Friday, January 15, 2010

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

3. Betsy-Tacy - first in the Betsy-Tacy series
by Maud Hart Lovelace
juvenile fiction, 1940
finished, 1/10/10

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.


  1. OK, you've convinced me. I need to read this series. I'll look for the first one soon. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I started by reading Emily of Deep Valley as an adult and absolutely loved it. Still one of my favourites, and the B-T books are charming and so much fun!

  3. I only just read Betsy-Tacy in 2009 and absolutely fell in love. I don't know why I have been hesitant to move onto the second in the series. I think there is a part of me that is afraid it won't be as wonderful as Betsy-Tacy. You are so right about the joy of sharing books we loved with our children. To hear that your daughter loved the Betsy-Tacy books too made me smile:)

  4. I like the early Betsy-Tacy books but I go off Betsy when she gets older. It's so nice when your children love the books you do!

  5. Oh, Kay, I don't think you'll be disappointed!

    Rambling Fancy, you know, I've not read the three that aren't directly Betsy-Tacy books, but on your recommendation, I'll search them out. Thank you!

    Book Psmith, I don't think you'll feel let down by continuing. I plan on doing so myself, and will let you know, but my memory of reading them as a girl, and with Margaret is that they were all good. Of course they do grow up which will change the stories some. I love how we meet Tib at the end of B-T, and how she's the one in the 'chocolate house.'

    Call me madam, I remember reading the older books when I was a pre-teen or teen and really liked them. We'll see. As I told Book Psmith, I hope to read them all again this year. I know that Margaret likes the ones about the older girls.

  6. I totally missed these books as a child, and so did my girls. It sounds like I need to make time for them now. It's never too late, right?

  7. These books are not part of UK childhoods as far as I know; I've never seen them here. But now I long to try them. I love that you have been able to share them with your own daughter, it's so lovely to be able to pass the love of a story through the generations.

  8. You and I seem to have very similar reading tastes. Love, love, love these books.
    I startred reading them when I was in elementary school. I read every single one, starting with Betsy-Tacy and going all the way up to Betsy & Joe, Betsy in the Big World, and Betsy and Joe's wedding. ( I wanted to read them all at once, but was limited to the number of books we were allowed to take out of the library at one time! What a ridiculous idea!)
    I so desperately wanted my high school days to be as much fun as Betsy's but of course they couldn't be. A few years ago, I saw the books in reprints and bought an entire set just for me, so I could read and reread them whenever I wanted.
    Years ago there was an article about Maud Hart Lovelace in "Victoria" magazine, with photos of her house and some of the places which inspired her writing. I don't have a copy of the magazine, alas, so I can't tell you exactly which issue it appeared in.
    That'll give me something to try to research when I get a minute. Thanks for a delightful post and a great reminder of some truly wonderful books.
    Canadian Chickadee

  9. Hi Nan,

    It depends on WHAT you have growing around your house. I planted berry bearing shrubs for thrushes, mockers, sparrows, finches, and have seen others at them too.

    Remember, "if you plant it they will come."

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  10. Oh, I love this series and I even have belonged to the Maud Hart Lovelace email group since 2000. While growing-up, I owned Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown and that's still my very, very favorite one. Not until I became an adult did I discover there were more books in the series(!) and I gobbled them up. I also love Carney's House Party--that's probably my 2nd favorite of the series. I read it over and over. I'm glad you like these, too. :) Blessings, Debra

  11. These books are sitting on my middle school library shelves...I should pick one of them up and read !!

  12. Add me to the list of people who did not read this books as a child. I am putting them on my radar now and will definitely be reading them on your recommendation Nan. You wrote a beautiful review of the book!!

  13. When I lived in NY State for a few years, I found these books for my daughters - they really are sweet.

    People say you can'd make good characters and happy families interesting in fiction. I'd say that these and the Little House books show that you can!

  14. Though not familiar with Betsy-Tacy, loved Little Women and the Nancy Drew series ... Ann of Green Gables ... Sharing books with my children was our favorite pastime and for this I am blessed since my children are all avid readers.

  15. Just as Enid Blyton wasn't known over here. In recent years though I think there is a much better connection between our two countries in literature. I can think of several British books I read to my kids that were readily available in my small town bookstore - just off the top of my head - the authors Shirley Hughes and Nina Bawden. I'm pretty sure you would enjoy this series. I just saw that the books are at Book Depository.

