Conversation-starters in the new Baby-Sitters Club series for parents and kids

The Netflix Baby-Sitters Club adaptation is delightfully engaging in such a way that parents and tweens can watch it together. And they should. The 10 episodes of season one are more than just a nostalgic nod. This adaption truly brings Ann M. Martin’s series to life, infusing the 1980s stories with contemporary characters and a surprising array of complex issues. Prosocial without the cheese, this show presents a number of topics that emerge naturally in the narrative. From a parenting perspective, these moments are great segues into discussions about (sometimes difficult) topics. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to watch the series. Otherwise, spoilers ahead.

BSC Conversation Starters: Overarching Themes

  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation. An easy one since the whole premise is a 13 year-old’s business idea, plan, and implementation. You can discuss why the BSC ultimately succeeds, while the Baby-Sitters Agency does not. Ask your kids what kind of business they would like to have. What would it take to carry out the business (i.e. cost, supplies, people involved, marketing, etc.)? Is it feasible right now? Or in a few years? You could also read more about successful kid entrepreneurs.
  • Friendship. What are the characteristics of a good friend? How can you resolve a fight? We see several escalations smoothed out in the different episodes.
  • Adaptation. Fans of the books and graphic novels cannot resist discussing narrative and character adaptation in the series. What was kept the same? What was changed for TV? Why? In this conversation, you can talk the importance of diversity in representation and that subbing in different physical characteristics doesn’t mean that the character isn’t well-portrayed. Blue-eyed blonde Dawn in the books became a dark-haired Latina in the Netflix series — retaining and extending the traits of the original character. More broadly, you can discuss the process and challenge of adapting books into movies and TV shows (check out this post on adaptations).

BSC Conversation Starters: Episodic Themes

The Netflix adaptation doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. In fact, it seamlessly integrates many issues in a non-threatening, stigmatizing way.

  • First Periods & Menstruation. Given the age group of the BSC, it makes sense that menstruation might come up. It’s nice to see this natural part of growing up addressed, briefly in the pilot and then directly in “Kristy’s Big Day” (adding a second meaning to the “big day”).
  • Gender Identity. A topic that is so important, yet may be difficult to bring up out of the blue. “Mary Anne Saves the Day” by defending her babysitting charge, Bailey, insisting that the health professionals treating her use the correct pronouns. Not only does this moment highlight problems of trans-treatment and patient advocacy in health care, it also demonstrates the agency and empowerment of young people. Earlier in the episode, Dawn casually explains gender identity to Mary Anne in a non-judgmental, easy-to-understand manner. Their fictional conversation prompted a good real-life chat for my kids and me.
  • Internment of Japanese Americans. The forced relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II is often omitted in historical recaps of the era. In “Claudia and Mean Janine,” Grandma Mimi’s stroke leaves her painfully recalling memories of an internment camp as a child. This storyline naturally leads to a history lesson about what happened in the U.S. during WWII that isn’t usually talked about.
  • Protesting Injustice. Dawn and Claudia lead a peaceful protest against the staff in the “Camp Moosehead” episodes about the inequality of camp activities. It’s a relatable narrative that’s easy to connect to bigger, real-life issues of injustice.

We shouldn’t dismiss the value of enjoyable popular culture. Rather, we can use shows like The Baby-Sitters Club as a bridge to important discussions. Considering how hard to reach tweens and teens can be, it’s helpful to have a ticket into these conversations.

Why We Need the Netflix Baby-Sitters Club Reboot (and Its Timeless Appeal)

As an avid (well, obsessed) BSC fan in my youth, I was excited when Netflix announced its reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club, scheduled for early July this year. Three months later, as I am drowning in the stress of working and parenting in a pandemic, paired with my school-aged kids needing something to do, the timing of this release has never been better.

From my days reading the original titles in the ’80s, Ann M. Martin’s concept has evolved into multiple series of over 200 books, a TV show (1990), soundtrack (1992), feature film (1995), video game (1996) and 7 graphic novels (2006 — ), with six more scheduled to be released over the next few years. Why do these characters continue to translate across platforms and generations?

To me, The Baby-Sitters Club was much more than just a series. I enjoyed other books, but only in Ann M. Martin’s world did I feel completely immersed. At one point, I even thought The Baby-Sitters Club actually existed. I dreamed about moving to Stoneybrook and joining Kristy and the gang, imagining which role I could take on in the club (snack-supplier? Poster maker?). My identification with these characters as I read, and reread (and reread) their stories helped me to escape my own reality, particularly when life became tough at home due to my parents’ divorce and subsequent remarriage.

I suspect that new generations embrace the BSC for the same reasons I did from age 8–13. While the technology has definitely changed from Claudia’s landline, the foundational themes of this series continue to be relevant. Most tween and adolescent readers can relate to making new friends, learning to be independent, dealing with a bully, living with a chronic condition, taking care of kids, dating, losing a grandparent, divorce, moving away, adjusting to camp, and the many other issues addressed in these stories.

The varying perspectives of the BSC also help to explain its longevity. Each book features a different central character as the narrator rotates among the seven club members, offering a variety of traits, fashions, and interests. As a reader, each character’s perspective interested me for different reasons. I was most like Kristy personality-wise, found Stacey’s diabetes and Mallory’s big family to be intriguing, envied both Claudia’s artsy style and Dawn’s natural ways, wanted to learn sign language like Jessi, and admired Mary-Anne’s journey toward independence. With so many characters, it’s easy to identify with one, even across generations.

Netflix couldn’t have planned for better timing. My 40-something age-group desperately needs a taste of comforting nostalgia that can be shared with our kids right now. Thankfully, they are well-acquainted with the BSC characters, thanks to the graphic novels — a genius marketing crossover that refreshed the series. As with Fuller House, it will be nice to step into another familiar narrative that I can view with my girls, allowing us to escape into (what appears to be) a 1990ish-type relatively carefree teen TV world. Unlike our current reality, the BSC is always predictable and optimistic — a perfect show for a pandemic. Plus, I still dream about its existence, especially as I work from home without childcare.