That was so much fun! Thanks to everyone who called or wrote in with questions. Here’s the podcast for those of you who couldn’t listen live. And don’t miss BookClubGirl’s follow-up post, which is chock-full of links and notes about the things we discussed.
Here’s a rundown of the Betsy-Tacy books and their Deep Valley companions.
Book 1:Betsy-Tacy. Betsy Ray’s story—which is very, very similar to Maud’s real life story—kicks off on her fifth birthday, the day she gets to know her lifelong best friend, Tacy Kelly. From that day forth they are inseparable, which is why the neighbors always call them Betsy-Tacy. That’s the first book: very young girls having sweet and funny adventures in small-town Minnesota at the turn of the last century. It’s a lovely read-aloud for small girls, though I always give other mothers a heads-up about the death of Tacy’s baby sister, which happens quite early in the book and is very sensitively and quietly handled.
In Book 2, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy roam farther from home, all the way to the grand chocolate-colored house a few blocks away—where they meet Tib, whose spritelike looks belie her blunt and practical nature. This is the year the girls learn to fly, explore the Mirror Palace, and concoct Everything Pudding. It’s the year Tacy has diphtheria and Tib and Betsy cut off their hair in solidarity. It’s a year full of exactly the right sort of mischief.
Book 4:Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Now the girls are twelve—old enough to go all over town by themselves. Christmas shopping, Mr. Poppy’s Opera House, a friendly rivalry with spunky Winona Root, the newspaperman’s daughter. That’s the year the first horseless carriage comes to town, as well as a troupe of traveling actors. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib get involved with the play and there is a delicious bit of family drama as well.
Those are the four “young” Betsy-Tacy books (collected now in a beautiful Treasury edition with a foreword by Judy Blume). Chronologically, Winona’s Pony Cart fits in that group; the central event is Winona Root’s 8th birthday. She gets herself into a bit of a scrape having to do with her party, and she’s not the only member of her family who makes a misstep, and what I love about this book—probably the most overlooked of Maud’s Deep Valley stories—is the earnestness with which Winona and her parents strive to recover from their individual errors of judgment. I was so happy to get to unpack this book more thoroughly in the foreword to the reissue. Winona is a girl to remember.
Now come Betsy’s high-school-and-beyond books.
Freshman year:Heaven to Betsy, which I wrote about here. New house, new school, new friends; Sunday night lunches, dances, skating parties. Joe Willard at Butternut Center. A crush on Tony; a Betsy struggling with moods and competing wishes. A Betsy who writes but doesn’t quite know what to do with her writing, doesn’t know how to reconcile the need to slip away and work with the desire to be in the thick of the merry-making crowd.
Sophomore year:Betsy in Spite of Herself. It’s a makeover story! One of my favorite plot devices. Betsy is determined to reinvent herself into a creature more glamorous, more poised, more devastating to boys. Only trouble is, her own irrepressible self keeps bubbling up and taking over. This is the year of the fascinating Christmas visit to Tib’s German relatives in Milwaukee, the year of Phil Brandish and his red auto.
Junior year:Betsy Was a Junior. Sorority fever. The joys of being part of a clique—and the crash that comes when you realize you’ve forgotten about the feelings of people outside your in-crowd. I think Betsy does some of her best growing up in this book, especially after that incident with her little sister Margaret and the stove.
Senior year:Betsy and Joe. My favorite, because, well, Betsy and Joe.
After high school, there’s Betsy and the Great World—she got off to a rough start in college and her folks wisely surmise that someone who wants to be a writer might benefit from travel. So off she goes to Europe by steamer. Things are rocky with Joe, and that undercurrent of tension gives her some perspective as she explores Munich, Venice, London, and more. A beautiful book. And oh that perfect telegram!
And then, ever so satisfyingly, Betsy’s Wedding. I adore this book. Rings so true. The fun of finding and fitting out your first apartment, the comic misadventures of learning to run your own home. And (especially this) there’s Betsy’s challenge to make room for her writing, and to give Joe room for his. As a writer married to a writer, this book hits me where I live.
