It was tattered, yellowing, and the back cover had been ripped off. I duct-taped a piece of cardboard to the back to prolong its life, and I scrawled "The Babysitters Club" in block letters to make it "more official." This was my very first copy of a Babysitters Club (BSC) book, #1 Kristy's Great Idea. Just like many other items and most of my clothes, it had been handed down to me from my older sisters.
When I was 9 years old, I gave my 4th grade teacher a fistful of change and a completed Scholastic order form to buy my very first BSC book on my own: The Baby-sitters Club #61 Jessi and the Awful Secret, the newest BSC publication. My teacher looked at me over her glasses: "never heard of bills or envelopes, huh?" The class laughed.
The heat of embarrassment flooded to my face as I returned to my desk, but excitement fluttered in my core. After years of reading Scholastic pamphlets over and over and wishing I could buy those brightly-covered books, I was finally going to be a kid whose name was called to the teacher's desk to get a book from the Scholastic shipment.
Book #61 was the beginning of a BSC infatuation. I would save every coin I could to buy more books. And later, when I started babysitting and began earning money to help support my family, my mom would let me set aside a few dollars to buy more BSC books. From 9 to 13 years of age, I collected about 80 (of 213 total) BSC books.
About a year ago, my mom and step-dad hauled my box of BSC books 500 miles to my place. It had been stored in their shed for more than 20 years. It wasn't until I started watching the recently-released Netflix series* that I finally dug into that box. With each book, I felt a familiar rush of adoration. I couldn't stop smiling. However, when all the books were out of the box and I looked at my collection in its entirety, a complicated sadness started to settle with the decades of dust.
The BSC was one of the few delights in my childhood. Until I was 12 years old, my home life was bleak and scary. Looking back, I can see how much I needed the BSC books. The stories were reliable, uplifting, and consistent during a time wrought with abuse, uncertainty, and fear. In The Baby-sitters Club, I found comfort in friendships, stable families, and a world where young girls could unapologetically flourish.
I cherished the BSC. My first books found a home on top of a cardboard box, and many days I knelt before them like an alter. I gazed and traced the block letters slowly. I cried and held and hugged each book like beloved stuffed animals. I read every word on each cover, the back, and inside pages--even the copyright page.
The BSC was escape, comfort, relief, and aspiration.
Now, in this current time, I've been feeling that once-familiar feeling of complete helplessness again. Yearning for stability and routine and goodness. To escape the endlessness of a bleak world. To hope.
There is something serendipitous and somewhat encouraging about re-discovering these books now. Reading and literacy have been cornerstones in my life (including my educational pursuits, my work in the nonprofit sector, and publishing my own children's book). I have learned to never underestimate the lasting impact of a book or the joy of reading.
I don't expect these books to rid us of Covid, racial injustice, inept leadership, or the many issues plaguing our society to this day. These books certainly didn't change my circumstances as a child, but they were a source of comfort when I desperately needed to believe in something good. The universe has a way of circling, illuminating what we have and gravitating us toward the forces we need.
*Netflix just came out with a remake of the series by Ann M. Martin, and it is awesome, especially in the way it has more people of color represented, brings up relevant social issues, is more culturally aware and inclusive, and smoothly transitions an "analog" series to the modern day. Read more about it in this article from The Guardian. And, if you have the time, it's worth a watch.