Vancouver actors front and centre in Netflix adaptation of classic kids' novels

Close to 180 million copies of the books have been sold.

Vancouver actors Malia Baker, left, and Momona Tamada play Mary-Anne and Claudia, respectively, in Netflix's new series The Baby-Sitters Club. The series is based on the much-loved books of the same name by Ann M. Martin. Courtesy of Netflix / Kailey Schwerman/Netflix

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To say the Baby-Sitters Club novels are popular is an understatement deserving of an epic teen eye-roll.

Close to 180 million copies of the books (131 main titles) have been sold since The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC), by Ann M. Martin, first appeared in the mid-1980s.

Netflix is hoping that kind of traction will transfer once again to TV (the first TV series was done in 1990) as the streamer is releasing a new, 10-part BSC series July 3.

Aimed at the under-10 set, the BSC novels also inspired the eponymous 1995 feature film.

Like the books, the new TV series focuses on a group of girls at the start of seventh grade in Stoneybrook, Conn., who decide to start their own business — The Baby-Sitters Club. Topics like divorce, grief, racism, crushes and the pressure of trying to be a good kid are all on the table for this incarnation of BSC. Viewers get to see different kids go through familiar issues and like the classic boy-band model, the main BSC members are carefully curated in order to offer a wide range of personalities and styles for kids to connect with.

“It’s about the power of friendship and girl power, and I feel like all the audience can relate to one character or maybe two characters and find their own personality traits in our character,” said Vancouver’s Momona Tamada, who plays Claudia Kishi in the series.

From left, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph, Xochitl Gomez, Malia Baker and Sophie Grace star in the new Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club. Filmed in Vancouver, the 10-episode series is based on the best-selling books of the same name. Courtesy of Netflix / Courtesy of Netflix

The 13-year-old Tamada said playing the determined and very creative — Claudia’s Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds-inspired Halloween costume is next level — Claudia gave her own confidence a boost after the cameras stopped rolling.

“I love how she is super-bold and she doesn’t really care about what other people think of her. She is great,” said Tamada. “I’m definitely not as bold as her but playing her definitely kind of influenced me in real life as well. I kind of found a voice.”

She has also found an increased love of fashion, as Claudia’s sartorial choices are a great mixture of art school meets Teen Choice Awards red carpet, with a little bit of No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani thrown in.

“I love fashion and I thinking playing the role of Claudia has definitely influenced my personal fashion choices too,” said Tamada. “I think just seeing how she puts different outfits together and what goes with what has really helped me pick my personal outfits.”

Vancouver’s Momona Tamada says playing the artsy and fashionable Claudia Kishi in the new Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club inspired her to be a bit bolder in her own life. Courtesy of Netflix / Jesse Austin/Netflix

Joining Tamada in representing the Lower Mainland in the cast is Delta 13-year-old Malia Baker, who plays another of the founding BSC members, Mary-Anne Spier.

“Mary-Anne is the secretary of the Baby-Sitters Club, she’s a dreamer with a warm and accepting nature. She is a leader in her own way and she’s funny without even knowing that she is,” said Baker. “She’s shy and I think very relatable to shy kids like I was.”

The other BSC members are: Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph), a sophisticate — for as much as a 13-year-old can be a sophisticate — from New York. Kristy Thomas, played by Sophie Grace, is the kind of controlling tomboy who comes up with the BSC idea. Finally, joining the original founding members is Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez), a free-spirited kid who has just moved to Stoneybrook with her divorced and free-spirited mom.

“Being on set was amazing,” said Baker, when asked about shooting the show last summer in Vancouver. “That was the first big role that I got, so of course I loved doing it. That was my dream job, and of course working with girls my own age, it was so much fun and we created this really amazing bond.

Malia Baker gets her big acting break as one of the co-leads in the new Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club. Baker plays the studious and sweet Mary-Anne Spier in the series based on the best-selling novels of the same name. Courtesy of Netflix / Jesse Austin/Netflix

“I think we are our own little BSC family now.”

They were classmates as well, as the kids were all required to attend on-set school.

“Getting schoolwork done was interesting,” said Baker. “I had never done schoolwork on set before, so that process was really fun but a little hard because we had to go from set to school. But being on set was a dream for me so you just pushed your way through it.”

Tamada agrees that the schoolwork was challenging and admits focusing while filming isn’t the easiest task; but it’s one she is going to have to conquer because she, like Baker, is planning on continuing her education (both are headed into Grade 9) online.

“We would usually do school, but let me tell you, it is very hard to do school when all your best friends are in the same room,” said Tamada.

Those friendships grew on set and off as Tamada and Baker took on the roles of local tour guides.

“I went with Shay Rudolph, she plays Stacey on the show, and I took her to her first Canadian beach. She was not very impressed. She was so unimpressed by the seaweed and how the tide was way out and there was no waves,” said Baker about her American friend who is used to California surf.

Both Baker and Tamada came to this project as fans of the books and time spent as babysitters.

“In Grade 6 I did a babysitter test and I made sure that I knew everything. CPR, all that kind of stuff,” said Baker. “I have been a babysitter, watching my sister for a long time and neighbourhood friends.”

With real-life experience combined with TV babysitting, what kind of advice do these two young women have for other young people who want to venture into babysitting?

“Always make sure you have a good connection with the parent,” said Baker. “Also make sure everything is a game. I find that kids find it so much more fun when you put everything into a game, whether that is cleaning up your room or going outside.”

Tamada is on the same page and considers her approach to have been a success.

“I think I am a pretty fun babysitter. I love kids. I think babysitting is so fun,” said Tamada, adding, though, you have to be responsible as well as fun.

Right now both girls are excited to see their biggest roles to date appear on Netflix. And, truth be told, they couldn’t ask for a better career launch, as a lot of eyeballs will be on this show as many people are still staying home and looking to streaming services for entertainment.

“I’m so excited. I think because people are staying at home that it will gain more attention,” said Baker. “It actually got me nervous. This is actually happening. It’s not a dream anymore.”