April 20, 2006


The Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Great Idea. By Ann M. Martin. Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier. Graphix/Scholastic. $16.99 hardcover; $8.99 paperback.

     Scholastic’s Graphix imprint has done something really interesting with this transformation of the first book in Ann Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club series for girls ages 9-12: it has taken the implied visual quality of the ever-popular series and used it to create a surprisingly effective graphic novel.  Raina Telgemeier gets the basic look of the four girls – Kristy, Stacey, Mary Anne and Claudia – just right.  She nicely balances talk-heavy panels with wordless ones (a sequence in which a baby-sitting job turns out to be for two dogs instead of two kids is a particularly good example of the latter).  And she includes enough about each girl to individualize her – family issues, health concerns and so on – while keeping the focus on the girls’ friendship and the club that stands as its symbol.

     Martin’s series runs to well over 100 volumes, with more than 175 million books in print.  The series works because it is, at heart, a simple story of friendship, on which virtually unending variations can be rung.  Telgemeier’s visualization of the first book of the series makes the strengths clear from the outset.  We meet Kristy first as she daydreams through the end of a seventh-grade class and gets extra homework for being a bit too enthusiastic about the end of the school day.  The baby-sitting connection shows up early, as Kristy rushes home to take care of her little brother, David Michael.  We meet Mary Anne, Kristy’s best friend, as well as Kristy’s divorced mom, who is dating a man of whom Kristy does not approve.

     The family and interpersonal dynamics play out nicely.  Mary Anne is an only child, and her father is a widower.  Claudia has a super-smart older sister; the girls are being raised by their grandmother.  Stacey is new in town – her family has moved from New York, but they keep returning to the big city for mysterious reasons that eventually cause (well, almost cause) a rift among the four girls.

     None of this will be news to fans of Martin’s books: Telgemeier follows the setup of the series closely. Her black-and-white illustrations are unsubtle but quite appropriate.  She mostly uses standard comic-book boxes to move the story along – very few of the more creative illustrative techniques that graphic novels have pioneered or brought to new heights.  Most panels have plenty of white in the background, though some are drawn against black – an effective contrast.  The wordless panels, which set scenes and enhance characters, are among the best.  Some of the baby-sitting scenes are actually better in the compressed visual format than in print, such as Claudia’s successful “taming” of the raucous Feldman kids.

     There is old-fashioned charm to Martin’s books, though some of the language and clothing styles have been updated over the years.  Telgemeier manages to retain the charm while giving the girls a great deal of visual punch and overall liveliness.  Current fans of Martin’s books should enjoy seeing them in this new way – and kids who do not yet know the books will find Telgemeier’s visualization a very pleasant introduction.

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