Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

 I had never heard of the Betsy-Tacy series until I started to see reviews pop up on different blogs. I was astonished to discover a series of beloved books for girls that I never discovered as a child. As a great fan of such classic series as Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, etc., I knew I must rectify this situation. Therefore I was happy to be a TLC tour stop for Harper Collins new edition of The Betsy-Tacy Treasury in order to discover what all of the fuss is about.

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury is the first four of the Betsy-Tacy books: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Included in the book are great forwards by current authors that are also fans including Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin, and Johanna Hurwitz. There are also sections at the end with background about Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrator Lois Lenski, and each of the four books included. I loved all of this information and found it very interesting. Also interesting was the praise at the beginning of the book for Maud Hart Lovelace from such personalities as Anna Quindlen, Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, Bette Midler, Nora Ephron, Lorna Landvick, etc. In particular, Anna Quindlen stated, “There are three authors whose body of work I have reread more than once in my adult life: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Maud Hart Lovelace.” This is praise indeed!

Was this book truly worthy of all of this praise? I am more than happy to say a very emphatic “YES!” By the end of the first book, I had fallen in love with Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly and their world in Deep Valley, Minnesota. Deep Valley is the Mankato of Lovelace’s childhood around the turn of the nineteenth century. (For fellow Little House on the Prairie TV series fans, this is the same Mankato that characters from Walnut Grove visit to get trade goods.)

Five-year old Betsy is excited when a new family with lots of children moves into the house across the street. One girl appears to be her age. After a slight misunderstanding, they soon become fast friends and the people of Hill Street and Deep Valley can’t remember a time when Betsy-Tacy were not friends. Soon a new girl moves in to the chocolate house on the way to school, and Tib becomes their fast friend. Betsy wants to be a writer and is full of imaginative stories. Tacy is shy, but loyal and fun. Tib is very matter of fact and also very pretty. The books move through their lives. By book two they are eight, book three they are ten, and book four they are twelve.

What did I like so much about this book? Although the adventures took place long before my childhood, the spirit of their life and adventures perfectly captures the spirit and joy of childhood that does not change through the ages. The wonder of the world and how one street and one city can seem so giant and faraway places like Milwaukee can be viewed with imaginative delight are just how a child views the world. Their adventures playing and making up stories reminded me of the fun I had as a child with my best friend Stephanie and sister Kristi doing very similar things. It was wonderful how Lovelace was able to capture her childhood and to remember what it was like to be a child and to have a fantastic imagination that can make climbing a hill the most exciting journey.

What really brought these books to the next level to me was when in book one, tragedy strikes. Tacy’s baby sister, Bee, dies from a childhood illness. Tacy and Betsy go for a walk and Tacy is very sad about her sister’s death. Betsy tries to cheer her up and talks to her about Bee’s adventures in heaven. “Of course she can see us. She’s looking down right now. And I’ll tell you what tickles Bee. She knows all about Heaven, and we don’t. She’s younger than we are, but she knows something that we don’t. Isn’t that funny? She’s just a baby, and she knows more than we do.”

Betsy brings the death down to the level of a child’s understanding, and is able to make Tacy think of all of the fun that Bee is having in heaven being a big girl and watching out for her family. I found it to be a very moving conversation and quite touching. Betsy and Tacy are the best kind of friends; the kind of friends that can help you out in a moment of crisis and be what you need them to be.

I also really enjoyed how Betsy, Tacy, Tib befriend a little girl (Naifi) from “Little Syria” in Deep Valley in Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill. They defend her when she is picked on by some rather nasty boys. Tib’s mother (Mrs. Muller) had some wise words to say about it, “I’m glad Tib stood up for that little Syrian girl. Foreign people should not be treated like that. America is made up of foreign people. Both of Tib’s grandmothers came from the other side. Perhaps when they got off the boat they looked a little strange too.”

Overall, The Betsy-Tacy Treasury was a wonderful, delightful series of books that I am very happy to have finally read. They are great adventures of childhood wonder and also have beautiful illustrations. I will definitely be reading these stories to Penelope when she gets older and I’m already planning for making a future trip to Mankato to check out Big Valley. I also want to read the rest of their adventures as they grow into teenagers and beyond! My only complaint is that poor Tib is always left off of the title of the books.

I am counting the Betsy-Tacy Treasury as my 21st historical fiction book this year for The Historical Fiction Challenge 2011. Lovelace’s historical detail brings the world of Mankato circa 1900 to life. The notes at the end of the book also illustrate how much research she did to make sure her memories matched the historical detail.

Book Source: Review Copy from HarperCollins. Thank-you!

1 comment:

  1. Coming from someone who's familiar with other beloved children's literature (Anne of Green Gables, for example), this is high praise indeed! So glad you loved the books.

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