3. Betsy-Tacy - first in the Betsy-Tacy series
by Maud Hart Lovelace
juvenile fiction, 1940
This is my first book read for the You've Got Mail Reading Challenge.
One of the great joys of being a parent is sharing books from your childhood with your own child. For me, the books were Little Women, and the Betsy-Tacy series. And what a thrill it was when my Margaret loved them as much as I did. In fact, not too long ago she stopped by and I found her sitting down with one of the Betsy-Tacy books.
So, where to begin for those of you who haven't read these books. How do I encourage an adult to go out and buy or borrow Betsy-Tacy? After all, there are so many great books out there for adults. Why should you spend your precious reading time on a book for children published seventy years ago? Well, all I can say is that it is a very special book. It tells us what life was like at the turn of the century, when the 1800s were becoming the 1900s, when the author was herself a young girl. Betsy's experiences are those of Maud Hart Lovelace. She wrote:
Of course, I could make it all up, but in these Betsy-Tacy stories, I love to work from real incidents.
The book portrays a childhood friendship all children long for. And it is beautifully written. The descriptions of the people and places are so real that the reader feels like she has actually seen them.
These girls have a playhouse made from an old piano box. They have birthday parties, and go to school, and just play and play. They take walks and have picnics. They color easter eggs, and they color sand to sell in jars. From a chapter called, Supper on the Hill:
That summer they started having picnics. At first the picnics were not real picnics; not the kind you take out in a basket. Betsy's father, serving the plates at the head of the table, would fill Betsy's plate with scrambled eggs and bread and butter and strawberries, or whatever they had for supper. Tacy's father would do the same. Holding the plate in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, each little girl would walk carefully out of her house and down the porch steps and out to the middle of the road. Then they would walk up the hill to that bench where Tacy had stood the first night she came. And there they would eat supper together.
I've seen two cartoons recently that are a sign of these times we live in. The first was a holiday scene of a family. It was one of those houses where the kitchen flows into the living room. You could see all the food in the kitchen, while all the people were in the living room. But not together. Living parallel. Each one of them using a computer, or a cell phone, or playing a video game. The second is a recent New Yorker cover. Two skiers at the top of a beautiful world and one is taking a photo and the other is talking on a cell phone. They are each leaning in opposite directions.
This is as different as can be from the life we see in Betsy-Tacy. The families, the friends, the meals, the homes are the center of life.
When summer time came Betsy and Tacy didn't need to bother with school anymore. They could play all day long. They did play all day long, and they never once ran out of things to do.
"The days aren't long enough for those two," Betsy's mother said to Betsy's father.
Halcyon days, and a wonderful book.