At a time when many parents more than ever could use better childcare options, a new TV adaptation of “The Baby-Sitters Club” that will surely occupy the attention of some young viewers is premiering on Netflix.
Based on Ann M. Martin’s beloved book series, the Netflix adaptation introduces a group of middle school friends who run a babysitting business in their fictional hometown of Stoneybrook, Conn. The enterprise founded by outspoken Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace) includes introverted Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker), artistic Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada), fashionable Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) and socially conscious Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez).
“When I saw them all together for the first time, that was one of the top five moments of my life,” showrunner Rachel Shukert told The Times. “Maybe ahead of my wedding, but after having my son.”
With “GLOW,” “Broad City” and “The Baby-Sitters Club” books to their credit, the women behind Netflix’s adaptation are bringing it to a new generation.
The 10-episode first season is available to stream Friday on Netflix. Before going down the sherbet-hued rabbit hole, meet the five young actresses who are updating the Stoneybrook world for a new generation.
Sophie Grace as Kristy Thomas
“Meeting her was like floating on a cloud,” is how Sophie Grace described her interaction with “The Baby-Sitters Club” author Martin on the show’s Vancouver set.
The actress, 14, had fallen in love with the book series beginning when she was about 6 — eager to feel the same excitement and connection to the characters that her older sister had experienced.
“It was something we shared and bonded over,” says Grace, calling from her home in Jacksonville, Fla. “It felt cool reading something that she had read.”
That Grace would go on to be cast as Kristy Thomas, the athletic, slightly overbearing founder and president of the babysitter club, isn’t surprising to people who know her, she says with a laugh.
“We have a very, very similar personality; everyone reminds me of that,” she says, though she adds that she likes art and is into fashion, even sometimes sewing her own clothes.
She hopes young viewers see themselves in the show’s variety of portrayals — whether it’s the diversity of the cast or in characters’ home lives. .
“I’m so honored to be a part of a series like this that gives kids someone to relate to,” she says. “Kristy has her family struggles. Her parents are divorced. That’s really hard for kids, and we see how she’s finding her way through that.”
“The Baby-Sitters Club” is Grace’s second major professional gig. She starred in the 2018 Lifetime TV movie “Terror in the Woods” as one of two girls whose obsession with an Internet legend leads to murder.
Grace says she hopes to star in a comedy with Jennifer Aniston one day. But she tends to think about her acting work in grander terms: “I just want to be able to inspire people and cause any sort of change and good in the world that I can.”
She’s already doing her share for the leafed and rooted community. “I love my spider plant, Harold,” says the avid plant enthusiast. “He likes to listen to music. He will droop if i don’t play classical music. Everyone thinks I’m crazy when I say that, but I did an experiment. When I play music, he looks more lively in my room.”
Malia Baker as Mary Anne Spier
Growing up, Malia Baker’s mom would often refer to herself as a Dawn. It always confused the young actress — until, when she was around 8, she came upon a stash of “The Baby-Sitters Club” books in the garage.
“I felt like I hit the jackpot,” says Baker, now 13.
While she didn’t wind up playing the character her mom loved, Baker plays Dawn’s first friend in the group, Mary Anne Spier. She’s the shy and insecure member of the group who often struggles to speak up for herself. (For the record, her mom is really excited regardless.)
“I haven’t read a lot of books about shy girls,” says Baker, who also counts the Judy Moody book series as a favorite. “I know that’s kind of weird to say, but I connected with Mary Anne the most because deep down I am a shy person. But I also connected with all of the characters in different ways. And that’s one of the great things about ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’; you can connect with at least one of the characters.”
Baker’s acting career launched just a year prior to joining the fictional Stoneybrook world. She’s appeared in TV series such as ABC’s “A Million Little Things,” The CW’s “The Flash,” and CBS All Access’ “Twilight Zone.”
Born in Botswana and raised in Vancouver, Baker had an early introduction to Hollywood through her father, who works in the film industry as a first assistant director and a second assistant director. In fact, she wrote him an eight-page letter to explain why she wanted to become an actress in hopes that she could begin her journey in earnest.
For Baker, who hopes to one day star in a horror film, the career forged by Zendaya is something she hopes to emulate.
“I look at her and I’m just like, Oh, she started out as like a Disney Channel star and now she’s this, like, huge worldwide sensation,” Baker says. “I’m like, huh, I wonder if I’ll do anything like that. And now, with ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,’ I feel like that could be a start.”
Her immediate hope, through “The Baby-Sitter’s Club,” she says, is “that young viewers will find their great idea to put into the world.”
Momona Tamada as Claudia Kishi
A fourth grade reading assignment introduced Momona Tamada to “The Baby-Sitters Club.” And Claudia Kishi, a Japanese American middle schooler who is the artistic and fashion-forward babysitter of the group, became a key reason Tamada kept coming back.
