Saturday, February 24, 2007

Review: Betsy-Tacy

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Copyright, 1940, by Maud Hart Lovelace
Reprinted 1994, HarperCollins, 128 pages, hardcover

I first read Betsy-Tacy to my eldest daughters when they were about five and eight years old. How I skipped over this charming book when I was a child I shall never know, but it was as new and delightful to me as it was to them.

As the book opens, Betsy Ray is almost five years old, and is longing for a friend.
“Well, for Pete’s sake!” said Betsy’s father. “Hill Street is so full of children now that Old Mag has to watch where she puts her feet down.”

“I know,” said Betsy’s mother. “There are plenty of children for Julia.” (Julia was Betsy’s sister, eight years old.) “And there are dozens of babies. But there isn’t one little girl just Betsy’s age.”
Enter Tacy Kelly, a new little girl in the neighborhood. After a rocky beginning (due to Tacy’s extreme shyness) the girls become the best of friends – so close, in fact, that Hill Street comes to think of them as one: "Betsy-Tacy."

The magic of the story is that while it is disarmingly simple, it's not simplistic, and, while sweet, not saccharine. It’s enchanting, honest and real. Everything from the way in which Betsy and Tacy play paper dolls:
The five-year-olds were the most important members of the large doll families. Everything pleasant happened to them. They had all the adventures.

The eight-year-olds lived very dull lives; and they were always given very plain names. They were Jane and Martha, usually, or Hannah and Jemima. Sometimes Betsy and Tacy forgot and called them Julia and Katie. But the five-year-olds had beautiful names. They were Lucille and Evelyn, or Madeline and Millicent.

… Both father dolls were sent quickly down to work; the mothers went shopping; the babies were taken out in their carriages by the pretty servant dolls; and the older children were shut in the magazines.
to the death of Tacy’s baby sister, Bee:
“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 we don’t know. Isn’t that funny? She’s just a baby, and she knows more than we do.”

“And more than Julia and Katie do,” said Tacy.
is handled with sensitivity that avoids being maudlin, and genuine, affectionate humor. Maud Hart Lovelace knew little girls: their feelings, their friendships and their families.

Betsy-Tacy is the first in a series of thirteen books. (I’ve read only the first four with my daughters: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. We paused at that point, as a friend had cautioned me that “boys enter the picture” in later books, and my girls were still quite young.) We adore the first four books.

Do be aware that these books are in danger of going out of print. See The Betsy-Tacy Society for more details.

Also, visit Melissa Wiley’s blog for an excellent explanation (scroll down, especially, to the last four paragraphs) of why it's vital that we buy new copies of the books we love and want to keep in print. It’s not enough to write letters to a publisher. We must shout at them with our checkbooks.

And, see Melissa's post about how excellent writing from “old time” authors such as Maud Hart Lovelace can continue to influence the people who are writing for our children today.

Reviewed by Karen Edmisten (2-23-07)
Available at local bookstores

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