Author: Raina Telgemeier, based on the original series by Ann M. Martin
Genre: Middle Grade graphic novels
Date Read: March/April 2016
Reading Challenge: 2016 Rejects Challenge
1) A book in a genre you don’t normally read – Kristy’s Great Idea
2) A book you can finish in a day with a title that starts with the word “The” – The Truth About Stacey
3) A book with a word in the title that describes a time of day/night – Mary Anne Saves the Day
4) A book that is short but packs a real punch – Claudia Saves the Day
The Baby-sitters Clubs series is a middle grade series about a group of young teens who decide to start a babysitting service in their neighbourhood, after seeing the difficulty families have finding a sitter. Each of the books in the graphic novel remakes of the first four in the original series focuses on one of the main characters.
In Kristy’s Great Idea, we learn how Kristy develops the original idea for the club after witnessing her own mother’s struggle to reach a sitter for her younger brother. In The Truth About Stacey, the focus is on Stacey, who recently moved from New York and is embarrassed to let her friends know that she is diabetic. In Mary Anne Saves the Day, timid Mary Anne wants to prove to her overprotective father that she is more grown up, and the friends have their first major fight. In Claudia and Mean Janine, Claudia tries to cope with her beloved grandmother Mimi having a stroke, and her difficult relationship with her older sister Janine.
Why I Chose Them:
The Baby-sitters Club was a major staple of my childhood. It was one of the first series that I really latched onto, collecting and reading as many of the books as I could (in the main series at least, not necessarily the spin-offs). Growing up, I related strongly to several of the characters and have occasionally wanted to re-read some of the series. I chose the graphic novel series as a kind of middle ground, so I could revisit the stories but in a format that I don’t read very often. I actually read all of the books before I decided to take on the Rejects challenge, so I fit them into prompts after the fact.
When I first started reading this series, I was a bit torn. On the one hand, I thought they were very well done as remakes of the original series. Each graphic novel was true to the original story and to the characters, and I really enjoyed the simple and colourful artwork. It was great to see some of my old favourite characters really come to life in new ways, including the children that the girls babysat for. On the other hand, I was not really sure that these books really needed to be adapted into a graphic novel format. With the original books being so straightforward and simple to read in the first place, it seemed strange to remove most of the text. However, by the end of the fourth book, I was won over.
Kristy’s Great Idea (KGI) was a great introduction to the four main characters, and the origins of the club itself. I loved how each of the girls was illustrated in a way that showcased their personality and kept them distinct from other characters.This book really brought back memories of reading the original series. My one minor complaint with this book, and especially with The Truth About Stacey (TTAS), is how some of the major plot points really don’t age very well. The girls start their babysitting service at age 12, and are immediately trusted alone with infants and very young children. While I get that this was the case at the time when these books were set (although to be fair, a timeframe is never really established), it is not very realistic today and makes some of the plot a bit unbelievable.
In the first two books, I was also a bit put off by how much of an issue was made of Stacey’s diabetes. I can understand that someone her age may be embarrassed about being different from everyone else, but the reactions to her condition seemed very over the top. I remember this being irritating for me at the time when I read the original story (keep in mind that I was probably about 8 or 9 at the time), and it was even more frustrating now. You have to give the author some credit for staying true to the source material, but that doesn’t necessarily make the source any less problematic. The majority of TTAS ended up being about her attempts to hide her diabetes from her friends out of fear for how they would react, a storyline that did not age well for me.
One of the elements that the graphic novels really got right was depicting the emotions and dynamic relationships between characters, which made Mary Anne Saves the Day (MASTD) and especially Claudia and Mean Janine (CAMJ) stand out for me. In MASTD, the girls have a massive argument that breaks out over a relatively small issue, and quickly escalates into name-calling, hurt feelings and the silent treatment. Even though the fight was so silly, it was easy to see the impact it had on the friendships and it brought a new, deeper level to their interactions. This was also the first book, both in the graphic novel and the original series, where you really get to see Mary Anne’s personality come through. She is a very timid, quiet character who can be easily pushed around, and this book throws her right into the deep end when she has an emergency at a babysitting job that she must deal with alone.
The true highlight of the series for me was CAMJ, which ironically was one of the original stories that I had very little memory of. In it, we get a deeper look into Claudia’s home life, where she is struggling academically and faces constant comparison to her older sister, Janine, who is a genius. This book deals with Claudia’s relationship with her sister as well as their grandmother, Mimi, who suffers from a stroke, initially losing all ability to move or speak. Claudia is extremely close to Mimi and has a difficult relationship with her sister, who she feels is her parents’ favourite. I thought this book did an incredible job of portraying the relationship dynamics within the family, especially between Claudia and Janine. It is rare that a children’s book could tackle sensitive issues such as sibling rivalry and caring for older relatives in such an age-appropriate and meaningful way. This was easily the standout of the series.
Overall, while I am still not convinced that a graphic novel series was really needed, I found myself wishing that the rest of the books had been adapted as well. Raina Telgemeier did a fantastic job at bringing this series back to life, and I enjoyed reading them.
Ratings (10 point scale):
*Note: These ratings are for the series as a whole. I have also included an overall individual rating for each book
Overall Rating: 8
Kristy’s Great Idea: 8
The Truth About Stacey: 8
Mary Anne Saves the Day: 9
Claudia and Mean Janine: 10