When people hear the name Ann M. Martin, they naturally think of her wildly popular Baby-sitters Club series. What was supposed to be just a four-book set turned into a 130-book saga, not counting the 120-book series for younger readers, Baby-sitters' Club Little Sisters and other spin-offs. In recent years, she's added other series about children and teens experiencing challenging times, but she will always be known for The Baby-Sitters Club books, several of which are now graphic novels.
Why did these books about four very different middle-school friends take off on the bestseller lists? The secret must lie with Ann's gift for remembering her feelings throughout childhood and young adulthood. She was a babysitter herself, and a lot of the things that she writes happened to the babysitters on the job happened to her or her friends. She also remembers what it feels like to lose a parent, have an annoying little sister, and deal with family secrets.
Before the Baby-Sitters
As a child, Ann loved to tell stories. Before she could write, she would dictate them to her mother. She says that she was a pretty moody teenager, but it helped to have parents who were creative and easy going. She kept babysitting in high school and continued once she was in college. She graduated from Smith with two degrees: one in psychology and one in early childhood education. Her first job out of college was working with learning disabled kids at an elementary school. She picked up a lot on how kids do and don't fit in and how it makes them feel. These were more memories that would make their way into her stories.
She next decided to work with children's books. Ann was an editor at Pocket Books, Scholastic, and Bantam, all large publishing houses. Her first book, Bummer Summer (not a BSC book!), deals with parents' divorce, remarriage, and a really terrible time at sleep-away summer camp. Another good summertime book is Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far). It's a sequel to Ten Rules for Living with My Sister. Now, Pearl has to deal with having her sister as her junior counselor at camp, getting into a bad fight with her friend, and trying to help her family when her dad loses his job.
It Runs in the Family
Have you ever wondered how families get to be the mixed up way they are? To understand why people act the way they do, it can be really helpful to understand their family backgrounds. The Family Tree series follows several generations of girls in one family, showing how their luck and other family members' behavior changed them - and how they as women would go on to influence their children. It's fascinating stuff and begins with Better To Wish. Eight-year-old Abby Nichols' mom has died during the Great Depression, and it's up to her to take care of the rest of the family. This means her dreams of going to college and being a writer will likely have to wait. But that's just the beginning as readers can follow what happens to her, her children, and her grandchildren in their realistically complicated lives.
When Everything's Changed
Ann Martin has a new series of books for tweens set in the present. The Main Street series finds sisters Flora and Ruby in a sad situation. Their parents have both been killed in a car crash, so the sisters must move in with their grandmother, who lives far away in a small New England town and runs a sewing shop. Everything is new to them - their school, their neighbors, and, eventually, their friends. Things aren't simple, but they manage to find joy in new beginnings.
If you like adventure stories with dogs at the heart of them, Ann has written some great books for you. In Everything for a Dog, meet Bone, an orphaned dog looking for a home, and Molly, a pet who helps her grieving owner. Then, there's Henry who wants a dog more than anything. A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray introduces Squirrel, Bone's sister, who tells how her life changed with different humans - good and bad.
Although Ann Martin has written many books about children, she doesn't have any of her own, but she enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews. You can write Ann through her agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House, Inc., 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010. She also has a FaceBook page.
Fun Facts about Ann and Her Books
- She was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on August 12, 1955.
- She ran her own library as a child and charged her friends overdue fines.
- She has 180 million books in print in nineteen languages.
- The BSC (Baby-Sitters Club) series was made into a movie and a television show.
- During the height of the BSC craze, she was churning out two books per month. She did get other writers to help her keep up with the demand.
- She starts writing at 5:30 in the morning.
- The first BSC book is entitled Kristy's Great Idea.
- The last BSC book is entitled Graduation Day.
- Baby-sitter Kristy is based on her best friend from middle school, Beth Perkins
- She loves to do needlework, just like BSC member Mary Anne.
- Many girls, inspired by her stories, have started their own baby-sitter clubs.
Beyond the Babysitters
These books by Ann Martin are great reads for girls who are in-between childhood and their teen years:
Me and Katie (the Pest)
Wendy's little sister is an adorable, piano-playing genius, and Katie is just an average girl. With all the attention Katie gets, you'd think she'd be able to let Wendy have one activity to herself. But no, when she finds out Wendy will be having riding lessons, the Pest just has to steal the show… again!
This is a sequel to Stage Fright.
With You and Without You
Liza's beloved dad is going to die. The family knows this. He's been sick for a long time, and the doctors say he's only got a few months left to live. It's hard and almost unreal to Liza as they try to make his last Christmas a good one. But even with the chance to say goodbye and do all the special things one final time, Liza and her family have difficulty facing what comes after his death.
Belle's family might be poor, but so are most of the kids at Coker Creek Elementary. Like the rest of the women in her family, she has a good heart and stands up for what she knows is right. When the first black children come to integrate her school that fall, she's determined to be a steadfast friend, no matter what anyone says.
P.S. Longer Letter Later
Ann Martin teams up with another terrific author, Paula Danziger, to tell the stories of two very different girls (one dyes her hair, the other likes cross-stitch) who keep their friendship going across the miles, even when things get tough.
Their friendship continues in Snail Mail No More.
A Corner of the Universe
"Oh, Ho! Hattie Owen!"
Hattie's Uncle Adam bursts on to the scene of what should have been just another quiet and lonely summer. Adam is different from anyone Hattie has ever met. His emotions are wild, twisting from joy to fear to anger with the suddenness of a carnival's roller coaster. In this life-changing season, 12-year-old Hattie learns that secrets can be destructive, love often comes with pain, and you should never be afraid to lift the corners of the Universe and see what others won't. A Newbery Honor Book.
On the Web
Ann M. Martin
A letter from Ann about her hometown library, an Ask Ann forum, fast facts about her life, and information about her upcoming books.
Biography in Context: Ann M. Martin
Solid articles from Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Contemporary Authors, and Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Very good for school reports. You will need a CRRL library card to use this.