Book it back to your childhood.
“It was hugely ahead of it time. Now we’re looking to make sure we’re seeing books focusing on girls and women, and showing how they can take leadership roles ... and these books were a nice depiction of what it means to be a young lady creating a business for yourself, relying on your friends, and having to struggle with that,” Fortgang said. “They’re entirely self-sufficient.”
“The Baby-Sitters Club” — the middle-school series about tween entrepreneurs who learned life lessons while running a suburban babysitting monopoly — is coming to the Amazon-owned AMZN, +1.47% Audible and being adapted for Netflix NFLX, +0.34% within the next several months.
The series follows a group of 11 to 13-year-old girls in the fictional town of Stonybrook, Conn., who start a local business sitting for their families and neighbors. Each book is told from the perspective of a different girl, so Audible tapped several voice actors to narrate each characters’s series of novels (apart from the first five books that Fanning guest narrates on.)
Because some parts of the beloved 80s and 90s-era books are dated — such as the core concept that parents are trusting their young children, and sometimes infants, with 13-year-old girls. (These were times when “free-range kids” who walked to school alone were the norm, before helicopter and snowplow parenting became a thing.)
Plus, the 33-year-old series takes place before everyone was available 24/7 by cellphone, text and email, so the club met in Claudia’s bedroom for parents to call and schedule appointments by landline each week. “The notion that they have this whole group based upon landline phone calls that take place three days a week between 5:30 and 6 p.m ... that stuff is hilarious now,” said Lauren Fortgang, who plays Abby (who came along later in the series). “And it worked flawlessly. Meanwhile, without call waiting, if every parent in town was calling during a half-hour window, there would be a permanent busy signal.”
But in many ways, the books were also ahead of their time. The club includes members who come from single-parent and blended families. One girl (Stacey) has diabetes. Bahni Turpin plays Jessi, an 11-year-old ballet student who becomes one of the first African-Americans to move to the mostly-white town in the story.
“She was a little black girl living in the suburbs — and I was that; that we moved to the suburbs when I was 12. And (Jessi) does talk about the fact that there was a little racism, some pushback about her family moving into the neighborhood. So I like that there is conflict, there is struggle,” she said. “It’s really great to have all these strong characters, and for kids to learn that everyone is not supposed to be the same.”
Fortgang agrees. “As an adult reading them, now I see there’s actually some pretty deep issues from book to book, dealing with death, or illnesses, or just interpersonal relationships,” she said. “Growing up with the struggles of what these other girls were facing made a really relatable guidebook.”
Read the full interview with Elle Fanning, Lauren Fortgang, Bahni Turpin, and Vanessa Johansson at MarketWatch.