Thursday, July 22, 2010

Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? Part I


Sometime last fall, I suddenly heard all this hype around these old children’s books called Betsy-Tacy—a series that follows a couple of friends from childhood to adulthood. And I thought, “…why have I not heard of these before????” I’ve been such a reader my whole life that few children’s series have passed my radar undetected…and I’m still a sucker for children’s books. I usually read Harriet the Spy once a year, and all things Anne of Green Gables hold a special place in my heart. When I joined a local book club and one of the members who shares my love of classic juvenile fiction raved about Betsy-Tacy, I knew it was time to dive right in.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve quickly devoured the first four books in Maud Hart Lovelace’s series: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. [One book is the perfect length for the plane ride to Nashville.] As I expected, they’re pretty addicting.

Betsy-Tacy introduces us to Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly when they’re five years old, in the early twentieth century. Tacy moves in across the street from Betsy in a small Minnesota town, and the two become fast friends. Betsy-Tacy and Tib throws another player into the mix: Tib Muller—the new girl that moved into the beautiful brown house down the street at the end of Betsy-Tacy. The addition of Tib makes the duo a trio. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill involves magical tenth birthdays and the discovery of a local immigrant population and befriending of a young Syrian girl. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown takes the girls—so grown-up at twelve years old!—downtown to the public library and into the production of a traveling theater show.
The unofficial History Book of Friendship has always told us that “three’s a crowd,” but that’s no fun for children’s books; so Betsy, Tacy, and Tib get along perfectly well. They each have very distinct personalities—Betsy is, more often than not, the gang leader, a bit of a firecracker, but a bookworm at heart with a vivid and poetic imagination; Tacy is the shy one of the group who usually goes along with whatever Betsy says; and Tib is almost the antithesis of the other two—realistic, outspoken, and never afraid to take center stage. Together, these three have all kinds of adventures and discoveries as they learn how to grow up with each passing year.
Some fun facts about Betsy-Tacy:
  • The series is based on stories from Lovelace’s own childhood. She was inspired to put them on paper since they’d been repeated so much as bedtime stories to her daughter.
  • The characters are based on real people in the author’s life—her family and her two best friends.
  • Lots of these places and events really existed/happened, too. Lovelace was big on historical accuracy. The setting is pretty accurate, even down to there being an immigrant community in her small Minnesota town.
I can’t help but love simple stories like this series. It’s a world so foreign to us now—without technology. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are entranced by a telephone and the first motor vehicle they see…can you imagine seeing those things for the first time? Inventions were a new, exciting possibility. And now the only new technological advancements seem to be replacing a 3G network with a 4G one…and I have no idea what that even means. I sound like an old geezer using the phrase “It was a simpler time,” but…it was. And sometimes that is really refreshing—to unplug, power off, and focus on what’s living and breathing right in front of you. I have a really hard time imagining what office work was like 20 years ago before everything was run by a computer. And now, how crippled are we when the internet is down in our offices? I have nostalgia for the days I never even lived, when we didn’t want or need information instantaneously and face-to-face interactions were the most frequent.
Other things:
  • I like how the reading level increases as the characters age. The first three read almost like easy readers from the 1950s, and the fourth immediately felt much more advanced.
  • Does anyone else think Tib is getting jipped with these book titles? It’s always “Betsy and Tacy _______.” Why no Tib??
  • I really want to get my hands on the recent re-release versions from Harper Perennial. LOVE the cover art style, good collection to own.
  • The NYPL doesn’t even have the next in the series, Heaven to Betsy, in circulation! Utter failure, NYPL. Now I have to hunt it down elsewhere!
So until then…are there any series that hold a special place in your heart?
PS, has anyone seen the Road to Avonlea series? Is it worth my time committing to on Netflix?


Alison said…

Come to Brooklyn! We have Heaven to Betsy in the new 2-in-1 bindup with the next on, Betsy in Spite of Herself!

