Top 100 Children’s Novels #52: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
This is also part of a fabulous series. The stories are engaging and also give a great window into a past time, while making it feel real and alive. – Laurie Zaepfel
Number one because every time I read it, I discover something new, and it’s about the best friendship in the world. – Teresa Gibson
It’s wrong that I never read one of these as a kid, isn’t it? But honestly, though my name was Betsy, I sort of eschewed any books that toted my moniker. Understood Betsy. Betsy and the Boys (note to self: Use this title in a blog post at some point). And, best known of all, Betsy-Tacy. Actually, I didn’t even know about these books as a kid. It wasn’t until I started taking classes in children’s literature so as to get my MLIS degree that I discovered the name Maud Hart Lovelace at all.
The description of this book from the publisher reads, “There are lots of children on Hill Street, but no little girls Betsy’s age. So when a new family moves into the house across the street, Betsy hopes they will have a little girl she can play with. Sure enough, they do–a little girl named Tacy. And from the moment they meet at Betsy’s fifth birthday party, Betsy and Tacy become such good friends that everyone starts to think of them as one person–Betsy-Tacy. Betsy and Tacy have lots of fun together. They make a playhouse from a piano box, have a sand store, and dress up and go calling. And one day, they come home to a wonderful surprise–a new friend named Tib.”
By the way, I’ve been a Betsy all my life and in that time I have never EVER met a Tacy. Not one. No Tibs either, now that I think of it.
According to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, the books in this series (Betsy-Tacy was the first of ten) were always based on Lovelace’s own childhood growing up in Mankato, Minnesota. She would tell her own daughter stories of growing up there, later writing them down. Then, “Lovelace submitted Betsy-Tacy to a publisher’s children’s book contest, but it failed to win. She then became a client of the New York literary agent Nannine Joseph, who also represented the illustrator Lois Lenski. Joseph asked Lenski to prepare illustrations for the book, and Lenski then brought the book to her longtime friend, the editor Elizabeth Riley. In 1940 the first of the ten-book Betsy-Tacy series appeared.” She also would set three additional books in the same location (called Deep Valley a.k.a. Mankato, Minnesota): The amusingly titled Carney’s House Party (1949), Emily of Deep Valley (1950), and Winona’s Pony Cart (1953).
It’s fun to compare and contrast what did and did not happen in Maud Hart Lovelace’s life that is reflected in the books. Her entry in Contemporary Authors Online states that, “Lovelace did live in a small yellow house on a street that ended at a big, green hill. Her father (like Betsy’s) owned a shoe store, but later became the treasurer of Blue Earth County. Her sisters, Kathleen and Helen, appear (slightly disguised) in the books as Julia and Margaret. Kathleen, who studied singing, performed in many concerts and operas, and Helen, the youngest, became a librarian. Almost all her characters were based on old friends.”
A proto-feminist? Could be. In Feminist Writers Norma C. Noonan suggests that Lovelace, “can perhaps best be described as an unconscious feminist for most of her life. Growing up in the era of the suffrage movement, she supported the feminism of the suffragists through the words of her alter ego, Betsy Ray. . . . one realizes that Betsy and her sister Julia have aspirations far exceeding the typical women of their day. Lovelace . . . created characters whose dreams and ideals inspired women to greater heights . . . Betsy becomes a writer, Julia an opera star, Carney finishes Vassar, and Tib finds a career in fashion design. That diminutive blond is particularly disdainful of men who prize her delicate looks rather than her accomplishments.”
Betsy-Tacy lovers are legion and their members many. Heck, they have not just one society but TWO! There’s the Maud Hart Lovelace Society and the Betsy-Tacy Society. So again, I’m grateful they didn’t know about this poll at the time or the results might have led to numbers 1-10 being every last Betsy-Tacy book printed.
Author Meg Cabot is one of the better known Betsy-Tacy fans out there. First she went to visit the town itself in conjunction with the tri-annual Betsy-Tacy Convention. Mankato reported on her speech at the convention, and there was a great article about her trip in PW called Betsy, Tacy, and Meg Meet in Deep Valley. Then she wrote the article What Little Girls Are Made Of in the Wall Street Journal online. That’s dedication.
Periodically the books go out-of-print, only to be rescued once again. For example, in 2006 some of the later books were unavailable. That all changed in 2009 when Harper Perennial Modern Classics rereleased the last six books in pairs and included such additional details as little forewords by writers who liked the books.
- Read some of the first book here.
- Broadway star Sutton Foster reads some of the audiobook here.
- This would be the reading guide.
- Sadie Stein had a rather touching ode to Betsy-Tacy in Jezebel, not so long ago.
- The aforementioned Betsy-Tacy Society is very good at keeping up on all the pertinent Betsy-Tacy news that’s out there. I am impressed.
- The television show Hometime TV even did an episode about the gutting and repair to the framing of the original Betsy house. Can’t find it online, though.
- Mankato, Minnesota is home to all things Betsy-Tacy. Fun and Random Fact: It’s also where the movie Juno was set.
Funny thing about the covers . . . not that many out there. Huh.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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