Allison's Book Bag

The Author of the Babysitters’ Club

Posted on: March 5, 2015

AnnMartinIf you are a woman who grew up reading books in the ’80s, you might have a soft spot for the name Ann Martin. She’s the author who created The Baby-Sitters Club, changing the literary lives and extracurricular career pursuits of girls in America with her serial paperback installments about Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne (and Dawn and Mallory and Jessi). Martin ultimately had a hand in some 300 books across multiple Baby-Sitters Club franchises, writing 100 of them and editing countless others, and selling 176 million copies from 1986 to 2000. Since then, she’s written several other novels including Rain Reign, a middle-grade book about an 11-year-old girl on the autism spectrum who loves homonyms and her dog.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Born in 1955, Martin grew up New Jersey with her parents and her younger sister. According to Scholastic, her parents read aloud to the sisters during their childhood. The family also went to the library every week and Martin always had a stack of books by her bedside. There was a 10-book limit and Martin would take out ten books every week. Her favorite genre was light fantasy: Dr. Doolittle, Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz.

Naturally, Martin grew up liking to tell stories. Even before she was old enough to write, Martin would draw pictures and then dictate stories for them to her mother to write down for her. Reading and writing have always been part of her life.

As for her adolescent years, Martin spent many of her summers vacationing at the beach on the Jersey shore with her friend, Beth, and their families. The girls swam, sunbathed, took walks, flirted with the lifeguards, and ate doughnuts at the jetty on the beach. Martin also often babysat. In school, her favorite subjects were reading, writing, and foreign language classes such as Spanish and French. Her least favorite class was Math. She always uses a calculator, and if she has to, she’ll count on her fingers!

After graduating from college, Martin taught, worked with kids who have autism, and then became an editor of children’s books. Her first book, Bummer Summer, was published in 1983 or when Martin was 28. Working in children’s publishing at the time, she knew about the different companies and agents. The biggest challenge was writing the book; it took her about three years. In comparison, finding a publisher was an easy task.

Throughout her subsequent long career, Martin has received letters from parents or teachers who write of reluctant-turned-avid readers, thanks to her books. She has been contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Starlight Foundation, about kids whose wish is to spend the day with her. In 1990, she founded the Ann M. Martin Foundation, which supports organizations that benefit education and literacy, neglected and abused animals and children.

Martin is now close to her sixties. After living in New York City for many years, Martin moved to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York where she now lives with her cats. She’s also started to scale back her writing hours, spending her afternoons on other hobbies. Her favorite thing to do is to make clothes for children. Martin tells Miami Herald, “I guess I consider myself semi-retired at this point. But I don’t ever see myself not writing books.”

For more trivia about Martin, check out: Fast Facts

SERIES BACKGROUND

There are people who remember reading the whole series. For some readers who were into them in the very beginning, a lot of stores had sign-up lists; the store would call as soon as the book came in. There are people out there trying to collect every book in the series, asking people if they can find them. But my favorite thing to hear about are people who grew up reading them, and have gone on to go into writing, become librarians, teachers, authors, editors. I just love hearing about that.

–Ann Martin, Elle

Martin had already written three novels for young readers, when she decided to try writing fulltime. According to Miami Herald, an editor who knew she was looking for projects suggested a title: Babysitters Club. It was up to Martin, however, to figure out what a Babysitters Club might be. The first book was published in 1986, featuring take-charge Kristy, the founder of the club whom Martin modeled after her best friend. She rounded out the original group with shy, obedient Mary Anne (the one Martin most identifies with), artistic and edgy Claudia and sophisticated Stacey. The original plan called for one book about each girl, and that would be all she wrote.

The books did so well, after the fourth, Scholastic signed up two more, then two more, and…. Elle observes that at this point, everything snowballed, and Scholastic was signing up 12 books at a time, and then the spin-offs. Martin didn’t write them all, which is no secret, they were coming out once a month for a long time. But even when she wasn’t writing them in their entirety, Martin was usually working on one a month. By the time the series ended, there were five related series, and there were around 300 titles.

Since ending the Babysitters Club series in 2000, Martin has concentrated on single novels, many of which are set in the 1960s. With these books, Scholastic notes that Martin appreciates having at least a year to work on them. This allows her percolating time.

BOOK BACKGROUND

After 14 years during which the babysitters stayed perpetual adolescents, Martin was eager to devote more time to other stories for children, the most recent being Rain Reign. Writing it involved a lot more of a leisurely process than the Babysitter Club books, allowing Martin to research, ask questions, and observe kids on the spectrum.

Main character, Rose, was decades in the making. Martin worked at a school for autistic kids during her summers in college. She also minored in special education. For years, she’d been reading about autism and Aspergers. Martin has even written twice before about kids with autism but never from the point of view of the person with autism. Over time, Scholastic reports Martin began to hear Rose’s voice and her fascination with homonyms and the other things that obsessed her.

Martin tells CNN that then everything became tied up in the idea of a storm and writing about a dog again. Martin and her editors had been talking about her writing another dog story. They had also talked about including super storm in some way because in Ulster County (New York), where Martin lives, they were hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Irene. All of these things came together at the same time: an autistic young person, a dog story, and the storm.

Martin admits to being almost as fascinated with homonyms as Rose is. She has a list too and shares with CNN, “It’s not as well-organized as hers, I’m constantly getting sidetracked. But I listen to books on tape, and when I hear a word that provides a new pair—like sword and soared!—I get so excited.” One of her favorites that Rose discovers and mentions towards the end of the book is “soared” and “sword”. Martin also says that what she wasn’t expecting as the story began to unfold were that some of the other things became almost as important as the homonyms. Martin wanted Rose to be obsessed with rules, but Rose’s interest in prime numbers and numbering names and seeing if they came out to a prime number hadn’t planned that at all. That just happened as part of Rose’s character.

According to Elle, another personal inspiration is Martin’s dog, Sadie, who died at the age of 15. Martin spent a lot of every day observing Sadie. She found it fascinating to watch her and likes to think having Sadie with helped her write more realistically about dogs. Martin sort of has a part-time dog now. Her neighbors have a little rescue poodle, Piper. Whenever they go away, she gets Piper.

Someone asked if I thought kids would understand Rose. There are so many kids diagnosed with being somewhere on the spectrum, and more are being included in classes with “normally learning children.” I think everyone knows someone who is like her. I look at the connections kids in the book make over a dog, and at the end, over homonyms. My hope is that kids, whether they know someone like Rose or don’t, would approach a child like her with a little bit more understanding, and see that they’re very like other kids.

–Ann Martin, Elle

I’ll be back later in March with a review of Rain Reign. Because I have spring break, March will be a little different for my posts. The first week I’ll post daily teasers and the second week I’ll post daily reviews. Save the date for my review of Martin’s book: March 12!

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