Raina Telgemeier/Ann M. Martin
I, like many other young girls growing up in North America in the late 1990s, identified with a member of the Babysitters Club. Kristy, Mary Ann, Claudia, Stacey, and the rest of the Club were some of the first contemporary literary heroines I knew, thanks to Ann M. Martin’s extensive series. My memories of the original books are dulled by time and distance, with a few exceptions, but I do remember reading all of them and then rereading over the years.
Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptation of the first four books sharpens those memories, bringing a sense of movement to characters that most of us knew as watercolor paintings on the iconic covers. In her version of Kristy’s Great Idea, the girls are rounded, energy bursting out of them as they—well, mostly Kristy—run down the halls of Stonybrook Middle School at the end of the school day.
Kristy is a dynamic character, unable to sit still or take a moment for reflection, and Telgemeier’s cartoon-style art plays those traits up without letting them overshadow the other characters. Kristy’s Great Idea is a fast read because it’s led by Kristy, powered by her movements and strengthened by her narrative decisions. Readers who are new to the series are likely to be just as swept into her enthusiasm as my generation was, despite the slight implausibility of everything working out as well as it does for the girls.
I found that I was mostly impatient to meet the rest of the characters, though they don’t make much of an impact in this first book. The only exception might be mysterious new girl Stacey, who ends up part of the group through Claudia’s endorsement. I’ll admit that Stacey was always my favourite, and I didn’t remember her big secret being played up as much as it was in the graphic novel. If that is a substantial change, it does makes sense for younger readers, who are transitioning from illustrated books to text-only stories, and may be encouraged by graphic novels. Mary-Ann is comfortingly quiet and familiar, her presence soothing when paired up with Kristy’s unstoppable energy.
Claudia is still the character I find hardest to jive with, probably because I find I have more in common with her older sister Janice. I liked being able to see Janice as opposed to just hearing about her from Claudia in the books, because it fleshes out the relationship between the sisters a little more. The reader can see the physical distance Claudia keeps between her and her sister, the inability to meet her gaze, and it’s these little things that contribute to Claudia’s characterization.
When it comes to the Club itself, the actual founding meeting doesn’t make as much impact as the Kristy-centric narrative: she and her brothers have to deal with the introduction of their mother’s boyfriend into their lives. It’s in these scenes that Kristy starts to feel like a person and not just a human roadrunner. She talks and acts like the child she still is, with glimmers of the person she’s learning to become. Telgemeier paces the story a little faster than I remember, though that might just also be my own reading speed at work. The play of emotions on Kristy’s face betrays her tough attitude and reminds the reader that there’s still insecurity and fear beneath her bravado.
Overall, Kristy’s Great Idea is a vibrant re-imagining of the original book, not as sleek as its predecessor, but better for the change. Raina Telgemeier’s art helps to ground the story a little more solidly for its younger target audience, and readers returning to the Club will enjoy the nostalgia of the girls’ familiar adventures.