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!)”
This coming weekend, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans and scholars from all over the country will gather in Mankato, MN, for the first-ever Laurapalooza Conference. I was invited to attend, but alas, I couldn’t swing a weekend away the week before Comic-Con. When your hubby’s a comic-book editor in San Diego, July is ALL ABOUT Comic-Con.
I’ll be LauraPaloozing in spirit, though, and eagerly following news of the conference on Twitter and at the Beyond Little House site.
Mankato, as you may know, is not only rich in LIW history, it’s the town on which Maud Hart Lovelace based the Deep Valley of her Betsy-Tacy books. As you can imagine, Mankato is high on my list of Places I Absolutely Must Visit Someday.
Laurapalooza speakers include LIW biographers John Miller, William Anderson, and Pamela Smith Hill. Visit Beyond Little House for more information.
I received my giveaway copy (destined for Laurie of Seaglass Hearts) and am rooting for Team Philomathian. The reissues are perfectly lovely, I must say. Wonderful feel to the covers (and that swoony vintage art), the classic Vera Neville illustrations, and loads of photos and extras in the back.
May I ask a favor? If you happened to hear about Betsy-Tacy for the first time here at Bonny Glen (I know a few folks have mentioned that this is the case), would you drop me a note in the comments?
I recently located a copy of The Betsy-Tacy Companion: A Biography of Maud Hart Lovelace and have been looking forward to inhaling it just as soon as I emerge from my current reading jag (the YA novels of Laurie Halse Anderson). Liz’s new post at Tea Cozy has me all the more eager. It’s kind of thrilling for me to realize I’m living not too far from some bona fide Maud Hart Lovelace sites here in SoCal. I sense some field trips ahead…
Over the next few weeks, a number of bloggers will be sharing their enthusiasm for the books of Maud Hart Lovelace in the Betsy-Tacy Book Blog Tour. Of course, my own enthusiasm has been spilling all over this blog for the past many weeks. I am tickled pink to see these books back in print. (I’ve been sitting here searching for the right adjective for “books” in that sentence: wonderful? delightful? important? fabulous? life-affecting? Everything sounds hackneyed or overused, but they’re all true.)
This week I reread my favorite of the “young” Betsy books.
(The series divides neatly into the young books—the first four titles, during which Betsy grows from age 5 to 12—and the older books, one for each year of high school, plus Betsy’s year abroad, and the year of her wedding. There are also a few related titles: Winona’s Pony Cart, another “young” book, and two older ones: Carney’s House Party and Emily of Deep Valley, which you know I adore.)
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the third book in the series, is one of those books that stays with you a long time. Snippets and images from Big Hill pop into my head all the time, especially when I’m witnessing quarrels between my daughters—a great deal of the plot centers on a disagreement between Betsy-and-Tacy and their older sisters, Julia and Katie. Like so many of the childhood events that weigh heavily on small shoulders, this quarrel over who is to be the Queen of Summer—which begins lightheartedly but turns tense and ugly—is deeply distressing to ten-year-old Betsy, who is torn between angry frustration and a desire to put things right with her beloved and much-admired sister. Lovelace’s sensitivity and good humor are in full force as Betsy and the other girls struggle to find their way out of the mess.
But in the book’s opening, there is no hint of a storm on the horizon.
Oh, Betsy’s ten tomorrow
and then all of us are ten!
We will all be ten tomorrow,
We will all be ladies then.
Who can forget the fun of that opening scene! Tib turned ten in January, and Tacy was ten in March, but with Betsy lagging behind—she’s an April birthday—the others are too polite to make a big deal about having reached such an advanced age. Now it’s the day before the long-awaited April date, and the three friends are ready to put childish things like parades behind them and commence being ladies, prinking their little fingers over tea and expanding their vocabulary to include mature words such as “prefer” and “indeed.” And with the sixteen-year-old King of Spain making a stir in all the papers, it is inevitable that such sophisticated persons as Betsy and Tacy will decide it’s high time they fell in love. It’s a bewildered Tib, they decide, who ought to marry him—after all, her new accordion-pleated dress is fit for a queen. Alas, she is not of “the blood royal,” and the girls feel compelled to pen a letter explaining to the young king why the marriage cannot take place. That’s what sophisticated ladies would do, you know.
