A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
FEBRUARY 1:

  • Happy birthday Jerry Spinelli (Stargirl), James Preller (A Pirates Guide to First Grade) and, Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries)
  • It’s the birth date of Langston Hughes (1902–1967), Poetry for Young People.
  • On this day in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signs the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
  • The first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (A to Ant) is published in 1884.
  • Four African American students from a North Carolina college stage the first Greensboro lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworths in 1960. Read Freedom on the Menu: The Greenboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue.

The first week of February has been designated as a week to celebrate children’s authors and artists. Of course, at the Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac, we do that 365 days a year. But since there are some fabulous children’s book creators that I’ve not yet had a chance to talk about, I’ll focus on some of them this week, beginning with Maud Hart Lovelace. Born in 1892 in Mankato, Minnesota, Lovelace began to write at an early age. She once asked her mother, “How do you spell ‘going down the street’?” She kept scrapbooks and diaries and later used this material for her books. At a time when women rarely received a college education, Lovelace attended the University of Minnesota, and she married another writer. Then she began to publish historical novels for adults such as Early Candlelight, which is set in Minnesota, and Gentleman from England, which she wrote with her husband.

Had she simply written adult novels, Lovelace would be forgotten today. Like many parents, she liked to tell her children stories about her own childhood home and friends. She told her daughter Marien stories about growing up in Mankato and her best friend Bick Kenney, whom she met at her fifth birthday party. Lovelace drew on these memories for a series of books presenting the adventures of three friends, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, in Deep Valley, Minnesota. When a new family moves into Betsy’s neighborhood, she finally has a friend her age to play with. In fact, they do so much together that everyone simply refers to them as Betsy-Tacy.

Drawing many of the people and events from her life in Mankato, Lovelace aged her protagonists from age five to twelve in the first four books. The Betsy-Tacy series explores childhood and adolescence at the turn of the twentieth century in a small Midwestern community. The last six books in the series take the girls through high school and adult years. J. K. Rowling was not the first author to age her protagonist over a series of books—she just returned to an early twentieth century model for the Harry Potter series.

In these light-hearted, very enjoyable books for seven- to ten-year-olds, Lovelace introduced difficult issues. In Betsy-Tacy, published in 1940, Tacy’s baby sister dies, and as a five-year-old she must cope with her grief. In later Betsy-Tacy books and in a later novel, Emily of Deep Valley (1950), the characters must deal with small-town prejudice against the ethnic community Little Syria.

Acclaimed children’s writer Mitali Perkins expressed her enthusiasm for Lovelace in a new edition of Emily of Deep Valley: “Maud Hart Lovelace’s classic novels served as a superb orientation for a young newcomer from India eager to understand the history and heritage of a new world. They took me back to 1912, a time when America shared many of the values that resonated in my old-world home, but they also sparkled with timeless humor that made me laugh out loud in the library.”

Like many of our classics, the Betsy-Tacy books went out of print for a short period. But the Betsy-Tacy Society and the Maud Hart Lovelace Society kept the fans organized and managed to get the titles back in print. Although the books reflect their period, they remain true to the experience of many children who see their lives in terms of family and friendship. Long after other books have been forgotten, adults cherish their memories of reading about Betsy, Tacy, and Deep Valley.

Here’s a selection from Betsy-Tacy:

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 the bench were Tacy had stood the first night she came. And there they would east supper together.

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Originally posted February 1, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: 19th century, Family, History
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COMMENTS

  1. G.Perry says:

    We wake finding ourselves in the middle of a dangerous blizzard as I type. Do I go to NOAA to look at weather on the net first? NO. I come here to read Children’s Almanac!

    I’ll comment later. If we have power.

  2. Anita says:

    Your devotion is truly appreciated. I hope you stay safe in the blizzard. Anita

  3. Star says:

    I almost named my youngest daughter Tacy because of my love of these books! (It was vetoed because it sounded too much like my sister’s name, Stacey.) Anyway, I adore these books and am so happy to see you feature my beloved “friends” on here today. I have often talked about these books to others and very few people have ever known what I’m talking about. How is this possible?! I feel they’ve been cheated by not reading these books.

    Speaking of books going out of print, (and a bit off topic), do you know if there are any plans to bring Patricia Coombs’ Dorrie books back into print? I have some of them that I nabbed at library books sales years ago (all of them are stamped “discarded,” sadly), but I would love to see them back in print! Same with Ruth Chew’s books…witches that fly around on vacuum cleaners! What’s not to love?

  4. Jen D-K says:

    I’ve read that Maud Hart Lovelace was ready to give up writing before she decided to give it one last try and wrote BETSY-TACY. The idea that she might have stopped fills me with horror!! Though I’m also inspired by the fact that her greatest success was just around the corner . . . she simply couldn’t see it yet. Thank you for your wonderful piece about these beyond-wonderful books!!

  5. CM Tucker says:

    Thanks for the wonderful reveiw of the beloved tomes. Great job!
    (except that it was Tacy’s sister, Bea that dies)
    Maud does a great job dealing with all kinds of sticky subjects – sibling rivalry, religion, peer pressuren small town politics, cliques, work ethics, depression, and relations with the opposite sex. Her stories are the best kind of coming of age tales – not preachy, but not obsured, either.

