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Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Share part of your own childhood with these classic books from the '80s

Tina Cha

Published on: October 16, 2020

Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Book cover: ‘The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and Mean Janine’ by Ann M. Martin

‘The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and Mean Janine’ by Ann M. Martin

This is not the first in the “Club” franchise that kicked off in 1986 (it is No. 7 out of 131 of the original series), however “Claudia and Mean Janine” provides much-needed diversity in what is a rather homogeneous range of middle-grade books. Much of the concept behind the BSC franchise relies on ‘80s technology to make sense: Middle-school girls meet as a club a few times a week and answer (landline) phone calls from families in the neighborhood looking for a sitter. No cell phones, texting or YouTube to tell their stories.

What is timeless is the friendship of the girls, and the still-relevant themes of divorce, stepfamilies, widowed parents, sibling rivalry, crushes and responsibility. In “Claudia and Mean Janine,” the Kishi family is forced to adjust their lives when 13-year-old Claudia’s grandmother, Mimi, suffers a stroke. In this particular story, Claudia and her 16-year old sister Janine struggle with unspoken jealousy and resentment, as each believes the other to be “the favorite” in the family.

While the original series is fun to go back to, there isn’t really a need, as Ann M. Martin has found a new lease on the franchise with a series of popular graphic novels (adapted by Raina Telgemeier and later Gale Galligan) and a 2020 Netflix adaptation for which she serves as producer. The television series does take some liberties in the storytelling (for instance, in the “Claudia and Mean Janine” episode, the writers incorporate a backstory for Mimi that she had been in a Japanese internment camp during World War II). The new series also provides more diversity in its casting and storylines than Martin did decades ago in the books.

Both remixes of the ‘80s classic are excellent, keep with the spirit of the original and give us old parents another way to share a part of our childhood with our kids.

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