9 Novels About Nannies for Grown-Up “Baby-Sitters Club” Fans
These adult books about childcare have fewer easy morals and more murder
Did the recent Netflix adaptation of the Baby-Sitters Club series leave you feeling nostalgic? Us too. Not just for landline phones or the sleepy town of Stonybrook, but also for the books, with their smart depictions of entrepreneurial pre-teens and their childcare escapades.
From Mary Poppins to Amelia Bedelia, children and their caretakers seem to be a staple in children’s literature. But although we may not read a Baby-Sitters Club book a day like we used to, we don’t necessarily have to outgrow babysitter narratives; the themes of family, childcare, equitable pay, and labor transactions also prove to be rich fodder for literary fiction. (There’s a lot more murder in these than in the original BSC, though.) As a New York Times article notes, “the nanny novel lives on, showcasing complex and imperfect nannies whose personal stories intersect with thorny larger questions about race, class, immigration and parenthood.” Below are nine books that tackle the nanny novel from a variety of angles.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Aren’t kids fun? Emira Tucker is a young Black babysitter working for a rich white family. Alix Chamberlain, her boss, is a white woman who prides herself on self-confidence and doing the “right thing.” When a grocery store security guard accuses Emira of having kidnapped the white girl she is babysitting, the racist incident sets off a whole series of complications for the Chamberlains and Emira. Reid’s acclaimed, page-turning debut explores the intersections of babysitting, class privilege, and race.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Single mother Patsy can only get an American visa if she agrees to leave her 5-year-old daughter Tru behind in Jamaica. Sending Tru to live with her father, Patsy heads to New York, hoping to reunite with her friend and former lover Cicely. But Cicely has married an abusive man and is unwilling to give up the lifestyle his wealth affords her. Meanwhile Patsy can only find work as a bathroom attendant at first, though eventually she secures steady work as a nanny. Caring for someone else’s child leaves her haunted by the absence of her own daughter, who is growing up motherless—struggling with depression and self-harm but also with a burgeoning interest in soccer kindled by her father—back in Jamaica.
The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu
In 1936 Singapore, recent mission school graduate Chen Su Lin has aspirations of attending secretarial school, but agrees to fill in as a temporary nanny for Singapore’s acting governor Sir Henry Palin after his family’s previous Irish nanny is killed in a fall from a balcony. Su Lin soon discovers from her charge Dee-Dee, Palin’s adult daughter who never developed mentally past the age of 7 due to a fever, that she suspects someone murdered the previous nanny and intends to murder her as well. Su Lin investigates, navigating the British family’s racism and distrust while gathering evidence for the murder case, at great risk to herself.
Minding Ben by Victoria Brown
Due to an unexpectedly disastrous arrival when her cousin fails to show up at the New York airport, Grace Caton winds up nannying for a rich Jewish family. Grace, a sixteen-year-old from Trinidad, learns the ins and outs of nannying in Manhattan, from gossiping in Union Square to weird employer requests. She also stumbles into a community of friends in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Set against the 1990s backdrop of the Crown Heights race riots, Minding Ben showcases the diverse turbulence of New York and the individual struggles it takes to make a living.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
In Moroccan author Slimani’s Goncourt Prize-winning novel, a Parisian lawyer and music producer hire Louise, a middle-aged widow with an estranged adult daughter, to look after their two small children. Louise seems perfect at first, winning the children over with her playfulness and creative games and the parents with her delicious cooking and constant readiness to take on more household work. She soon does prove too good to be true, as the pathologies underlying her perfectionism begin to emerge. The couple prepare to confront Louise but she murders their children first—a fact known from the very beginning of the book—in a crime propelled by extreme loneliness, compulsive behavior, and financial desperation within the secret economy of nannies in Paris’s wealthier professional neighborhoods.
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
This 1990 coming-of-age novella by Kincaid is now considered a postcolonial feminist classic. Lucy comes to the U.S. from the West Indies to work as an au pair for a wealthy white family. However, she soon starts to notice that neither the U.S. nor the family are as flawless as they initially appeared. She also struggles to communicate with her own mother, who is steeped in traditional values that Lucy is trying to escape.
The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan
When she was 7, Jo Holt’s beloved nanny Hannah disappeared, and her distant aristocratic parents seemed unconcerned about this. After the death of her husband, Jo moves back to her family’s English mansion Lake Hall with her own daughter. When the two of them discover a 30-year-old skull near the lake, investigators suspect it might be Hannah. But then an older woman shows up claiming to be Hannah and Jo, desperate to reconnect, believes her and invites her to take care of her own young daughter—a catastrophic mistake.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Who is the perfect family for a babysitter with no childcare experience? The answer: a family who does not yet have a child, but has a turbulent and tragic backstory. Tassie Keltjin is a college student, looking for a side job—instead, she becomes embroiled in a local family’s efforts to adopt a biracial child. With sharp, melancholic insight, Moore has crafted a crash course in grief, loss, and the limits of love.
My Hollywood by Mona Simpson
Simpson’s novel alternates between the perspectives of Claire, a successful composer and less-than-confident new mother, and Lola, a nanny from the Philippines and veteran mother of five children. Claire just wants to make sure she is doing her best for her young son; Lola is earning money to finance her children’s higher education. Set in L.A., Simpson explores how domestic workers are used as power symbols amongst the Hollywood elite, and the familial costs—on both sides of the equation—of the nanny industry.