  6. Anita says:

    Thanks for the comment; I’ve made the correction. I am amazed, as you are, by how many serious subjects she manages to address in these funny and simply-told stories.

  7. Amy says:

    Thank you for spotlighting this wonderful author and series. The Betsy-Tacy books provided a wonderful escape from a less than ideal childhood. To this day they are still my “happy place,” and are as fresh and accessible for today’s young audiences as they were for me.

  8. Chelsey says:

    I read the first Betsy-Tacy book when they were repackaged at some point when I was growing up. I was a big fan of books set in the early part of the century and further back. Potentially because the first books my mom read me past picture books were the Laura Ingalls Wilder ones.

  9. Anne says:

    I loved these books! My mother bought the full set for herself when I was in my 40s, so I was able to finish the series.

  10. Pamela Jane says:

    Anita,

    Thank you so much for this post about a much beloved-author. Your readers might be interested in THE BETSY-TACY COMPANION: A Biography of Maud Hart Lovelace by Sharla Scannell Whalen. It’s filled with wonderful photos and fascinating facts about Lovelace, the books she wrote and friends and family who inspired her characters. I have my own “Betsy-Tacy” story at http://blog.pamelajane.com/.

  11. Thank you for this wonderful spotlight – like many of the commenters, I grew up loving Betsy Tacy and still re-read the books to this day (I’m currently on about my 100th re-read of Betsy and the Great World, somewhat inspired by Downton Abbey since they’re set in the same time period and Betsy is travelling abroad just as WWI begins). Other fans should know that a Betsy-Tacy Songbook has just been released that features many of the sheet music of the songs featured in the books and that plans are underway for a Betsy-Tacy Convention in the Summer of 2012 to take place in both Minneapolis and Mankato. Info on the songbook and the convention can be found at http://www.betsytacyconvention.com
    Thank you again!

  12. Darsa says:

    Of all the books I’ve thus far read in my life (and its a lot), none have *become* a part of my life the way Maud Hart Lovelace’s BETSY-TACY series have. Thank you for highlighting them… these books are timeless and will appeal to young readers and old of every generation if given the chance.

  13. Kathleen Baxter says:

    I fell in love with these books by the time I was 10 years old and never recovered from it. They are superbly written, and while they are set and grounded in a particular time and place, they are timeless. May they live and be read forever, and, oh, I envy those you have the joy of reading them for the first time.
    Thank you for featuring them.
    By the way, the Maud Hart Lovelace Society has a new publication for fans of the books–the Betsy-Tacy Songbook, which includes scans of the original vintage sheet music of 40 songs mentioned in the books, including covers, and information of where they appear in the tomes and about the composers, shows, etc. It is in the process of going on our website, but if you wish for further information, please email me at kabaxter@comcast.net .

  14. Scrappinsteph says:

    I love the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac! Just discovered it today, when you highlighted my favorite series ever! Thanks so much for spotlighting Betsy-Tacy, and I’ll be a frequent visitor in the future. Star – I also love the Dorrie books. I really expected them to come back in print as a result of the Harry Potter popularity, and have been surprised they haven’t. Anita, thanks again!

  15. Teri-K says:

    I named my daughter Betsy because of these books. The morning of her wedding, at the church, I gave her my original hardback copy of Betsy’s Wedding. We cried. They aren’t just children’s books, as you know. They are a part of our lives. Thanks for recognizing that, and giving us a few moments every day to savor.

  16. Allison says:

    The Betsy-Tacy books are so wonderful! Thank you for highlighting them and sharing information about Maud Hart Lovelace.

  17. Vicki says:

    I wouldn’t read any but the Betsy books when I was growing up–her gang was my gang. It was until I was an adult that I read Emily of Deep Valley and Carney’s House Party that I discovered how much I would cherish those books as well. Early Candlelight and Gentlemen from England are interesting as period and historical fiction, especially for those who live in Minnesota. Today, Emily of Deep Valley is my favorite of all Ms. Lovelace’s books because she spoke out against small-town bigotry in a way that was outside the boundaries of her time. This is an author who deserves the legions of fans she has!

  18. Anita says:

    Thanks to everyone who commented on Maud Hart Lovelace. I have always been impressed by the passion of those who read her books as children — and remember them into their adult years.

  19. suzi w. says:

    Funny how children’s books remain, where adult books do not. I need to reread the earlier books.

  20. Denise says:

    Thank you for reminding me of these books! I absolutely adored them growing up–I wanted to change my name to Tacy at one point. I think they deserve a re-read!!

  21. linda says:

    Fortunately for me I discovered the BT books when I was in my early teens and have loved them ever since. Highly recommend them with couples who have children or are going to have children,

  22. Audrey says:

    These are probably my all-time favorite books. I first read them when I was little and I now own all the beautiful new editions–they have a spot of honor on my bookshelf. There is something timeless and relatable about this series that few other books can emulate. The minute I open the cover of one I am sucked into the wonderful world that Maud wrote about. Thank you for featuring them today. I hope many new readers will come to know the joys of what it is like to grow up with Betsy, Tacy, Tib, and the Crowd.

