Archive for October 2nd, 2010

A Reader’s Guide to the Betsy-Tacy Books

October 2, 2010 @ 7:58 am | Filed under: ,

The blog A Library Is the Hospital of the Mind is hosting a Maud Hart Lovelace reading challenge during the month of October. Pick out some Betsy-Tacy or Deep Valley books and skip on over to sign up. Participants will have a chance to win copies of HarperPerennial’s brand-new reissues of Emily of Deep Valley and (in a double volume, two books in one) Carney’s House Party / Winona’s Pony Cart. You know, the book I’ve been squeeing about for months, the one I had the thrill-me-to-my-very-bones honor of writing the foreword for? That one!

Not sure where to start?

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.

In Book 3, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the girls are the extremely sophisticated age of ten. Venturing to the other side of the Big Hill is a big deal—here, I’ve already written a big long post about it.

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!

Related posts:

Emily of Deep Valley
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
Betsy-Tacy e-books!
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