Two more Deep Valley gems
Chronologically,Carney’s House Party fits in between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World. Carney is one of Betsy’s best high-school friends, a year ahead of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib in school. Her famous house party takes place the summer after her freshman year at Vassar. Her somewhat snobby roommate, Isobel, comes to Deep Valley for an extended visit with Carney’s family. Rounding out the party are Carney’s best friend, Bonnie Andrews, home from Paris, and in a surprise appearance, good old Betsy Ray. It’s hard for me to contain my remarks about this book to one little paragraph—though I managed it before when I wrote “Carney’s House Party is one of my favorite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books—I love how honestly Carney grapples with the complicated process of sorting out her college self from her hometown self.” Yeah, that’s it. I got to indulge in a meatier exploration of what makes this book tick in the foreword I wrote for the reissue.
And then there’s Emily of Deep Valley. I’ve written about her at length. Short version: Emily’s a quieter sort than Betsy and Carney; she lives on the edge of the Slough with her elderly grandfather, the only family she has left. All her friends are heading off to college but Emily won’t leave her grandpa alone—a difficult decision, and a right one. Loneliness and depression set in, but she (famously) musters her wits to combat them. There is much to love about this book, but if I had to pick a favorite part, it would be the relationships that develop between Emily and the Little Syrian boys, and what comes of their connection. HarperPerennial’s lovely reissue of Emily of Deep Valley, with a moving foreword by author Mitali Perkins, plus historical material by Maud Hart Lovelace experts Julie Schrader and Amy Dolnick, as well as a bio of illustrator Vera Neville, will hit the shelves on October 12th. If you haven’t read this rather incredible book it would be a perfect choice for the MLH reading challenge.
Of course you know I’m hoping you’ll read Carney and Winona too so we can gab about them!
This afternoon, Jennifer Hart (aka @bookclubgirl) posted a picture of the Carney’s House Party/Winona’s Pony Cart and Emily of Deep Valley reissues with those gorgeous Vera Neville covers. The official pub date is less than a month away. Squee!
I got a sneak peek at Mitali Perkins‘s foreword for Emily of Deep Valley, and it is quite moving: an account of her discovery of the Maud Hart Lovelace books—and Emily in particular—as a young newcomer to America, “wandering the stacks of the children’s book section in the Flushing Public Library.”
My own foreword for the Carney/Winona double volume was a joy and an honor to write. But having Carney, Winona, and Emily back in print is the greatest joy of all. If you haven’t yet read the Deep Valley novels—companions to the Betsy-Tacy series—you are in for such a treat!
ETA: Bumping this up from the comments for all to see:
HarperPerennial’s Jennifer Hart writes: “Thank you for posting the link to the photo Melissa! It’s very exciting. I can’t stop looking at the books – there’s your foreword, Mitali’s, wonderful archival photos and writeups from Julie Schrader and Amy Dolnick – plus the never-before-published bio by Theresa Gibson of the elusive Vera Neville (with her photo!)”
[Harry] started coming to the Rays’ regularly. He brought Julia flowers and candy. He brought her the score of The Red Mill, and he and Julia sang a duet from it:
“Not that you are fair, dear
Not that you are true…”
He lifted his eyebrows and puffed out his chest. He quite eclipsed poor Hugh.
—from Betsy in Spite of Herself
by Maud Hart Lovelace
The Red Mill, an operetta by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom, opened on Broadway in 1906. Among Herbert’s other works are Babes in Toyland (1903) and Naughty Marietta (1910).
Here’s the score of The Red Mill, including “Because You’re You,” the song Julia sang with the chest-puffing Harry.
Love is a queer little elfin sprite,
Blest with the deadliest aim!
Shooting his arrows to left and right,
Bagging the rarest game,
Filling our hearts with a glad surprise,
Almost too good to be true!
And still can you tell me why do you love me?
Only because you are you, dear!
Not that you are fair, dear,
Not that I am true,
Not my golden hair, dear,
Not my eyes of blue,
When we ask the reason,
Words are all too few!
So I know I love you, dear,
Because you’re you!
In 1906, producer Charles Dillingham made theatrical history by placing in front of the Knickerbocker Theater a revolving red windmill powered and lit by electricity. This was Broadway’s first moving illuminated sign.
“I’ve a new waltz I want Mamma to hear. She talks so often of the great Strauss. Here is a piece as good as any of his and it is also by a Viennese.”
He began to play.