  23. Thank you for highlighting Betsy-Tacy! They are my absolute favorites and I am the editor of the newly reissued editions. Working on those and meeting fans across the country (and world!) have been the highlights of my publishing career. For fans who don’t know, there is a Betsy-Tacy Convention coming up this summer with visits to sites in Minneapolis and Mankato from July 19th-22nd. I attended the 2009 convention and had an absolute blast. I hope more fans can join us in Deep Valley this summer! Full details can be found at http://www.betsytacyconvention.com.

  24. My mother read me the Betsy-Tacy books when I was very young, and they were the first novels I read alone when I could read. And it was those very books that triggered my desire to be a writer. All I have to do is open to the first page, and I am immediately transported back to their wonderfully ordinary world. I spent my entire childhood wanting to live those stories. When it comes to excellence in children’s literature, the Betsy-Tacy books will always be at the top of my list.

  25. I just LOVE Betsy -Tacy. Such great memories. And a convention?! How fun, thanks for the info, Book Club Girl!

  26. Meenal Parikh says:

    I think I was about 10 when I stumbled upon Betsy
    Tacy books. I was an avid fan of Carolyn Keene’s
    Betsy and Billy books. I had read each of those
    several times each and kept hoping to find a newly
    released book. So when the shelf below had a book
    with the name Betsy in it, I quickly snatched it up
    and ran home to read it. Needless to say, by the end
    of that book, I had a new favorite author! I read each
    one of those over and over and escaped into the magic
    of their simple but happy lifestyle. Wish our children
    could know that kind of a life. Sigh!

  27. jeannette says:

    Thank you for this lovely service to remind me of treasured children’s books. Betsy-Tacy was one of my favorite series growing up. I loved that she wanted to be a writer and spent days in the library. I have one daughter and three sons. Of course my daughter read these books too and we still laugh aloud at Betsy’s trip abroad when she could only remember “spinat met ei!” I have the complete set and have let many girls borrow it. Now I must read the Emily and Carney books!

  28. Anne Ursu says:

    I loved these books so much when I was a girl. I used to go to sleep at night wishing I would dream that I was friends with Betsy and Tacy.

  29. I read the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a child and loved them. I still do–re-reading them is a great pleasure. It’s not nostalgia: it’s respect for a very fine writer who knows children and writes superbly.

  30. Therese says:

    Star, I did name my daughter Tacy. I thought of naming her Betsy but Betsy was my friend. I think deep inside me the threesome was Betsy Tacy and Therese

  31. Melanie says:

    I am in the middle of re-reading the series with my ten year old daughter. She loves them as much as I did. As an adult, I was so startled to see how much the high school books have to do with boys and primping and parties and such. My daughter thinks the issues of shirtwaists and Magic Wavers very funny. What I remember was Betsy writing at Uncle Keith’s trunk (oh, how I wanted a trunk to write at!), and The Crowd singing around the piano while someone made fudge in the kitchen, and how Betsy was always “taking stock” and trying to improve herself in some way. This must be where I get my habit of frequent life revampings and resolutions! Thanks for highlighting this wonderful series — look at all the passionate comments!

  32. Susan says:

    Seeing this Betsy-Tacy posting brings back memories of reading every book in the series to my daughter when she was young. It was so much fun to read about Betsy growing up in a time when making fudge and rolling back the rug to dance with friends provided the entertainment. We loved every book in the series. Although my daughter is now married and expecting her first child in a home of her own, the books are still sitting on the bookcase in her childhood bedroom upstairs patiently waiting to be loved by another generation. :)

  33. Kaherine says:

    This was the first book I ever finished! It opened the world of reading to me as a second grader. Every night I would make up stories modeled after Betsey and Tacy to tell my little sister as were falling asleep. Good times!

  34. Elaine says:

    And now The Mother Daughter Book Club series by Heather Frederick is helping many more children and adults find them again! Both series are favorites at our house!

  35. Tanya says:

    I can’t imagine these books without Lois Lenski’s original illustrations. Those books were the seeds that grew me into a voracious reader. The sweet innocence and enduring friendship in the series made me a very happy little girl when I had these books in my hands.

  36. Jessica says:

    Not only is Betsy-Tacy delightful and deep and fun, it is a marvel of construction and effective writing. Take a look at how Maud starts and ends each chapter, and how she moves the camera. And how she signals the switches between reality and fantasy when Betsy starts telling one of her stories to Tacy.

    The appeal is universal. I’ll never forget describing the books to my massage therapist a few years ago – a black woman who grew up in West Virginia coal country. Turns out she read and re-read Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown obsessively during a particularly bad childhood year. Also, Chaya Deitch – author of a memoir called “Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family” – writes about how Betsy was one of her role models as she grew up in her Hasidic community.

  37. linda says:

    I discovered the books in my early teens and have been reading and re-reading them ever since. Thanks for mentioning them

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