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Baby-Sitters Club returns with a prequel and reissues

"Mary Anne," sighs David Levithan, a Scholastic Books editor who is working with Martin to revive the series. "The girls always wanted to be Claudia but always secretly thought they were more like Mary Anne. And the ones who were Mary Annes were always sort of ashamed of their Mary Anne-ness." Levithan is the keeper of the "Baby-Sitters Club" encyclopedia, a job he inherited as a 19-year-old intern at Scholastic. By that time, the books were written by a stable of ghostwriters -- Martin still provided the initial outlines -- and editors began to worry about continuity: What were the eight Pike kids' favorite foods? Which ear did Dawn have double-pierced? (Trick question. She had both.)

"The Baby-Sitters Club" had been conceptualized as a four-book miniseries. The run went well, so the publisher requested two more. Then two more. Then, if Martin remembers correctly, 12 more. "I think it was just one of those series with the kind of characters that were very easy for kids to relate to," says Martin, who has won a Newbery Honor for other works but is destined to forever be known as the BSC mom. "These girls could be your next-door neighbors."

The greatest trick the series ever pulled was making its young readers believe that junior high was something to look forward to -- that it would be a time of achieving independence and being treated like an adult. In other fictional tween worlds such as Sweet Valley (also being rereleased later this year), girls were always acting like 35-year-olds, stealing each other's boyfriends, plotting each other's humiliation. In Stoneybrook, seven girls of disparate backgrounds and varying levels of coolness all had one another's backs.

"Even when we were getting fan letters, we didn't understand how big it was," says Meghan Lahey, a former child actress who played Mary Anne in the HBO series and works as a college counselor (so Mary Anne of her!). "We were one of the first girl-focused shows out there."

Levithan says: "They were the 'Sisters of the Traveling Pants' before those pants ever traveled."

What became of . . .

Over the years, Martin has fielded hundreds of ideas from fans who cannot let go. How 'bout the babysitters graduate from high school? College? Get married? How 'bout the members of the Baby-Sitters Club have their own kids, and those kids form a babysitting club? She always resisted.

But nostalgia comes in waves, after appropriate intervals. The girls of the 1980s and '90s are having daughters of their own. Bring back Sweet Valley. Bring back the Cabbage Patch Kids. Bring back the things that we watched and read, ordered from those flimsy newsprint Scholastic catalogues. Women blog about the Baby-Sitters Club to mock their former selves but also to connect with them.

When Scholastic approached Martin about rereleasing the series, it was she who suggested the prequel -- something that would still give fans a brand new book but wouldn't take the series out of the middle-school world Martin loves writing about.

The sad truth is that "The Baby-Sitters Club" would never be formed today. Even from a logistical perspective, it's a technological relic. There might be a joint e-mail address or a BSC Facebook group, but there would be no need to gather around Claudia's special teen line every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5:30 to 6. As if parents today would rely on a bunch of 11-to-13-year-olds with no CPR training or drivers licenses, anyway.

"What if the prequel doesn't live up to my expectations?" Alison Twite, another BSC blogger, writes via e-mail. "Will I be able to handle it if the girls reference texting or e-mail? Or will you find me curled up in a corner hyperventilating because my childhood icons have left the time-space continuum they've been holed up in and joined the modern world?"

The biggest question Martin gets is, What ever happened to the girls? And did they stay best friends forever? Did the club split up? Did Mary Anne and Logan ever get married?

Martin could reveal what she thinks the girls are up to, but learning it might ruin the joy of speculation for fans. Do you want your babysitters all grown up, or do you want them eating Fritos in Claudia's bedroom, arranging a sitting job for Jamie and Lucy Newton?

For those who are ready to move into the future, Martin offers the following speculation.

Kristy became a CEO or a politician -- some profession requiring responsibility and authority. Mary Anne became a teacher. Stacey did something combining fashion and business; Claudia stuck with art. Jessi continued to dance, but not professionally, and Dawn never moved back from California. As for Mallory, Martin's not sure what happened to Mallory.

Maybe she got her degree in English and became the children's book writer she always dreamed of.

Or maybe she's still in Stoneybrook, the oldest professional babysitter in history, traveling from house to house with her Kid Kit, bicycling home in time for curfew.

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