In the first two books, we got to know Betsy, Tacy, and Tib in the cozy setting of their small-town neighborhood: their kitchens, their yards, their school, and the gentle, grassy slope of the Big Hill that rises beyond Betsy and Tacy’s houses. Now that they are such grown-up young ladies, the trio of ten-year-olds ventures beyond the crest of the hill all alone for the first time. The adventure that meets the girls on the other side is wholly unexpected and unexpectedly thought-provoking.
Here in Betsy’s beloved Deep Valley, Minnesota, we expect to meet folks like the kindhearted Scandinavian neighbor, Mrs. Ekstrom, Tacy’s bustling Catholic family, and Tib’s proud German mother. What we don’t, perhaps, expect to find in this turn-of-the-20th-century small Midwestern town is a thriving community of Lebanese immigrants—refugees from religious persecution, recently arrived in America and proudly working toward American citizenship.
The community called “Little Syria” in the Betsy-Tacy books is, like most of the events in this series, based on real people. Just over the hill from Mankato, Minnesota (Deep Valley in the books) was a village called Tinkcomville, named after its founder, James Tinkcom. Tinkcom bought the land in 1873, expecting to sell it in lots for development, but it turned out to be too far from town to appeal to most Mankato folks. Finally, in the 1890s, he sold the lots to a group of immigrants from Lebanon. In Big Hill, Tinkcom—that is, “Mr. Meecham”—is described as a reclusive and curmudgeonly sort, living in a big brick house near Little Syria and not mingling overmuch with the Deep Valley folks. However, there’s a place in his heart for anyone who befriends the good people of Little Syria—which is exactly what Betsy, Tacy, and Tib find themselves doing when their last pre-double-digits parade takes them over the crest of the Big Hill to a slope overlooking the village.
The girls’ shock at having walked so far alone dissipates quickly when they remember how grown-up they are now, on this eve of Betsy’s big day.
“Well, I’m surprised!” said Tacy. “I never knew we could walk to Little Syria.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Betsy.
“You’re not?” asked Tacy.
“No,” said Betsy. “Remember I’ll be ten tomorrow. It’s the sort of thing we’ll be doing often from now on.”
“Going to other towns?” asked Tacy.
“Yes. Little Syria, Minneapolis. Chicago. New York.”
“I’d love to go to New York and see the Flatiron Building,” said Tacy.
Tib looked puzzled.
“But Little Syria,” she said, “is just over our own hill. We didn’t know that it was. But it is.”
“Well, we certainly didn’t find it out until today,” said Betsy.
“We certainly never walked to it before,” said Tacy.
“That’s right,” admitted Tib.
This sunny confidence is what makes Betsy irresistible to the Deep Valley small fry—and to generations of readers. (In the high-school books, her confidence will waver a little, and she is sometimes prey to a kind of listless depression—but this, too, is part of Betsy’s appeal. She’s a real girl, imperfect, wrestling with moods and passions and uncertainties, trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, and sometimes puzzled by how vehemently her family and friends declare she’s just right just the way she is, imperfections and all.)
One day Betsy will roam the Great World, but right now, poised atop the Big Hill and at the brink of ten, the path before her is full of adventures she—yes, even she of the big imagination—could never have imagined. First there is the encounter with Naifi, one of the Syrians, “a little girl so strange she seemed to have stepped out of one of Betsy’s stories.” Strange, that is, to the eyes of a Deep Valley girl who has never seen a child with earrings and a “long skirt, like a woman’s,” speaking a language Betsy, Tacy, and Tib cannot understand. The language of picnics is universal, however, and over their different kinds of bread, a friendship is born. Before long the Deep Valley trio will find themselves springing into battle to defend their new chum, venturing into houses where the grandpas smoke hubble-bubble pipes and the grandmas pound lamb with mallets, and, eventually, learning from these new neighbors a deepened pride and appreciation for what it means to be an American.
And then, of course, there’s that sisterly quarrel still to patch up. Who will be the Queen of Summer? And whatever became of the letter Betsy, Tacy, and Tib sent to the King of Spain?
