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Reality Brings Kids Back For More of the Baby Sitters Club Books

December 18, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s not like Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. They’re detectives. They chase bad guys and drive cars.

The girls in the Baby Sitters Club books mostly just have trouble with neighborhood snobs, bullies or, maybe, parents.

Author Ann M. Martin’s characters - seven distinctly different girls who form a baby-sitting cooperative - are like friends to 11-year-old Lynette Kirkman and other admirers of the series, which has put into print 41 million books over the last four years.

″The books are about being a normal kid today,″ said Lynette, of Bristol, Pa. ″They talk about real life and things.″

Being a kid today can be tough. Parents get divorced, and sometimes they marry other people. Then you have two families. Or maybe you move, or a grandparent dies, or your father loses his job. It gets complicated.

″So when you’re having problems with your parents or there’s something you don’t understand, it helps to have a friend around,″ said Megan Brown, 13, of Indianapolis.

Into each story are integrated situations that reflect life as it really is lived across America, and that includes elements such as stepfamilies, working mothers, death, adoption and friends or relatives with disabilities.

The girls also encounter all sorts of smaller prepubescent woes in each monthly addition to the 43-book series.

″And if I can believe what the kids write to me, they are responding to ... the realism. Kids will write and say, ’I really enjoy your books because I can identify with the characters,‴ Martin said.

Martin, 35, who lives in New York City with a cat named Mouse, plays it straight with her mostly 8- to 12-year-old readers. She doesn’t talk down to them or gloss over difficult topics.

″More kids today have been exposed to divorce ... or moved around a lot. They start watching television at an earlier age and watch things that are more sophisticated than what we watched at an early age,″ she said.

Jean Feiwel, editorial director at Scholastic Inc., came up with the series idea about five years ago, melding young girls’ dual passion for books about clubs and books about baby-sitting.

The formula was an instant hit that has topped chain store best-seller lists of children’s books 90 percent of the time since the first title appeared in August 1986. Two home videos also are on the market.

″It’s one of the most successful series for children ever,″ said Diane Roback, children’s book editor at Publishers Weekly. ″And I don’t see any signs of its popularity diminishing.″

Meanwhile, the imaginary town of Stoneybrook, Conn., has become a pre- teen’s fictional mecca, the place where the Baby Sitters Club meets three times a week to accept clients’ phone calls and review sticky situations.

″Like in No. 10 - well, maybe not No. 10 - but in one of the books, one of the kids they baby-sit for gets a hand stuck down the drain in the bathroom tub,″ offers 8-year-old Marian Walsh of Watertown, Conn.

″My favorite one is ‘Boy-Crazy Stacey,’ where she goes baby-sitting at the beach and gets crushes on all the boys,″ says 11-year-old Melonie Marnien of Bristol, Pa. ″That was really funny.″

A lot of girls like Stacey the best. In fact, in a Baby Sitters Club Super Special Contest, 27,000 fans cast their votes for the sophisticated, clotheshorse who moved to Connecticut from New York City.

But others prefer Claudia (slightly insecure and artistic), Dawn (an ex- Californian who shuns junk food), Kristy (the bossy club president based on one of Martin’s close childhood friends), Mary Anne (a shy and responsible girl based on the author herself), Mallory (a would-be children’s books author from a big family) or Jessica (an outgoing black ballet dancer).

″I just love them so much ... because you think these girls could be you in a few years,″ enthused Marian, who hopes to start baby-sitting when she gets a little older. ″You’d never think of Pippy Longstocking as a baby sitter.″

Adds Marian’s 10-year-old neighbor, Carla Oliva: ″They’re not just books to read for enjoyment. They teach you a lot of things . .. like how life is different for different people and how to get along with each other.″

Although Martin weaves serious themes into her books, she chooses not to address such weighty topics as sexual or substance abuse of any kind.

It’s not that the issues shouldn’t be dealt with, the author said.

″I think there are a lot of girls who would benefit from reading about (them), but there are also first-graders out there who are reading these books and those subjects are too heavy for them,″ she said.

So Martin sticks to more manageable problems, including the perennial trials of youth:

″Questions about their self-esteem, their self-worth. How important is it to be pretty, to be popular? All sorts of things that we worried about when we were younger. I don’t think those things ever change.″

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