Rhiannon Paine said…

I was lucky enough to read (and re-read) most of the B-Ts as a child: library copies. In 1970, I bought all the books except Carney's HP and Winona's PC in hardcover, and together with my passport, they're what I would grab if my house caught fire. In addition to the great points you make here, I love how the girls' horizons expand as they get older. In the 1st 2 books, they go part way up the Big Hill; at 10, they go over the Big Hill; at 12, they're old enough to go downtown, and at last, Betsy's ready for the Great World. This gradual command of more & more territory is another thing that most children have lost in our suburban and more dangerous world.

Kathy Baxter said…

Continue on! These are my all time favorite books, nothing else even comes close!
Kathleen Baxter

Rhiannon Paine said…

I grew up in suburbia and couldn't walk anywhere. I longed to climb hills and bring back arms full of wildflowers and walk downtown to the library. Tried walking in the orchard near my house once, before it got torn down, and got told off for trespassing!

Kristi said…

These are really great books, and discovering them late is so much better than never!

Susan Albrecht said…

Yes, yes, yes, what Kathy said! My all-time favorites. SO glad you've discovered these books. They're such a constant presence in my life. I really liked what you said here: "I have nostalgia for the days I never even lived, when we didn't want or need information instantaneously and face-to-face interactions were the most frequent."

Welcome to the world of Betsy-Tacy fans!

Kari said…

Great point! That crossed my mind too while reading. I definitely remember the simple pleasure of being able to explore more while growing up. The day I was old enough to be dropped off at the movies or walk around the mall unsupervised was EPIC. I always craved city life as a kid because everything was within walking distance. But I guess it wouldn't have made the day I could walk to the drugstore on the corner by myself as monumental.

Kari said…

Thanks for the heads up! In November, I will become an official resident of Brooklyn, at which point I will immediately sign up for my Brooklyn Public Library card!

Mary said…

I am so glad you found the Betsy-Tacy books, Kari. Of all the books I read as a child, these are the books closest to my heart. You are in for such a treat ! The next 6 books take Betsy through each year of high school , a year traveling in Europe, and her first years of marriage.
Don't worry about Tib, she wouldn't even mind her name being only on one book . She is the ultimate good sport.
I hope you will blog about Betsy -Tacy again after you enter the High School years . Maud Hart Lovelace gave the world a gift : books that become friends !

Rhiannon Paine said…

Mary: I loved every word of your comment. And Kari, if you haven't been yet, Mankato is well worth visiting. You can see the little glass pitcher that Bick (Tacy) gave Maud (Betsy), as well as all three houses of the Immortal Trio.

Steffi Smith said…

And Kari–we're having another convention in Mankato (Deep Valley) in summerof 2012. You'll LOVE IT!!

Guusje said…

These books changed my life! I read them as a child, still re-read them and can honestly say my life would not be as it is were it not for Betsy Tacy!

Susann said…

Yay! As your friendly neighborhood BT pusher/proselytizer, I can't tell you how happy your review makes me.

Nancydowning said…

Always glad to hear of a new reader for Betsy-Tacy! I've read these books so many times, I have whole pages memorized. I envy you still having "new" titles by Maud to read.

Susie said…

Speaking of enlarged territory, Betsy goes to Milwaukee her sophomore year to visit Tib. We just gathered there to see the places she visited and celebrate our love for the books and each other.

CMPete said…

Yes, we're thrilled you've introduced yourself to Betsy and company. You musn't miss the other Deep Valley books though – Winona's Pony Cart, Carney's House Party and Emily of Deep Valley. They are being re-published this year.

Lover's of Maud's work are sometimes referred to as a 'cult'. So beware Kari! We'll get you addicted to onion sandwiches, magic wavers, tall dark strangers and maud-vibes!!

Kari said…

Onion sandwiches??? I'm assuming I haven't gotten to that part of the series yet!

I am excited to get more feedback once I read the others. I never knew there was such a Betsy Tacy community!

Deepvalleymich said…

Kari, you'll LOVE the rest of the Betsy-Tacy books, the high school ones are to die for good!

As for Road to Avonlea, I'd say give it a shot. It resembles The Golden Road on which it is loosely based very little, but it's a decent show- rather more slapsticky than the Anne movies, but I still enjoy the characters, especially the first few seasons. Enjoy!

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