    Canadian Chickadee, wonderful to read about your memories of these books. My little scheme for the You've Got Mail Reading Challenge is to read one a month. Won't that be a nice treat?! I felt the same way whenever I read books about teenage girls - I wanted my life to be like theirs. This was way before the trouble-topics of the YA books of today. I loved Betty Cavanna, especially, and Beverly Cleary's Fifteen. I've read on other blogs the name Rosamund Du Jardin but I never read her. Ah, the old Victoria magazine offered such wonderful articles!

    Sharon, we have lots of bushes, and we do have sparrows and finches and chickadees and robins in the summer nesting in them, but I just meant that with 200 acres of woods and fields around, there's a lot of land for the birdies to occupy! :<)

    Thanks, Debra, I was hoping you'd see this post, knowing that we share a love of these books. I haven't read Carney - must look into the other three.

    Oh, Staci, yes!!

    Laura, thank you. I think you'll like these books. Sweet, well-written stories.

    Katherine, you are so right. Most of the books I read have 'good characters and happy families' and I love them.

    Joey, I love the Anne books too!

  16. Yes! Please do read Rosamond du Jardin. You'll love her. The Tobey Heydon series is most peoples' favorite and that is where I'd start. Anne Emery wrote at the same time and I especially loved Married on Wednesday and Vagabond Summer, but she had tons of good ones, also. I also love Betty Cavanna's and Beverly Cleary's teen books (have you read The Luckiest Girl? That's my favorite, but I also like Sister of the Bride). Stop me before I go on and on all morning. :) I'd love to hear what you think of any of these other books you may read! Blessings, Debra

  17. P.S. I so wish you lived in my neighborhood! I'd gladly loan you my collection of retro teen books. Sigh. :) I've spent many years collecting them from here, there, everywhere :) ...Debra

  18. I have been wondering if these books were worth reading. Now I know I will read them.

  19. Great review, Nan, thank you! Did you know there is a New England Chapter of Betsy-Tacy fans? We should recruit you. Please email me if you would like to learn more.

    I actually think Betsy, Tacy and Tib is better than Betsy-Tacy. Certainly, as someone who read both aloud to younger siblings and then to nieces, it reads better.

    Borders UK has carried the books but of course has fallen on evil days. I am sure Harper UK could be coaxed to carry the new high school editions. It is interesting what US series *were* popular in England, such as the Katy books by Susan Coolidge which are not all that well known here any more.

  20. I've been hearing about this series for as long as I've been blogging. Actually, I think the first time I heard of Betsy-Tacy was back when we were in our online book club in the late 90s. I really need to try the first book. Maybe I'll buy a copy and pass it on to my granddaughter when I'm finished. She just finished The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and seemed to enjoy it!

  21. Like Debra, I belong to the list called maud-l, which is made up of people whose lives have been made more joyful because of these great books. How great that your daughter is reading them too, Nan...Thank you for this wonderful post.

    Emily of Deep Valley is my very favorite, although Betsy just has a cameo roll in it. But I love them all.

  22. Debra, SO many great titles and authors. Thanks a million. I'm jotting them all down and will try to read them soon. What a wonderful collection you must have!

    Hip Chick, did your girls read them?

    Thanks, CLM. I'll think about it. :<) I've been reading about Susan Coolidge lately, and plan to get the first Katy book. And next month I plan to read B,T, and T.

    Les, I read Five Little Peppers when I was little, but tried it again a few years ago and just couldn't read it. Funny how that works. B-T is just as fresh and interesting to me as all those years ago, and yet FLP didn't appeal.

    Kristi, I'm seriously going to get the other three books - today! And hopefully read them this year.

  23. My favorite childhood series:

    Betsy Tacy
    Little House on the Prairie
    All of a Kind Family
    Bobbsey Twins

    I hope my daughter will love these too!

  24. Tara, the only ones I read as a kid were the B-T books, and several Bobbsey Twins. Being an only child, I adored books about families. I read the All of a Kind Family series a few years back and loved the books so much! I never cared for the Little House books - when I think about it, I've not ever liked books about pioneering, moving west, all that sort of stuff. Funny, what we love and what we don't!

  25. What a wonderful blog you have!

    I love Maud Hart Lovelace's "Betsy-Tacy" series. My favorite book is "Emily of Deep Valley."

  26. Thanks so much, Protector of Vintage, for coming by and for your kind words.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.