The first Babysitters Club I read was Claudia and the Phantom Phones Calls. I was soon addicted. I don’t know if it was the spooky atmosphere of the book or the terrifying atmosphere of the night I bought the book, but I distinctly remember when and where I found Ann M. Martin’s book.
My mom was driving my sisters and I back from the Maryland beach at night. We were caught in a storm, not uncommon in the humid East Coast summers. But more importantly, we were stuck on the Bay Bridge, aka “America’a Scariest Bridge,” a huge 4+ mile bridge spamming 75′ above the Chesapeake Bay. Visibility was impossible as rain hammered our van’s windows, except when jagged bolts of lightning shot down from the black sky like an angry hand of Zeus searching for a car or bridge tower to electrocute. I imagine I learned new language that night from my mom, probably directed at my dad who wasn’t present for the trip.
We eventually reached the end of the bridge, and my mom pulled into a strip mall to wait out the storm. Plus, there was a Fuddrucker’s and she needed a beer.
After taco salads, we walked to a book store. My guess, Crown Books. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid, but I always enjoyed looking at books, full of hope for the story inside. My dyslexia and the fear that the cover was better than the words kept me from reading most books my mom bought me.
There I found Claudia and the Phantom Phones Calls. Maybe it was the pink cover, or maybe the promise of something spooky that wasn’t a life threatening bridge disaster. I sheepishly asked my mom if I could get it, despite the pile of unread books on my shelf back home. She agreed. Maybe it was the beer.
Ann M. Martin created a book that lived up to my hopes. My stash of Babysitters Club books grew. Dawn was my favorite because she was everything I wasn’t: confident, pretty, healthy, and didn’t care what people thought of her. Despite being a tomboy like me, Kristy was my least favorite. Perhaps I unconsciously saw too much of me in her – the desire for control and need to run everything, which as the youngest in the family I was always denied.
Decades later, my BSC books are gone, but with the reissue of the original covers and the library, I’ve been able to share my Stoneybrook memories with my son and daughter. The stories remain relevant today, much like reading Beverly Cleary’s classic Ramona series. Despite the lack of cell phones, The Babysitters Club and Ramona aren’t dated.
Inevitably, I was concerned how a third attempt at the series would go. I never watched the 1995 movie. Didn’t even know it existed until recently. Probably because in ’95 I was thrashing to Live, my Babysitters Club years long in the past. When I saw the teaser trailer for the Netflix show had a landline phone, I freaked! It wasn’t a weird updated version of the series of my childhood. It was set in 1986!
I was wrong. The phone, as Claudia states, is from Etsy.
Um. Ok. How the hell were they going to pull this off? Why does a generation growing up on tablets need a landline? Explain that. And why does Claudia dress like she’s stepped out of a Kids R Us catalog from the 80s?
Despite my fears that this was another hokey attempt resulting in butchering my beloved characters, I decided to embrace the possibility it might be good and make it a quarantine event. July 3rd went on our very empty 2020 calendar as Babysitters Club Night with make your own pizzas! While everyone was watching Hamilton on Disney+, we sat down to see how Claudia justified a private landline in her room. Came free with a bundle package from the phone company. Duh. And why are her outfits neon with bangles and scrunchies? Because she’s Claudia! She’s artsy. And what looks more creative and confident than dressing from another decade and owning it? The show found creative ways to keep the quirks of life in the 80s but set it in modern times.
We watched episode 1. Then 2. Then we agreed to one more. Which turned into four. I cut us off after episode 5, not because it was bad, but because the show is so good. I wanted more to see and enjoy and not blaze through it all at once.
The show takes liberties with condensing story lines. I’m not a fan of how they handled Claudia and the Phantom Phones Calls, but I’ll let that slide 1. because I love that book, so I’m totally biased and 2. because of the updated story line for Mary Anne Saves the Day where they introduce a transgender child and a platform to start an engaging discussion with my children about how not everyone feels right in the bodies they are born into and the importance of not judging a person based on societal stereotypes.
The Netflix show updated the series with thoughtful intent. Dawn isn’t the blonde California girl. She’s portrayed by Xochitl Gomez, a Canadian actress with a mega-watt smile. Although her ethnicity isn’t stated, there’s an air of Hispanic and Native American in her background on the show, which is a perfect change and representation of an Angeleno.
There is so much heart in the new series that die-hard fans will immediately recognize their favorite characters even if they look different or have gay parents. Today’s kids will relate to the universal stories of adolescence. And for those parents who never read the books and are needing wholesome content to watch with your kids, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by not only how great the child actors are but the strong stories developed for the adult characters as well – ripped from the pages of Martin’s books.
The smile is still on my face from watching The Babysitters Club with my family this weekend. I’m glad I gave it a chance, didn’t judge it prematurely, and rediscovered a world I had been missing for years.