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The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before

Review

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before

Quick quiz: Who are Mary Anne, Claudia, Kristy and Stacey? Chances are, if you’re a woman in your 20s or early 30s, you know exactly who these four are: they’re the central characters of Ann M. Martin’s immensely popular Baby-sitters Club series of books, published between 1986 and 2000. The more than 100 original novels and spinoffs sold over 175 million copies, but have been out of print for some time. The series’ myriad fans have been clamoring for a re-release of the original novels or the publication of a sequel ever since the last book was published in 2000.

Well, they’re about to get at least part of their wish. Scholastic is republishing the first three titles in the original series, and Ann M. Martin has written a new book starring the four original members of the club. But, as you might be able to guess from the title, THE SUMMER BEFORE is not the “reunion” novel many fans had hoped for. Instead, it’s the story of the girls’ summer before seventh grade, the summer when many changes in their lives help define their friendship and result in Kristy’s eventual idea to form the famous club.

Since ceasing publication of the original series, Martin has been busy writing other books, including the Doll People series and the Newbery Honor-winning A CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE. But she seems more than capable of settling back into Stoneybrook, Connecticut, the small town where The Baby-sitters Club novels are set, and into these girls’ world of rapidly changing family and friendship dynamics.

THE SUMMER BEFORE finds Kristy, who had the original idea for the club, resentful of her mother’s growing relationship with a new boyfriend and still hoping that her father, who has remarried and moved across the country, will return to the family. Mary Anne, feeling both protective of and stifled by her widowed father, longs for the freedom to do something as innocent as babysitting with her best friend Kristy. Claudia, who increasingly feels more sophisticated than her doll-playing friends, wants to arrange her group’s first boy-girl party. And Stacey, at the book’s opening, hasn’t even moved to Stoneybrook yet; she’s still living in New York City but coming to terms with a move to the more peaceful suburban setting.

There have been a lot of changes in children’s literature since the last Baby-sitters Club book was released in 2000. In the context of similar novels published since then, THE SUMMER BEFORE seems sort of sweetly old-fashioned and innocent, a real throwback to the less risqué series fiction of the 1980s and 1990s. But some things --- worries about family changes, anxieties about changing bodies, feelings about boys, and challenges of rapidly shifting friendships --- haven’t changed so much after all.

It’s hard to believe that many of the original fans of The Baby-sitters Club are now old enough to have daughters ready to read the series. Clearly, however, that is the audience that Scholastic is hoping for with the publication of THE SUMMER BEFORE and reissue of the original series. Once again, girls will be able to laugh, love and grow along with the club as they find the books in their Scholastic book club fliers and at their local bookstores. And a whole new generation will grow up feeling like Mary Anne, Claudia, Kristy and Stacey are their friends, too.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 1, 2011

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before
by Ann M. Martin

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2011
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0545160944
  • ISBN-13: 9780545160940