Series books were hardly new by the time they reached the ’80s. The Bobbsey twins had been around since 1904; they had already been to several Camps and Carnivals and had safely solved the Smoky Mountain Mystery. Then there were all those “sleuths” and “adventurers” of earlier years, spry youngsters with names like Betty Gordon, Poppy Ott and the Girl Aviators—to say nothing of Nancy Drew.
All the same, the boys and girls—mostly girls—of our generation found ways to break free from the literary stalwarts of our mothers and grandmothers. Prostrating ourselves on the steps of publishing castles Scholastic and Random House, we were rewarded with series of a scope, scale and publishing frequency never before matched. We stacked nightstands with books of uniform size, with numbers on the front covers and spines of all the colors on the color wheel. We got Goosebumps; we learned Girl Talk; we had favorite American Girls, and usually a favorite American Girl outfit or furniture set.
Yet there was one series that clearly stood above the rest. Begun in 1986, it soon topped the children’s literature charts and spawned 131 titles, board games, a feature film and innumerable postcards and lunchboxes. During its reign, it created a mammoth tribe of devotees, now teens and twenty-somethings whose literary foundation was made of square building blocks, shaded in black, that together spell B-A-B-Y-S-I-T-T-E-R-S C-L-U-B.
For those not intimately familiar with the series, the books follow seven girls, members of the namesake Club, living in Stoneybrook, Conn. The girls are perpetually 13 or 11, bright, “responsible” and blessed with extraordinary time-management skills. They alternate as narrators, each with a distinct voice and backstory. Their club meets in the opening chapters and spring-boards each plot, as babysitting dates are made and followed through in subsequent chapters. Around the central members, a huge, busy network of families, teachers and innumerable baby-sittees orbit, forming a long, evolving story kept up with admirable thoroughness.
Fans will recall that all of the Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books bear Ann M. Martin as their author. Martin, then a freelance writer, was indeed called in to create the series by an editor at Scholastics, and the first 35 books are hers.
But at a certain point, Scholastic began putting out contracts for ghostwriters.
While many of them remain nameless, it turns out that one of the unsung Baby-Sitters comes from surprisingly (frighteningly?) close to home. He just celebrated his 25th reunion for the Harvard class of 1977. He was a biochemistry concentrator and a former director of the Krokodiloes. His name is Peter Lerangis—and, yes, he is a “he.”
With 43 BSC books under his belt, Lerangis is certainly an authority on matters Stacey, Dawn, etc. In addition to his BSC contributions, he has written over 100 other books, mostly under his own name. They include the award-winning science fiction series “Watchers” and a number of movie novelizations and young adult horror stories. He is currently working on an historical novel, set for release in 2003.
In an interview over e-mail, I asked Lerangis to reflect on his years with the BSC and what it’s like to be the Harvard graduate “most likely to throw like a boy and write like a girl.”