I read so much as a preteen. That voraciousness carried over into middle school, but I have to admit that I was a bit of a risque reader in junior high. I was definitely guilty of reading certain books before being aware of what some of their content even meant or implied. I remember very awkward conversations when my mom discovered that 11-year-old me was reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and one of the more adult Meg Cabot books. Cabot and Judy Blume are essentially my literary equivalent of the freethinking, easygoing aunts who will sneak you magazines explaining everything your mom avoids talking about with you. On the other hand, I still got away with reading raunchy-for-a-tween things like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books because of the unassuming titles.
Before those experiments with more worldly material and when I was still in elementary school, I stuck to the innocent, episodic chapter book series that were stocked in abundance at the library. Back then, I reread the same books constantly, out of both desire and boredom. While standalone books and the Harry Potter series dominate my reading memories from this stage, it also included so many middle grade series that are easy to overlook at first glance but were still such a huge part of my reading life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fond memories of the often forgotten books below!
1) The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin
I get that the re-design of these covers was an attempt to make the books look less dated, but the fact that the stories themselves are so ’90s is just so charming and hilarious now. You only have to reach as far as one of Claudia’s outfit descriptions to figure out when the series takes place, and that was just one of the many BSC Club charms that kept me invested from about fourth to seventh grade.
Although the series added more main characters in later books, the first few books revolved around three 13-year-old girls who grew up together in their Connecticut suburb. They and a fourth girl, who just moved to town from New York, form a baby-sitting business for local families to use. While the series always focused on their adventures with the neighborhood kids, it also explored the club members’ personal issues, like dating, school troubles, their parents’ divorces or second marriages, and even coping to life with diabetes. I remember coming across many a “where are they now” story during my Harry Potter fanfic-writing days.
I had a special fondness for the BSC Super Specials, which were multi-narrative vacation stories that included trips to Disney World and the girls working as counselors-in-training at summer camp, among other special vacations. There was also the Little Sister series that focused on a baby-sitter’s stepsister in second grade, and before graduating to the main series, I flew through those too.