"'It's important to remind girls, 'Hey, don't compare yourself to others and stay true to yourself,'" the actress tells PEOPLE
It’s time to revisit childhood!
In a fun update to a beloved classic, Elle Fanning has narrated the first five books in The Baby-Sitters Club series, the preteen-focused books by Ann M. Martin that first became popular more than 30 years ago. On Tuesday, Audible released all 131 titles.
“They’re super ’80s, which is so fun,” says the Maleficent star, 21, in an exclusive interview featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday. Though Fanning didn’t read the books when she was growing up, she’s loved reading them as an adult.
“I so enjoyed them: the bond between these girls and the ups and downs of school,” Fanning says. “I’m glad I can help bring the series back for a new generation.”
The first book in the series, Kristy’s Great Idea, was published in 1986. The story of the best friends — Kristy, Stacey, Claudia and Mary Anne, plus Mallory, Dawn and Jessi — quickly became a global sensation. In total, Martin’s books sold 176 million copies from 1986 to 2000, according to Elle.com.
To bring the classic characters to life, Fanning and other actresses like Brittany Pressley, Ali Ahn and Emily Bauer narrated the Audible books. It was an especially exciting experience for Fanning, who never performed an audiobook before.
“I didn’t realize how challenging it would be,” she says. “You want each line to be perfect. We did a book a day, so you have to be very dedicated in that moment.”
More than anything, Fanning hopes that young readers will be inspired by the new iteration of The Baby-Sitters Club series.
“I think it’s important to remind girls, ‘Hey, don’t compare yourself to others and stay true to yourself,'” Fanning says. “Each girl [in the series] has such a distinct point of view and a very strong voice. They’re not afraid to speak their opinions, which I think is very important.”
It’s a lesson that the star has struggled with personally. Fanning explains that she sometimes loses confidence while navigating social media.
“I have Instagram and you can’t help but compare yourself to others and think, ‘I wish I looked like them’ or ‘I wish I had that life,'” says Fanning. “But what they’re showing on Instagram isn’t necessarily the full truth. You have to be the best version of you and [know] your differences make you strong and great. That’s something I hope comes across.”
Like other fans of the series, Fanning was inspired by the strong characters in the books — and sees herself in them.
“I’m a little Stacey, for sure. She has blonde hair and she’s from a big city,” she explains. “I loved doing the voice of Kristy because she’s loud and very outgoing. So I’m a little mix of both. That’s what’s great: we’re all of the girls in one.”
The Baby-Sitters Club books are just some of Fanning’s favorites. She and her sister, fellow actress Dakota Fanning, have been avid readers since they were kids.
“My sister was kind of a savant in that area — she was reading Charlotte’s Web at 3,” Fanning recalls. “Books were a really big part of our lives.”
For the actress, there’s a direct correlation between reading and performing.
“Reading is the best form of exercising your imagination, and imagination is key to performing,” Fanning says. “You have to transport yourself.”
All 131 titles are available exclusively from Audible, and can be purchased now at audible.com/bsc.
For more of the interview, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.