“It was the first time I saw Asian representation in a book,” says Tamada, 13, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Japan. “It’s what kept me reading the book series, because I saw myself.”
Now, she’s bringing that character to life for a new generation. Over the course of the season, viewers watch Claudia struggle with school and gain a deeper understanding of her Japanese heritage.
“I learned the importance of history,” Tamada says by phone. “There’s a lot of things about people we don’t know, and we shouldn’t ever judge a book by its cover.”
“The Baby-Sitters Club” puts the Vancouver-raised actress in the spotlight after two years of acting. Earlier this year, she appeared as young Lara Jean (Lana Candor) in Netflix’s “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.” (She will reprise her role for the third film in the popular franchise.) She’s also appeared in AMC’s “The Terror” and Amazon’s “The Boys.”
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me,” she says. “But I would love to be a part of creating diversity and inclusivity in film and try different genres of acting. I’m always up for a challenge.”
For now, the baking enthusiast has been spending her days at home churning out cakes, cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts and churros for her family, which includes a younger brother — whom, she notes, she’s babysat plenty of times.
Shay Rudolph as Stacey McGill
To prepare for her induction into “The Baby-Sitters Club,” Shay Rudolph did some research. And not just the reading kind.
Playing Stacey McGill meant figuring out how to get into the headspace of a sophisticated girl from New York who’s also a little boy crazy — and whose outfits are always enviable. But Rudolph also had to understand what it was like to live with Type 1 diabetes as a middle schooler. So she interviewed teens who live with the disease.
“I knew I had a lot of responsibility playing Stacey,” says Rudolph, 14, who was introduced to “The Baby-Sitters Club” in the first grade through its graphic novels adaptation. “I asked the people I talked to what it feels like when blood sugar is dropping and what they can and can’t do without insulin pump. I want it to be empowering to younger kids when they see Stacey is still so loved and accepted by her friends even though she has this thing she is self-conscious about.”
“The Baby-Sitters Club” follows Rudolph’s turn in Fox’s series “Lethal Weapon” as Maya, the daughter of Seann William’s Scott’s character. And she’s dreaming big for the future.
“I get really excited about thinking about my future,” she says. “I really like films. My favorite directors are Wes Anderson and Greta Gerwig. It would be an absolute dream to be in one of their films. And it would also be really cool to be the one making film and TV — directing or having a hand in writing something.”
The young actress has been actively trying to limit her phone time in recent weeks, preferring instead, she says, to tap into her creativity by playing guitar and piano, reading and writing poetry, or painting with water colors. But she hasn’t totally cut the handheld screen from her life: She and Tamada have had virtual sleepovers, talking for hours over FaceTime until they fall asleep, then waking up and making pancakes together over FaceTime.
Xochitl Gomez as Dawn Schafer
Xochitl Gomez had known about “The Baby-Sitters Club” as a kid, seeing its covers splayed out at school book fairs. But it wasn’t until she landed an audition for the series that she hunkered down with some copies — that is, after her mom scoured eBay and did rush shipments on as many books in the series as possible.
Gomez plays Dawn Schafer, the eco-conscious member of the club who joins a few episodes into the season. Blond and blue-eyed in the books, Dawn is now Latina.
“It’s really important that there is representation for girls that look like me,” says Gomez, who lives in L.A.'s Echo Park. “When I was younger, I didn’t see many characters on TV shows that I could see myself in. And it really matters that TV reflect the world.”
The actress says she immediately identified with Dawn’s relaxed demeanor and her strong will to help others, and found inspiration in the character’s activism at a young age.
“It opened my eyes,” she says.
Gomez’s interest in acting began on the stage. Needing an activity to keep her occupied while her mom worked, she got involved in musical theater; her first production was “The Little Mermaid,” in which she played one of Ariel’s sisters (“I had like one line,” she recalls with a laugh). She’s appeared in roughly 20 musical productions in total, crediting them with boosting her confidence as a young performer.
While “The Baby-Sitters Club” is Gomez’s first major role in a TV series, she’s appeared on “Gentefied,” “Raven’s Home” and “You’re the Worst.”
Since starring in the new generation of “The Baby-Sitters Club,” the 13-year-old has been brushing up on her ‘90s-era (and adjacent) TV and film schooling. Her viewing has covered “Beverly Hills, 90210" (“Brandon is my favorite”), “Friends,” “The Wonder Years,” “The First Wives Club” and “Parent Trap.” But she’s also mixed in some modern fare like the “One Day at a Time” revival, “9-1-1" and “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”
She’s nurturing her latest interest: making friendship bracelets. She hopes to send some to her costars soon.
“I’m still practicing until they start looking really good,” she says.