Betsy and Tacy are back

Maud Hart Lovelace, born and raised in Mankato, Minnesota, had a very happy childhood. And her memories formed the basis of a wildly popular series of children’s books featuring two young girls named Betsy and Tacy who live in the fictional town of Deep Valley.

Now the first four of those popular children’s books have been re-issued in a new volume called ‘The Betsy-Tacy Treasury.’

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Evidently these stories (which I’m embarrassed to admit I’m just discovering) are near and dear to the likes of Judy Blume, Nora Ephron, and Anna Quindlen, among others.

In the New York Times, Pamela Paul recently pondered the books’ popularity:

Why all the excitement over a series of stories about everyday life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the fictional town of Deep Valley, Minn. – a stand-in for the author’s real hometown of Mankato, Minn.?

It could be the little touches that resonate with all young girls: The established perfidy of older sisters. A “chocolate colored” house. A nearby hill that looms over the backyard symbolizing the acquisition of independence. And of course the idealized friendship between Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly, epitomized in that magnificent hyphen linking the two names together, testament to their girlish bond.

But does it also have something to do with the notion of five-year-old girls being allowed to dine outdoors together on a bench between their two homes, no grownups lurking overhead? Or two young friends mounting the big hill – on their own? Or the prospect of a mother leaving three schoolgirls at home unattended one afternoon, with instructions to heat up their own cocoa on the stove?

In the sweet, safe sanctuary of Deep Valley, Minn., more than 100 years ago, such things were possible, at least in Betsy-Tacy’s universe. It’s a far cry from the overprotective, omni-parented world of 21st-century America with its myriad threats, real and imaginary. After reading aloud a few chapters to my own six-year-old daughter recently, my daughter sighed and said simply, “I want to live in this book.” She’s probably not the only one.

Are you a Betsy-Tacy fan? If so, what makes their stories so appealing?

  • http://www.BlueBelleBooks.com Sherrie Hansen

    I love the Betsy Tacy books because they’re filled with love and laughter and acceptance of friends and family. I love the way Betsy was encouraged to be independent and to find her way in the Great World. Betsy inspired me to be a writer. I will always be thankful for the impact Maud Hart Lovelace’s book had on my childhood years, and continue to have on the way I think, dream, and act as an adult.

  • http://bookclubgirl.com Book Club Girl

    Full disclosure – I’m the editor of the Treasury at Harper. But the reason I’m the editor is because the Betsy-Tacy series is my most favorite series of books of all time. I have read and re-read all the books in the series (which continue on after the first four in this treasury into Betsy’s high school years, a tour of Europe and her marriage just prior to WWI). When I was younger I loved reading about the “olden days,” but Betsy’s life also seemed completely like mine – when she enters high school the emphasis is on boys and autos, her Crowd of friends and the telephone – pretty much the focus of any high schooler. I loved how I got a glimpse of the past while encountering a girl so modern – and one who wanted to pursue a writing career when she got older, which was unique for that time (but true to the author’s own life). These books are my comfort reading that I return to again and again. The first four books contained in this treasury enchanted me as a little girl – the girls play with paper dolls cut out of magazines, dye sand and sell it to their neighbors and Betsy keeps the stories that she writes in a cigar box nailed up in a tree – what’s not to love?! I cannot recommend them highly enough!

  • Julie Chuba

    I was introduced to the Betsy-Tacy books my mother, who had also read them (my younger sister read them, too). They became my favorite books, and I checked them out of the library repeatedly throughout grade school and high school.

    When I got my first job, I decided to treat myself to hard cover copies of the books (hard cover books were a luxury!), and managed to find two of the series on the shelves of the Red Balloon Bookstore in St. Paul.

    When I tried to order the other books, the clerk told me they were out of print! (this was about 25 years ago). I was dismayed, but clutched my 2 precious hard covers in modified joy.

    The Betsy-Tacy books appealed to me as stories of friendship and family. I loved Betsy Ray, who wanted to be a writer, but who struggled with some of the typical teenage angst over wanting to fit in, to be popular, to be pretty, etc. The stories were full of fun and humor, and appealed to me with their Minnesota setting in the early 1900s.

    Betsy was a flawed but lovable heroine, supported in all her schemes by her faithful friends and sidekicks, Tacy and Tib. I loved that the series traced the girls’ friendship from childhood to adulthood.

