Why I Love Emily of Deep Valley
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.
Here’s a list of the entire Betsy-Tacy series in chronological order.
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
It’s funny you mention Anne, Emily, Laura and Betsy as your literary role models. Some times reading this blog feels strongly reminiscent of reading Little Women for the first time. Especially the first half of the book.
On February 13, 2007 at 2:47 pm
Melissa Wiley says:
Well, I am definitely an Alcott enthusiast–I really think Little Men helped shape me into the homeschooler I turned out to be. I used to write stories in which I was a student at Plumfield!
On February 13, 2007 at 2:51 pm
My wife and I just finished reading Little Women out loud to each other. It is such a good book. I know my daughters will love it when they are old enough.
On February 13, 2007 at 4:37 pm
Thanks for the tip, Lissa. We have loved the Betsy-Tacy books but are closer to the beginning of the series. It is hard for me to believe, looking at my overflowing book shelves, that I alone am not able to support these publishing companies.
A tip for your readers-Heaven to Betsy is available at Rainbow Resource.
On February 13, 2007 at 4:41 pm
My husband is going to forbid me to keep reading your blog if I keep going out and ordering bunches of books online after I read!
Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve ordered the first five, and will try to keep up with the rest to save for when the kids are old enough. (And to enjoy myself in the meantime – I’m sure I will since I love most of the other books you talk about.)
On February 13, 2007 at 5:36 pm
My Amazon account… it weeps… so tired… 🙂
We read Betsy-Tacy and Tib, but I didn’t know she wrote stories for older girls. How exciting!
On February 13, 2007 at 5:52 pm
Kristen Laurence says:
I’m going to go broke with all these books going out of print! Thank you, Lissa, for the heads up. Back to Amazon.
On February 13, 2007 at 8:52 pm
Just when I was about to give up my credit card for Lent!
I would love to hear from you and your readers about other “must own” children’s classics, come join the conversation at
On February 14, 2007 at 7:24 am
elena maria vidal says:
I am glad that I have so many of those old books already since it seems they are disappearing. I want my children to enjoy what I enjoyed.
On February 15, 2007 at 9:04 am
I have had a Heaven to Betsy book since I was 14. It was my favorite book and I never knew there were more in the series. I’ll have to guard my book a little more carefully now. Thanks for the info!
On February 15, 2007 at 9:50 am
It sounds like I would have loved these as a child. How did I miss them? Thanks for the chronological list. It’s nice to know exactly what I have to look forward to!
On February 25, 2007 at 12:43 pm
April R says:
I just started a book club for 3rd grade girls at my daughter’s school. Yesterday was our first meeting and Betsy-Tacy was our first book. We loved it! We decided to continue next month with Betsy, Tacy and Tib.
On February 26, 2007 at 8:13 am
I’ve actually never read Little Men, but I’m starting to learn a little more about L’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott. I think some of the ideas about education that came through in LW were based on Bronson’s philosophies.
Envisioning a meeting between Charlotte Mason and Bronson Alcott gives me the giggles.
On March 1, 2007 at 3:27 pm
I think someone’s still printing them?
On September 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm
Melissa Wiley says:
Yes, these are the reissues I’ve been so excited about. This post is an older one (2007) and at that time the high-school books were going out of print. They’re coming back now, this very month, and I am super-excited!
On September 3, 2009 at 4:51 pm