me through reading. What these critics and experts couldn’t have known is that the deeper my love for stories grew, so did my need for richer storylines, more complex characters, and a connection with them that was deeper than simply being the same age or the same gender. I’m proud of my reading lineage, because what started out as an obsession with the BSC led to my seeking out Dickens, Austen, Steinbeck, and Shakespeare on my own. By my sophomore year of high school, I was reading Tolstoy of my own accord, simply because I craved the depth and complexity. Much like any addiction, I had almost built up a tolerance and seemed to always require something more.
These days, as a teacher and a parent, I try to spread my still-growing obsession. I try to help my son and my students to not fixate on AR points, but to find stories they’re passionate about. And while a good review is likely to cause me to pick up a book I may not have noticed on my own, I am still a staunch believer that you should enjoy what you read and you should read what you enjoy, regardless of how many stars it received. Because the simplicity of finding yourself immersed in a world you find in a book is enough to make you want to keep coming back for more. And isn’t that what it’s all about? So, here’s to you, Baby-Sitters Club, the matriarch of my reading lineage; thank you for making me a reader.
Sasha Reinhardt is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher, Academic Team co-sponsor, and lifelong nerd. She lives in Eastern Kentucky with her husband, two sons, and completely spastic dog Molly. Sasha enjoys reading (duh), all kinds of music, the smell of old books, going to movies, playing video games, and Chinese food. You can find her at http://middlegrdreads.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @MiddleGrdReads.