    It’s a testament to Maud Hart Lovelace’s writing that I still enjoy reading these books (and learning new things) after so many years. I hope new generations continue to discover the joy of these books, which is why so many people are excited over new editions!

  • Joan Nwhouse

    It is hard to explain the lifelong appeal of the Betsy-Tacy series in a few words, but I’ll try. “Timeless appeal” is a phrase applied to many things, but it is certainly true with the BT books. Even though these books are set one hundred years ago, they seem current. The music and dresses may be different, but the life experiences of children, teenagers, and young adults remain the same. Love, heartbreak, independence, religion, friendship, and the pursuit of one’s dream permeate every one of these books, even the ones written for young children. The Ray family is ideal, but never idealized.

    The lessons that are learned are never drummed into the readers head. Betsy’s triumphs and failures stand on their own, leaving the reader to learn those lessons right along with her. And this reader, now nearly 50 years old, still reads the series every year, and am charmed each time in the same way I was when I first read them as a child.

  • Elizabeth

    The books were my mother’s favorite. She grew up wanting a daughter name Betsy which is how I received my name, formally Elizabeth, but shortened to Betsy. She was not happy when I started going by Liz when I went away to college.

  • Jennifer Johnson

    I reccomend this series of books to every mother with a young daughter. The first and foremost reason: “Betsy~Tacy” promotes the idea of healthy, supportive lifelong friendships between girls. There seem to be very few books on the market where a young girl’s friends are portrayed as primarily a force for good. There are definitely some good examples of female friendship (L.M. Montgomery wrote some good ones), but most of her inseperable girl chums grew apart after marriage came into their lives. Betsy remains close with her best girlfriends even after all of them start marrying. Friendship with boys and men is also shown as important, so the “girl’s club” vibe is diluted.

    Other commentors have mentioned the timelessness of the series, and besides the friendship angle, I also find that in the eventual romantic relationships. Just about every girl is going to go through some permutation of the romantic entanglements Betsy and her friends go through – liking someone who doesn’t like you back, having to pretend to be different to hold interest, having someone you only like as a friend fall in love with you… all of them are handled with dignity, rather than a gossipy peek into the love lives of turn of the century teens. And through the whole thing, women and men support each other with friendship and love, mothers and fathers support their daughters, sisters support each other. It may sound hokey, but the image of a large, loving support network, that is willing to point out when you’re wrong, and waiting to celebrate with you when you’re right is a powerful thing.

  • Jessica

    These are wonderful books for all the reasons others have named.

    But let’s not forget that Maud Hart Lovelace was a top flight writer. Nobody could get as much into as few words as she could. Nobody had the perfect control of pacing and camera and structure that she had. Chapters open and close perfectly. She even makes her frequent descriptions of weather move the story forward.

    A fine craftswoman who deserves to be appreciated for that as well as for the humor, the plots, the characters, and the settings.

  • Vicki Palmquist

    I was an only child and an avid reader. I discovered these books around age 11, beginning with the first book when the girls are very young and following until Betsy has gotten married and set off to be a professional writer. This was my life trajectory, too, and I loved her persistence, her drive, her family, and her gang of friends. We made onion sandwiches at our house on Sundays because they were Papa Ray’s favorite. I recently bought the Betsy-Tacy Songbook, so now I have all the music from the books–pure heaven. Although the books are set in another time, Betsy’s drive, those friends, her family … they all feel current. Yes, Deep Valley is a kind, gentle, safe place … but isn’t that exactly where we all want to live? I marvel that Maud Hart Lovelace was able to write books that respect people and their feelings well into the 21st Century.

  • http://www.kathleenbaxter.com Kathleen Baxter

    I have never loved any books more. I was introduced to these as a child, and fell in love immediately. I read and reread them–and still do. Anna Quindlen has said she rereads three authors: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Maud Hart Lovelace.

    Mrs. Lovelace is a spectacularly fine writer who not only tells her own fictionalized story brilliantly, but gives girls and women a role model family for the ages.

    These books still engage and delight and provide joy! Be aware also of the new Betsy-Tacy Songbook and Discover Deep Valley, a new guidebook to the places in Mankato. And Heather Vogel Frederick’s Home for the Holidays, the newest in her Mother-Daughter Book club series. It’s about the Betsy-Tacy books! May they endure forever. Few books have deserved it more.

