Oh my gosh. Getting to this week's "Thought-Provoking" People has been a chore! I started out with one idea and the information I received was so bad that I had to abandon it last night. So, just because I wanted to get something out there, I decided to do a short post on someone I find amazing: Ann M. Martin. For those of you who may not remember the name, Martin is a children's book writer, and any girl who grew up in the mid-1980s probably remembers her best-selling Baby-Sitter's Club series. I devoured these books when I was about eight or nine, and continued to read and reread them well past the point when they were reading-level appropriate for me. I think that I knew most of the stories by heart. What is interesting is that I started to lose interest in the books sometime around #75 or #80. I always thought that this was because I was growing out of the series...oh, no. Apparently, Martin only wrote a bit over 60 of the books (and I don't know that she wrote many of the specials, most of which I hated). So, anyway, as a back-up "article" for this week, I present Ann M. Martin!
Ann M. Martin is largely responsible for me being an avid reader today. I still remember picking up the first Baby-sitter's Club book (there were eventually 213, though I didn't read all of them). In fact, I still have that book, along with about eight others that I considered to be my favorites. I don't really know why I loved the series so much. During an interview, Martin also pondered this question, and she came to the conclusion that readers enjoyed the novels so much because "they [the books] were stories of friendship, and this particular group of girls was very different from one another. They had different sets of problems, different home lives, different families, but they got along well together and worked well as a group. I think also because there were so many characters and they were so different, most readers could find at least one character with whom they could identify."
(I still remember this cover...and it is still one of my favorites today. Source: Amazon.com)
I suppose that all of that is true...but I think the main reason I loved this series is even simpler than that: I was reading about older girls who were living more mature lives than myself. Also, Martin exposed me to realities so different from my own. I learned about myself through getting to know and experience the emotions of these girls (Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey...and eventually Dawn and Mallory). Through their experiences, I found out about things I knew nothing about: divorce, single parents, strict parents, diabetes, a bit of Asian culture, etc.
(This is the cover of one of the most memorable books in the series for me: The Truth about Stacey. It was the first time I came across a character with diabetes and it was a good way for a child to learn about the disease. Source: http://www.fictiondb.com/author/ann-m-martin~the-truth-about-stacey~267676~b.htm)
I knew these girls. They were my own best friends and I was completely in their world when I opened one of Martin's books. Getting a new book was as much fun as getting a new toy. I couldn't wait for one to come out.
As for Martin, she was born on August 12, 1955, and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. She graduated from Smith College and became a teacher (who also worked with autistic children). From there, she entered the publishing world as an editor of children's books and then began writing her own books. She published her first children's novel, Bummer Summer, in 1980. She was twenty-eight-years-old when it was published (according to one site) and had been working on it for three years.
Her most famous series, The Baby-sitter's Club, began in 1986 (I say "most famous," but apparently she has some others gaining a huge readership now...we will see!). In a November 29, 2006, transcript of an interview on Scholastic's web site (see all transcripts here), Martin explained the origin of the series:"The idea for The Baby-sitter’s Club came from Jean Feiwel, who used to work at Scholastic. She had an idea for a mini-series about a group of friends who had created a baby-sitting club. So I created the four original main characters, thought about what a baby-sitting club might be, and that was the beginning!" The series lasted until the year 2000, but, as I said before, I stopped reading long before then! Most of my separation from the series was due to age, of course, but, like I said, after the group of books in the 70s or 80s in the series came out, I just noticed that something was changing. She had help, which doesn't surprise me. I can't imagine any author keeping up that series for so long! She had to produce one book a month, and those of us who know...well, that is a lot, even if you are "just writing children's books." (I say that with much sarcasm. Writing good children's books is one of the hardest careers out there.)
From that point until recently, Martin stuck with single titles. I have not read all of her books, but I do remember at twelve picking up Inside Out.
Again, in this book, Martin introduced me to something I had no experience with in my own life: autism. I have raved about this book for years and have recommended it to so many people. I don't even know if it is in print anymore, but, in my humble opinion, it is one of the most important books for children ever written. If it is not in print, it probably will be soon, considering the epidemic of autism that our country faces. I can't say enough positive about this one. It shaped my thinking about autism long before I met an autistic child, and that was good because it let me know what to expect and how to react to them. Martin is just such an amazing writer and teacher. She opens doors and gives children experience by living through the page.
And, yet, I can tell you almost nothing about her. I know she isn't married, that she lives in upstate New York and has occasional web interviews with children and students. She has lots of pets and enjoys sewing clothing for children. All in all, she seems shy, quiet, and a bit of a loner...but I could be wrong and probably am! She is a mystery and seems to downplay her success in all of the interviews I have read (and I haven't found many). I mean, everyone else recognizes the huge addition she created in the children's market--especially for girls. In a 2009 New York Times article titled "Comeback Planned for Girls' Book Series", the editorial director for Scholastic, David Levithan, described the huge following and business deals made from Martin. The series, he said, "garnered an ardent following among preteenage girls throughout its run of 213 titles, with the publisher ultimately printing 176 million copies…spawned several spinoffs, including a mystery series and a collection of books about Kristy’s little sister." And, as he also admits, those of us who are readers are loyal as hell. We still love Martin! (And, by the way, I love the photo they use of her...see the book cover illustration in the background?)
So, I don't know much about her, but I know that she is a fascinating person. Anyone who has experienced this kind of fame and has consistently produced valuable and quality literature has to be interesting--even if she may think that she isn't.
(A Newbery Honor Book, A Corner of the Universe is one of Martin's most recent titles, and a favorite of the author's. Source: Goodreads.com)
I was really excited to find out that one of her more recent novels, A Corner of the Universe, is a Newbery Honor Book. Martin says that this is one of her favorite books (see Oct. 25, 2005, transcript) because it helped her to "wor[k] out some family issues.” The book is about a man's mental illness and its impact on a young girl. I actually went to the store and bought it today, and I can't wait to read it. (It was a treat for finishing a draft of my introduction to the dissertation, you see.) In any case, that should testify to the power of this author. There aren't many authors I read as a child that I would be willing to pursue as an adult...and, here is the best news, the prequel to the Baby-sitter's Club books comes out in April (according to Amazon)! It is called The Summer Before. Yes. I will buy it. How could I not?
Anyway, thank you, Ann Martin, for making my childhood wonderful. For making me a reader...not to mention a successful babysitter. For those of you who don't know, I worked as a babysitter and nanny from the time I was twelve until just about five years ago. I only worked for a few families, moving to a new one when the kids outgrew me. But I still remember my first job, right across the street. (I even had the guide to babysitting that was published for the series.) And, yes, I had a "Kid Kit." It was a hit, too. (You will just have to read a book if you want to know what that is.) I learned how to deal with children from those books. I learned what to do in case of an emergency, how to be properly responsible, etc. And I was lucky enough to love the kids I took care of as well, just like the babysitters in the books. So much of my life, when I think about it, has been affected by reading Martin's stories. I guess we all have people or authors we can say that about, but for me...well, this is special. So, I end this post grateful that I had those books (and, by default, the author) in my life. Again, thank you, Ann Martin.