All my friends and I would rave about this series!
I first started reading them in about 2nd or 3rd grade - my best friend had started reading them and loved them, so of course I had to read them too!
For the few who were either too young or just don't remember these, this long-running series follows a group of 13 year old girls - tomboy Kristy (as she always wore a ponytail and liked sports), good girl Mary Anne (her mother died when she was little so she was raised by her very strict father - there was drama when she wanted to date and then later when she cut her hair short), and Claudia (the token Asian girl in the series, who was very creative, boy-crazy, and liked to wear more "mature" and funky fashions, although she struggles with school. Her family is also very conservative which is in contrast to her).
The three of them decide to start their own babysitting service for the people of Stoneybrook after Kristy's mother has a hard time finding someone to watch her little brother. The girls decide to get together 3 days a week for 30 minutes at a time and take calls from the parents to line up their jobs and discuss their recent babysitting adventures. They hold their meetings in Claudia's room, as she's the only one of them that has her own phone line (oh how things have changed since cell phones!). They also keep a diary of their jobs, so the others know what's going on with their "charges" in case someone else babysits for them next - often these diary entries are shared at the beginning of chapters in the books.
Also in the 1st book, Stacy (who is diabetic and recently moved to Stoneybrook from New York City which makes her appear more mature and sophisticated) joins the BSC, as she has gotten to be good friends with Claudia. A few books later, Dawn (the new girl from California) also joins the club. Also, later in the series, 6th graders Jessi (token black girl) and Mallory (token geeky girl, as she has wild curly red hair and glasses) join on as Junior Babysitters, taking jobs that are in the late afternoons and early evenings.
In addition to their babysitting adventures, they have lots of other drama go on as well - Dawn's mom and Mary Anne's dad get married and they have some drama adjusting; Kristy's mom gets remarried to a millionaire in town; Mary Anne gets a steady boyfriend; Stacy moves back to New York for awhile; Dawn moves back to California for awhile; Mallory gets sick with mono and is gone for awhile... and more!
Each book was told through the point of view from one of the girls and had the same structure - chapter 1 was always an introduction of themselves and to the story, chapter 2 always told about the club and the rest of the girls in the club, the last chapter was always the conclusion while the chapters in between told the story.
In addition to the regular series, there were several other books that went along with them - there were the Super Specials in which each chapter was told by a different girl, often with several plot lines and usually took place outside of Stoneybrook on some vacation or trip they would all go on, sometimes with babysitting charges too; the Mysteries which followed the same style as the regular books, but rather than focus on the babysitting, it usually focused on solving some kind of mystery; then Super Mysteries which were a combination of the Super Specials and the Mysteries, as they focused on solving a mystery, but each chapter was told by a different girl; the Portrait Collections, which were written from the idea that the 8th grade babysitters had to write an autobiography on themselves for a class project; and the Reader's Request, which were a few books written from the point of view of honorary club members, such as Mary Anne's boyfriend Logan.
There were also several spin-off book series, including the California Diaries (which follows Dawn when she moves back to California) and the younger Little Sister's books (which follow Kristy's little step-sister Karen and her adventures with her friends, sometimes correlating with things and people that are seen in the Babysitter's Club books).
One of the neat thing about these books too, is that you didn't have to necessarily read them in order! I remember the first book I got was one of the later Mary Anne ones, and then I went back and read some of the first ones (there were only about 30-40 in the series when I started reading them).
If you look online, the regular series went up to book #132 (with 213 books total) - it was in the 90s when I stopped reading. No, I didn't buy all the books - that would have been expensive, as they were at least $5 a piece! While I did own probably at least 30 of them, I would regularly borrow them from the library. At one point, especially in 4th grade, my friends and I would keep our collections at school and show them off, oftentimes borrowing from each other ones that we ourselves didn't have or hadn't read. I know I didn't read every book in the series that was available when I was a kid, but I did get to read most of them!
While the series techinically ended in 1999, just this month did they release a prequel called The Summer Before, which takes place before the first book. There's also been a graphic novel series made from the 7 books, and the original series is being reissued with new covers.
There was also other merchandise, such as the postcard book (which featured postcards with images from the various book covers), the chain letter book (which included removable post cards and other trinkets) as well as 2 different boardgames I both had - one being a mystery game game board was a map of Stoneybrook too, which I LOVED!). There were also puzzles you could get too at Toys R Us.
There were also 2 sets of dolls - the ones to the right that measured between 1-2 feet tall and I recall saving my allowance for weeks and weeks to save up the $20+ to buy the Mary Anne one from our local Toys R Us (from left to right: Mallory, Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Jessi, Mary Anne and Dawn - Mary Anne came with knee socks and different shoes though than in the picture) The other type of dolls were Barbie sized versions which came with a babysitter and one of the kids from the books: Kristy came with her little step-sister Karen, Claudie came with Jamie, Mary Anne came with Jenny, Stacey came with Charlotte (for some reason I had this set), Dawn came with Jackie Rodowsky, Mallory came with Claire, and Jessi came with her little sister Becca.
There was also a 13 episode TV series in the early 90s, originally airing on HBO and then syndicated on the Disney Channel for years as well as being available on VHS (we didn't have either channel when I was a kid, so I would rent them at the video store). Most them were adaptions from certain books with more elaboration to them (such as Mary Anne and the Brunettes, which follows her drama with Logan when the girl's nemesis Cokie tries to steal him away, which also happens in the books), while others are new stories (such as the Christmas episode). This series was actually pretty true to the books and was a great live portrayal of the girls we loved. Also, Danny Tamberelli (aka Little Pete from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, as well as All That) played Jackie Rodowski - a little boy that the girls regularly babysit throughout the book series (and on the show) who proves to be quite the holy terror as he's always finding ways to get in trouble.
In 1995 they made a big screen movie of the books, with a completely different cast, starring Rachael Leigh Cook (from She's All That) as Mary Anne and Larisa Olyenik (Alex from Alex Mack) as Dawn. To be honest, as a kid, I was disappointed with this movie as I thought the TV series I had been renting regularly was a better version of the girls and the basic story.
Out of all the girls, my favorite was Mary Anne. Not only was the Anne in her name spelled with an 'e' like my middle name is, but I too had parents who were a lot stricter than my friends' parents were so I felt like I could identify most with her. I remember reading most of hers and Dawn's books (as when their parents got married, they would often show up in each other's books more than the other characters did).
Did you read these books when you were a kid? Which was your favorite book? Who was your favorite babysitter?