Lessons from The Baby-sitters Club

Hi Folks! Here’s a lovely essay by The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Vanderkam about, well, the cultural significance of The Baby-sitters Club.

Yes, I know how ridiculous (or at least American Studies for Dummies) that sounds. And yet — you don’t sell 176 million copies of any series without making some kind of impression on society. And the impression young readers got from the girls in the Club was that kids their age could actually be responsible and make money. Like adults! As Ms. Vanderkam puts it:

Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism and bossy boyfriends are bad, [author Ann M.] Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world.

Right on! One of the Free-Range notions is that kids long to be adults, and that’s a good thing. The human desire to grow up motivates kids to learn and strive and get a paper route. (Remember paper routes? Remember papers?) It is our job to help them along that path, rather than putting up a big, “CAUTION!” sign and marching them back to the ExerSaucer.

About a year ago I posted a query asking, “What age did you babysit? And what age babysitter would you hire now?” The discrepancies amazed me. Grown women who had cared for kids, even infants, at age 10 or 11 now wouldn’t let their 13-year-old stay home for an hour alone at night. And they sure wouldn’t trust their toddlers to a 12-year-old.

Scholastic’s Baby-sitters Club, about to be re-issued (with a new prequel, too!), reminds us that not very long ago at all, we trusted “tweens” to do more than just text. God, maybe we didn’t even call them tweens. — Lenore

Hey Scholastic: Don’t Sell Our Kids Product Tie-In Dreck

Here’s a campaign it’s easy to get behind, “Tell Scholastic: Put the Book Back in Book Clubs.”

It’s sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood http://www.commercialexploitation.org/ , which noticed that a whole lot of the items for sale through those little Scholastic book club flyers were either NOT books, or were books that come with little doodads like jewelry or toys.  Let’s call them “Happy Meal” books.

Scholastic enjoys a very privileged position in childhood in that it is allowed to advertise in the schools, via those flyers. You don’t see Toys R Us handing out catalogs during reading workshop, and yet the two companies are selling a lot of the same stuff.  Scholastic’s “book club” items include the M&M’s Kart Racing Wii video game, a Princess Room Alarm, a Monopoly SpongeBob SquarePants computer game and that great educational tool: Lip gloss.

This is not to mention a Hannah Montana bracelet.

Scholastic should be flush with the profits from Harry Potter, for God’s sake. Using the schools to sell our kids on dreck like an M&M Wii game is like selling pina coladas in the cafeteria instead of milk.

Although I guess if schools did that, they might have a lot more parent volunteers at lunch.

Here’s the campaign’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Campaign-for-a-Commercial-Free-Childhood/43207060421

— Lenore