Would you believe I was supposed to write about two books in this post? I could easily go on yapping for several more pages about Big Hill. Could spend about a week mining the riches of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. But this post is already a ridiculous 1400 words long. So let me ask you: Which one do you like best—Big Hill or Go Downtown? (I mean: the Christmas shopping, the play, the delicious Mr. and Mrs. Poppy, the horseless carriage! The three telephone calls! Oh!)
If you’d like to participate but don’t have a potential convert in mind, Bonny Glen commenters Lenetta and Anna would love to be adopted.
I’m re-re-rereading Heaven to Betsy right now. How could I resist, after all these Betsy posts? It’s the first of the high-school books, chronicling Betsy’s freshie experiences with a new Crowd of friends—irresistible! The setting is early 1900s Deep Valley, Minnesota, aka Small Town America. Betsy’s social life—a merry string of piano singalongs, football games, parties, surrey rides, school dances, and her father’s famous Sunday Night Lunches (where onion sandwiches are the stars of the show)—is enviable, but even so, Betsy grapples with doubts and difficulties:
Walking homeward, looking up at the sky, and around her at the wan landscape, she felt an inexplicable yearning. It was mixed up with Tony, but it was more than Tony. It was growing up; it was leaving Hill Street and having someone else light a lamp in the beloved yellow cottage. She felt like crying, and yet there was nothing to cry about.
She made up poems as she tramped homeward, the snow squeaking under her feet. Sometimes when she reached home she wrote them down and put htem with Tony’s notes deep in the handkerchief box. But she did this secretly.
“What has become of your writing, Betsy?” her mother asked. “Are you sure you don’t want Uncle Keith’s trunk [Betsy’s old desk] down in your bedroom?”
Betsy was sure; she didn’t want it, although she still climbed to the third floor and visited it sometimes.
Writing didn’t seem to fit in with the life she was living now. Carney didn’t write; Bonnie didn’t write. Betsy felt almost ashamed of her ambition. The boys teased her about being a Little Poetess. She felt that she would die if anyone discovered those poems in the handkerchief box, and the bits of stories she still wrote sometimes when she was supposed to be doing algebra.
This is a different Betsy from the little girl who entertained her friends with endless tales back in the old Hill Street days. To be sure, the 14-year-old Betsy is still entertaining her chums with her ready wit and lively spirits. But she hasn’t quite figured out what to do with this other side of herself, the serious, introspective side, the place the poems come from. She’ll get there, but it’ll take time. And as life changes, she’ll have to sort the sides of herself all over again: we see her still groping for balance in Betsy’s Wedding, the final book of the series. I love that; it rings quite true.
Excited much? You bet I am. These books were out of print, and now they’re back. Best book news of the year, if you ask me.
The relaunch coincides with a fresh burst of Betsy enthusiasm around here: Beanie, aged 8, is reading them for the first time. Her two big sisters have been fans for years, of course. My girls have never been to school, but they are part of a group of friends every bit as lively and close-knit as Betsy Ray’s high-school Crowd. And something I love is that Betsy and her crowd are themselves a major part of the bond between my girls and their friends. Seems like every time the other girls come over, they make a beeline for the Shelf of Honor where we keep our precious, tattered copies of The Tomes. The books have become a lending library and they seem to be in constant circulation. And I love this, because I really think the series has helped infuse our group with the spirit of fun and camaraderie you find in Betsy’s high-school stories. Equally important are the seriousness and reflectiveness with which Betsy addresses her own teen crises in the context of a deeply attached, affectionate family and circle of friends. Betsy knows that loving safety net is always there to support her, but she also understands that in order to walk the tightrope of life, she must find her own sense of balance, her own steadiness of foot. I’m glad Betsy is part of my girls’ Crowd, these young women with their own tightropes stretching out before them.
Well, it’s almost September! And I am giddy with glee. Here they come!
I’ll be participating in the Betsy-Tacy book blog tour, an event that promises to be enormous amounts of fun. All through September, bloggers will be writing about particular Betsy books—my girls and I have been asked to talk about books 3 and 4, and Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, which will be a pleasure. Betsy’s encounter with the folks in Little Syria has always been a favorite episode of mine. Bonny Glen’s tour date is September 23, always a festive day around here. (Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, of course!)
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?
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.