The opening phrases were short and artless. They sounded like a rocking horse. But the swing began to grow longer, the rhythm stronger. The waltz began to ask questions, wistful, poignant. It took on a dreamier sweep.
Then a gayer theme sent Uncle Rudy’s fingers rippling over the keys. The melody wove in and out. It circled, swayed, as though it were music and dancer in on. It was irresistible.
—from Betsy in Spite of Herself
by Maud Hart Lovelace
It just freaked me out a little to realize that the Happy Birthday song on Tom Chapin’s Moonboat CD—Wonderboy’s favorite CD, hands down—is set to the tune of the Merry Widow waltz.
Yesterday the five younger kids and I stood on an Amtrak platform in downtown San Diego, waving wild goodbyes as Jane’s train pulled away, headed for L.A. Big moment for us: the first venturing-forth-alone of one of my chicks. Jane is spending a few days with my friend Kristen and my soon-to-be-goddaughter, who is seriously the most beautiful baby you ever saw. (And I don’t say this lightly. I’ve had some mighty pretty babies myself.)
I thought I would be more freaked out about putting Jane on a train alone, going to Los Angeles for pity’s sake, but to my surprise I was more excited and happy for her than anything else. Maybe it’s all the time I’ve been spending in the high-school Betsy-Tacy books lately: I feel positively Mrs. Ray-ish about this trip: just tickled pink that Jane gets to have such a fun adventure. (Though of course we are missing her like crazy.)
Betsy was just Jane’s age, fourteen, when she went off to Butternut Center for a week on the farm with friends of her father’s. I was exactly Jane’s age when my parents sent me to Germany for seven weeks with a few other kids from school, to stay with some families who had known my English teacher when her husband was stationed in Kaiserslautern. Germany! With no cell phones, no internet! Mom and Dad, now that I know what it’s like, you amaze me.
It was an incredibly fun trip and I am so glad they let me go.
Jane seems to be having an incredibly fun trip, and I am so glad we let her go. 🙂
But I had to laugh at myself just now, when I checked her Facebook page for about the tenth time today and saw no new update. Yes, I am actually complaining that my teenager doesn’t spend enough time on Facebook.
Get out your party dresses! Wellesley Booksmith and the Betsy-Tacy Society are brightening up February break with An Edwardian Tea Party in celebration of HarperCollins’ reissue of the classic Betsy-Tacy series of children’s books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Set at the turn of the 20th century, these beloved books chronicle the adventures of Betsy Ray and her best friend Tacy Kelly as they grow from little girls to young women.
Teatime starts at 2pm. More details at the link above. Wish I could join you!
And did you see that Betsy Ray and Joe Willard were included this list of Best Literary Couples? You know, I just finished rereading Betsy and Joe (yes, again) and I have to say that is one of the most satisfying resolutions to a stumbling-blocked romance ever. “After Commencement, the World—with Betsy!” :::sigh:::
AndCarney’s House Party—and Winona’s Pony Cart—these two together in one delicious tome.
You know how much this thrills me. I love Emily so much I actually bought four copies of the last printing to squirrel away for my daughters, just in case she disappeared from bookstores altogether. But now I can give those as presents, perhaps, because there will be these lovely new editions out before too long.
Like I said, that news alone made my week. But the icing on the cake?
I’ve been asked to write the foreword for the Carney/Winona book.
Can you hear me smile? I am so honored. I’m pretty much over the moon!
I re-read the email, heart racing, tears blurring my eyes. The veggie burger guy watched with a look of concern as I managed to word this response on my iPhone:
Do you know how much I love Emily of Deep Valley? I have re-read it countless times since I discovered it as a newcomer to this country years ago in the Flushing library.
I am honored, thrilled, ecstatic, over-the-top, doing-a-Bollywood-Dance delighted.
Oh, Mitali, I hear you. Heart racing, teary-eyed, all of it. Carney’s House Party is one of my favorite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books—I love how honestly Carney grapples with the complicated process of sorting out her college self from her hometown self. And who doesn’t love Winona Root? As I told Jennifer, the older my girls get, the more I enjoy the Winona in them—the devilish twinkle in the eye, the zest for fun and adventure.
Well, this is very, very exciting. Couldn’t be happier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go reread Carney. For the dozenth time.