February 13, 2007 @ 5:11 pm | Filed under: Wonderboy
Wonderboy comes to me and delivers an incomprehensible message in whisper-sounds. I’m pretty sure he can’t even hear a whisper, but he can feel that it’s a different way of talking. Sometimes we are loud, "MOMMEEEE! WHERE GAY-GEE GO?" (The baby is on the move now, and Wonderboy finds her scoot-crawling mobility a bit stressful. Precious objects such as telephones and babies are supposed to stay where you put them. Aren’t they? Aren’t they? Where did she go? Doggone it, she’s halfway down the hall again, and I’m pretty sure she took the phone with her.)
Yes, sometimes we are loud, and sometimes we are hushed and whispery. He comes to me with his tight little grin and his proud whisper, and he pours forth a string of sotto voce gibberish, like my amateur actor friends and I used to do during party scenes in high-school plays.
His secret message thus transmitted, he giggles expectantly, eyes dancing. This is my cue: I whisper back, delivering my own incomprehensible message to ears that can’t detect these sounds even with technological assistance.
Suddenly he is all business, and he trots off down the hall to find Jane. That’s the game, see; he is carrying our messages from one end of the house to the other. I have no idea what she is saying on her end. I keep forgetting to ask her. It doesn’t really matter. We both know the substance of the message is joy.
UPDATED 2012: Thanks to the tireless efforts of HarperPerennial’s Jennifer Hart and the Betsy-Tacy Society, all of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Deep Valley books are now back in print. They’ve been reissued in beautiful editions with vintage illustrations, photographs, and introductions by authors who cherish the Betsy-Tacy books, including Judy Blume, Anna Quindlen, Meg Cabot, Mitali Perkins, Laura Lippman, and yours truly. 🙂 I’ve written about the entire series (with a chronological list) here.
The post below was written in early 2007, when many of Maud’s books were going out of print.
It’s almost hard for me to believe, now, that I grew up without Betsy Ray and her Deep Valley friends. I never heard of the Betsy-Tacy books until 1994, when I was a young staffer at HarperChildren’s, and the galleys for the reissues—the very editions that are now going out of print—began to float across my desk. You never saw a happier little coffee-fetcher than the girl I was, newly married and soon to be expecting baby Jane, sitting in my cubicle devouring those galleys and getting paid for it. Not paid a whole lot, mind you, but still.
Where had Betsy Ray been all my life?
Clearly she was a kindred spirit of the likes of my beloved Anne and Laura. I loved her instantly and passionately, right down to her gap-toothed smile. My own dear mama has the same smile, and I could picture Betsy’s grin exactly. (I would have it too, but for the junior-high braces.)
I had taken that job because I wanted to write, and I hoped working in a publishing house would open some doors for me. (Happily, it did.) In the evenings I would go home to the bitsy three-room Queens apartment in which Scott and I began our married life, and the whole scene was so very Betsy-and-Joe I could hardly contain myself. Betsy’s bird print above her writing desk (Uncle Keith’s trunk) reminded me of the picture I’d hung on the wall beside our computer: a sepia-toned print of a stone doorway between a courtyard and a garden, taken at a monastery we’d passed through briefly on our honeymoon. That doorway spoke to me of all the possibilities that lay on the other side. Step through, it beckoned, and see what surprises await you down these paths.
Betsy would have understood just how I felt.
Even little tiny Betsy, the five-year-old or the ten-year-old: she knew all about the fun of discovering what lay over the Big Hill or alongside the downtown streets. Her cheery disposition, her impish sense of humor, her fierce loyalty, her quarrelsome streak—she was a real and whole person, and when I discovered I was expecting a baby, I couldn’t wait, couldn’t WAIT, to share Betsy with her. Oh, but what if she were a he? Well, then, his sister. Surely, surely, there were girls in my future, my own little Betsy and a Tacy and an Anne and a Jane-of-Lantern-Hill. Right? Right?
When the late-1990s reissues came out, I got to take copies home to lay in wait for the passel of children I hoped to have. And here they are, a passel indeed, and as diehard a bunch of Betsy-Tacy fans you’ll never see—except perhaps in the Edmisten house. And, um, the Cottage. And at Dumb Ox Academy. And okay, fine, in hundreds of other homes around the world.
But hundreds of homes is not enough, not enough to generate new print runs in a world of bottom-lines. And so we’re in danger of having to say bye-bye Betsy. Will the day come when my daughters fight over who gets to have mom’s collection?
There’s one book I won’t let them fight over.
I bought a bunch of copies just in case it, too, disappears, as will likely be the case one of these days. Maud Hart Lovelace’s most beautiful novel, Emily of Deep Valley, takes place in the same Minnesota village as the Betsy-Tacy books, and indeed Betsy makes a cameo appearance. Emily wasn’t part of the original relaunch plan, and when I left my job at HarperCollins to stay home with the due-any-minute Baby Who Would Be Jane, I did so with a photocopy of Harper’s library copy of Emily of Deep Valley in my backpack—a gift from one of the editors on the next floor.
Two years later the same editor sent me, triumphantly, an actual book. She’d been successful in lobbying for the reissue of Emily of Deep Valley, and I could kiss her for it. If you haven’t read this book, oh what a treat you are in for. Emily is the kind of character we don’t often see in these days of “you have to do what’s right for you.” What seems “right” for Emily, devoted scholar, is a college education like the rest of her high-school chums. But she lives with a very elderly grandfather, and somehow, somehow, she can’t bring herself to leave him alone. That, her conscience whispers, wouldn’t be right.
Sometimes, you see, “right for you” isn’t the same as just plain Right.
Doing the real right thing, Emily finds, is often the hardest thing. She also finds out that the Right Thing can be like a doorway, and when you step through it, you find beauty on the other side, beauty in places you never knew existed.
That’s why I have a stack of Emily of Deep Valley tucked away for my children. She mustn’t disappear, this strong and gentle young woman who understands that love means sacrifice and cheerfulness, and the kind of love that cheerfully sacrifices blesses the giver a hundredfold. I can’t think of a finer role model for my young brood—not even Betsy or Anne or Laura.
Heaven to Betsy! High-school-and-beyond books being reissued! (Sept 2009)
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy-Tacy booksigning at ALA Midwinter
The Betsy-Tacy Songbook
Interview with Mitali Perkins, Jennifer Hart, and me about Maud’s books
Photos of my visit to the real Deep Valley, as chronicled by Margaret in Minnesota
Why I love Carney
A Reader’s Guide to Betsy-Tacy