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Dion Ogust
Ann M. Martin

It all started with an idea.

A big idea.

No, not "Kristy's Big Idea," although that did come shortly after.

It was an editor's idea for a series title — The Baby-sitter's Club — and it was handed to Ann M. Martin, with instructions to figure out what exactly a baby-sitter's club might be and write about it.

Almost 25 years and approximately 250 titles later, Martin will forever be linked to a group of girls revered by millions.

When the series, and its five related series, ended in 2000, many thought that was the end of the club. But this spring, after a huge push from "alumni readers" who wanted the books back for themselves, their children and students, Scholastic and Martin decided to publish a new prequel and reissue the original books.

"I have to say that took me almost as much by surprise as the initial success of the stories," Martin said in a phone interview from her home outside Woodstock, N.Y. "It's been wonderful, but I didn't realize until more recently that there were so many passionate fans who had read the books when they were kids, and it's just been great."

The initial idea for The Baby-sitters Club intrigued Martin, who had done a lot of baby-sitting growing up. She expanded on the title, making a business for kids to run and then creating the characters — Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey.

Originally four books were planned, one for each girl. But the books were an instant hit, taking everyone by surprise. "Nobody expected that to happen," Martin said.

After the first four books, Scholastic cautiously signed up two more, and then two more after those, and then started signing up 12 at a time, putting out one a month.

It was a schedule Martin wasn't used to. It had taken her three years to write her first book and easily a year for each of the following two. So, by the time Scholastic wanted to publish one book a month, she was not prepared for it.

"It was hard to write so many books so fast," Martin said. "I did it for a while. But then the Little Sister books started coming out, and they were on the same schedule, so as you can imagine, there was no way I could write all of those books myself."

Martin wrote more than 100 books for the combined series, but soon the use of ghostwriters became a necessity. Martin did, however, outline and edit all the books she didn't write so that she had a hand in each one.

Above all, uniformity was key. "We kept the number of ghostwriters small because we wanted to maintain a consistent voice for the series," Martin said. "I wanted to work with a small group of writers who were as familiar with the characters as I was."

And it's those characters that young girls fell in love with. They're easy to identify with, Martin said. "The characters are truly people that readers can aspire to be. They're your next-door neighbors, they're your classmates."

And the themes of friendship and family that are presented in the books are timeless, Martin said. A lot of things have changed in the past 25 years, but a lot of things have stayed the same.

"I didn't necessarily want the stories to be issue-driven," Martin said. "But I also wanted the books to be appealing to readers. Some of the topics that were tackled were tackled because kids wrote in and asked for books on those subjects. … So I was also paying attention to what kids said they wanted to read about."

Scholastic has plans to reissue the first seven books with new covers. And if there's a strong response, more books could follow.

Old and new fans alike can follow all the BSC happenings online at www.scholastic.com/thebabysittersclub.

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com