Ann M. Martin, author of The Baby-Sitters Club books, discusses her spin-off series, The California Diaries, now available on Kindle for the first time.
Early in 1985 I was getting ready to leave my job as an editor of children’s books at Bantam. I had been working in juvenile publishing for seven years, had seen the publication of the first three of my own books, was lining up freelance work, and was desperately hoping that I could make it as a full-time freelancer and writer. Also, I was desperately trying not to look at the button my mother had recently given me, the one that read I just wander from room to room. It seemed less than helpful at that juncture in my life.
I made call after call, lining up the writing of everything from TV novelizations (Why, yes, thank you, I would love to work on Punky Brewster picture books) to encyclopedia entries. And then Jean Feiwel telephoned. Jean and I had worked together during my years at Scholastic, Inc. She had an idea for a four-book miniseries titled “the Baby-Sitters Club” and wondered if I’d be interested in writing it. So I created the characters of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne and wrote one book about each girl. That was supposed to be the end of the series. It had been a nice way to enter the world of full-time writing and had allowed me to throw out the awful button from my mother.
But the Baby-Sitters Club blossomed in ways no one had expected. The books sold well, so Scholastic signed up two more. The sixth appeared on the B. Dalton bestseller list. Two more titles were signed up, and then twelve at a time, a year’s worth, as the books were published at the rate of one per month. Baby-Sitters Little Sister spun off as a series for younger readers. Eventually, there were Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries and Super Specials and Portrait books.
My editors and I brainstormed monthly about adventures for the characters, who had aged one year by the end of book ten. However, since the series showed no signs of slowing down, we’d realized that the main characters would have to remain permanently thirteen. (If they had aged in real time, they would have been twenty-six by the time the series ended in 2000.)
Permanently thirteen and in middle school. It wasn’t something I would have wished for myself. Furthermore, plotting so many, many books for characters who didn’t age and therefore didn’t grow much emotionally was becoming difficult. At the same time, BSC readers were aging, of course, and they wanted to read about the characters facing more mature situations and challenges. On the other hand, new readers were discovering the series for the first time; some of them were as young as six or seven. What to do?
The California Diaries were the solution. Set in California, where Dawn Schafer, introduced in BSC book four, had grown up, they centered on Dawn and her West Coast friends who now attended a school for students in grades eight to twelve. Older readers could follow Dawn into more advanced territory. Same characters, higher reading level, more mature stories. To further distinguish the books from the BSC series, the California Diaries appeared as journals, complete with lined pages and printed in handwriting fonts.
It was wonderful to be able to stretch my wings as a writer and to address the wishes of older BSC readers. The California Diaries, the last of the BSC spin-offs, seemed a fitting way to say good-bye to the characters introduced almost fifteen years earlier.