The Baby-Sitters Club books are wildly popular — again — and adults are loving the nostalgia

Erika Dole's collection of the Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin is pictured on Wednesday. Dole, 41, of Ottawa, has been collecting the books since she was a child. She has 231 of them. (Submitted by Erika  Dole - image credit)
Erika Dole's collection of the Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin is pictured on Wednesday. Dole, 41, of Ottawa, has been collecting the books since she was a child. She has 231 of them. (Submitted by Erika Dole - image credit)

Nostalgia for the 1990s is having a moment right now, if wide-legged jeans, Lisa Frank's Crocs collaboration and the original Gap fragrances selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay are any indication.

But when the graphic novel remake of Ann M. Martin's book Claudia and the Bad Joke was the best-selling kids book in Canada earlier this month, it was time for bookworm elder millennials and gen-Xers to feel their hearts flutter with nostalgia. The original, part of the wildly popular The Baby-Sitters Club series, was published in 1988.

It's not a one-off. As Scholastic points out, all of the graphic novel adaptations of the original books have been on best-seller lists.

The novels have taken off with a new generation of readers, which experts have noted steers the popular comic-style genre to a more female audience. Meanwhile, fans of the original series, which first started publishing in 1986 and chronicled the lives of a fictional group of 12-year-old babysitters, get to experience the books all over again.

Superfans like 41-year-old Erika Dole of Ottawa never stopped.

Submitted by Erika Dole
Submitted by Erika Dole

Dole told CBC News she read the books as a kid and then starting collecting them again when she graduated university in 2005.

"I was feeling that kind of nostalgia for being young, and needed something that was comforting. So I thought, 'You know what? I'm going to complete my collection,'" she said.

The books follow the adventures of a group of middle-school girls living in fictional Stoneybrook, Conn., who start a baby-sitting club. Each book typically follows one of the characters at a time, who each have their own backstories (and inspire fan favourites — creative Claudia Kishi is often a front-runner).

Amid baby-sitting adventures, the characters face typical teen issues ranging from crushes and bullies to divorced parents, but the books also tackle more serious topics like eating disorders, death and racism.

Dole has spent the last few decades collecting 231 of the original books (including the entire original series), scouring second-hand shops, garage sales and used book stores in and around Ottawa to add to the 30 or so titles she'd kept from her childhood. She just added the final missing piece two months ago — from a spin-off called The California Diaries — after snagging a copy from Value Village.

Now, Dole says she hopes that someday her four-year-old daughter might be interested in reading them. But she's happy to turn to her collection of books herself for a "quick comfort" when needed.

"I'm going to keep them forever," she said with a laugh.

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'Rabid fans'

It's difficult to describe the hold Martin's books had on a generation of young readers in the 1980s and '90s. It's considered one of the most successful children's book series in publishing history, according to Scholastic, the publisher, and was the first children's book series to appear on the USA Today bestseller list.

"Just about every 8- to 13-year-old American girl alive are rabid fans," the New York Times wrote in 1989.

At the time, the newspaper noted the books were "the most successful paperback juvenile series in the country." There were more than 11 million copies of the 21 titles published so far in print, the paper noted. In just one week, nine titles were among the top 20 list put out by B. Dalton, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble.

''I would never tire of them,'' Nicole Zajack, age 13, said in the 1989 article. ''Never. Never. Never.''

Submitted by Erika Dole
Submitted by Erika Dole

In all, there were about 250 titles published in the entire series, which also included super-specials, mysteries, super-mysteries and a few other spin-offs. There was also the Baby-Sitters Little Sister companion series for younger readers, which had 122 books.

There was a fan club. There was merch (and you can bid on some of it on eBay, like a $430 original Jessi doll from 1993). There was a 1990 television adaption, a 1995 movie, and later, a 2020 Netflix series. Bookseller Indigo sells "retro sets" of the original books, a term *cough* some original readers might find offensive.

WATCH | The official trailer for The Baby-Sitters Club movie:

Much like the Goosebumps series, The Baby-Sitters Club was one of the first to target girls aged nine to 12, Julie Rak, a professor in the English and Film Studies department and the University of Alberta who researches literature and publishing, told CBC News.

Some of its success likely lies in the fact that the heroines had agency — they started their own business and relied on each other to solve problems, Rak said. And then there was the format of the books themselves, which were plentiful and formulaic.

"You knew what you were getting, but that has its own comforts," she said.

Graphic novels take off

In 2006, a year after Scholastic launched its graphic novel imprint Graphix, founder David Saylor took a gamble and published the first Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel. At the time, there was some pushback from teachers and parents about graphic novels not really being considered books, Saylor told Publishers Weekly in March.

So, he selected a book parents and teachers grew up reading themselves, he said, and the gamble paid off. There are currently 15 of the graphic novels in print and, as Scholastic points out, all of them have been on best-seller lists. There are also graphic adaptations of seven of the Little Sister books.


The graphic adaptations were a very smart move, Rak said, noting that even though graphic novels are hugely popular, they are more often steered to male readers.

"Graphic novels don't have to do that, and so they can appeal to female readers, as well as boys who don't want to read about super heroes, of course."

Ellie Berger, the president of Scholastic Trade, told CBC News in an email statement that the books are classics that still resonate with kids and adults around the world thanks to universal themes of friendship, family, empowerment and entrepreneurialism.

"Today the popularity of the series is as strong as ever, with kids devouring the bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptations," Berger said in the statement, adding that more graphic novels are "coming soon."

Submitted by Arley Nopra, Scholastic
Submitted by Arley Nopra, Scholastic

A 'built-in echo audience' 

Ariella Borsuk, 39, of Ottawa, told CBC News she started reading the books when she was in Grade 3, and probably read them all at least 30 times — sneaking in books at recess, in the bath, and before bed. Now, she reads the graphic novels with her children, who are ages seven and nine.

"It's so fun to share these books with my kids, and honestly, these books had a huge impact on me," Borsuk said.

"I became fascinated with ASL because of Jessi's Secret Language and studied it in university. Medicine and the human body have been special interests of mine that started with Stacey and learning about diabetes. I took art history classes because of Claudia."

Submitted by Ariella Borsuk
Submitted by Ariella Borsuk

There's a "built-in echo audience" with a younger generation of fans now, said Duncan Stewart, a consumer-forecasting analyst for Deloitte who lives in Toronto and specializes in media and technology, including book publishing.

Assume someone born between 1980 and 1990 had their first kids sometime in between 2010 and 2015 or so, he explained. They probably have fond memories of the series.

"Now they're sitting with with their daughters and reading them? Makes sense to me," Stewart said.

As for Dole, the collector in Ottawa, her next goal is to nab one of the sought-after original covers. Artist Hodges Soileau was commissioned to create oil paintings for the covers in the 1980s, and most of them have already been sold to avid fans.

On his Instagram account, Soileau recently posted that he just sold another and only has a few left. The comments are full of fans clamouring for the remaining few.

"I have tried," Dole said with a sigh.

Instagram/Hodges Soileau
Instagram/Hodges Soileau