  • Liz

    I loved Betsy-Tacy. It was so real to me. The first time I went to Maud and Bick’s childhood homes was like stepping right into the books! Their friendships, traditions and triumphs and failures are stories with which I can relate – and clearly so do others. My mother read the books, too. And now my daughters and nieces are, too! In a world where girls are being taught that being catty is how to get ahead, Betsy and Tacy are example of lasting, true friendship.

  • http://www.betsy-tacysociety.org/visit Jackie Hilgert

    Maud Hart Lovelace and her beloved characters are embraced by readers of all ages for reasons articulated so genuinely in each of the previous posts. I add this: Thank you to HarperCollins for responding to the women who organized the Betsy-Tacy Society in 1990 with the goal of getting these books back into print. And, thank you to the people who support the BTS financially so that it can continue to welcome visitors to “Deep Valley” and the restored homes of Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly.

  • http://fannyharvilleunschool@blogspot.com Fanny Harville

    My mom introduced these wonderful books to me when I was a child, and I’m thrilled that my 7-year-old son has loved the first four books (the very worn and well-loved copies from my childhood) since he was 4. They were among the first long chapter books we read aloud together and we continue to reread them regularly. He says he likes them because they are about “3 wild girls who can go out by themselves and have adventures.” Betsy-Tacy: not just for girls!

  • Lani Jordan

    I grew up in a military family. The Betsy-Tacy books and Deep Valley (Mankato) provided me with the hometown I didn’t have and inspired me to become a writer and move to Minnesota. These books are timeless in their appeal and provide excellent role models that encourage girls to seek their dreams.

  • http://3950mr Moira Boyne Rummel

    My memory is of Della MacGregor, renown Children’s Librarian of St. Paul Minnesota introducing her “Faithful Readers” to leading authors in person. Being a Minnesotan Maud Hart Lovelace was a favorite guest. My friends and I pretended we were Betsy, Tacy and Tib. My first editions are now with my grandchildren. We had tea parties even with the boys. Holding a book in your hand is a special joy. We were limited to 10 checkouts a week and Saturday morning was time for our gatherings. In later years I enjoyed volunteering in school media centers and collecting Minnesota authors.

  • Laura Menser

    I have loved the Betsy-Tacy series for as long as I can remember & have read & re-read them. Some of the series were out of print when I was younger, and I had to wait until I was 37 years old to read 2 of the books in the series. My daughter & her best friend also loved and series and donated the entire series to their school library in their names.

    The are timeless, well written and the characters are so detailed that you feel that you know them personally. I recommend them to all girls to read,

  • http://randomactsofmomness.com Ginny Kubitz Moyer

    As a teenager, I bought battered copies of the high school Betsy-Tacy books at library book sales just so I could have my own collection (this was before they were finally reprinted — oh happy day!). Betsy was a kindred spirit (an optimistic book-loving girl), but I also loved how her family was so tight and supportive. All of the characters were so true-to-life, and the social dynamics of high school/family/friends were beautifully portrayed.

    As a child, I also loved the chapter in Betsy-Tacy-Tib where it talked about how each of the three girls belonged to a different religion. My best friend growing up was Protestant, and I was Catholic, so I could absolutely relate. Now, as an adult, a mom, and a spiritual writer, I love that ecumenical subtext.

  • Lisa Melman

    To me, one of the most amazing qualities of Betsy-Tacy stories is the way they capture how very little girls (even at age 4, where the books begin) do feel like whole, grown, complete people…..and likewise how grown women (in the later books) are forever their child-selves at heart. Beautiful!

  • http://betsy-tacy.blogspot.com Audrey

    I have loved these books ever since I was little and dreamed of becoming a writer myself one day. The things that they are about–strong friendships, warm family relationships, love of nature and everyday pleasures–are things that I could always relate to. Plus the books are just so FUN! It’s so delightful to pick them up and fall right into the wonderful world of Deep Valley.

  • Jennifer Davis-Kay

    Because they are *perfectly grand* books that never get old!

  • http://bosendorfer80.wordpress.com Lauren

    My mother introduced these books to me when I was probably six or seven. I could already read, but these were some of the few books (the Drina series being the others) that I insisted that she read to me. I wanted to live inside these books for a very long time. There was nothing more charming to me than listening to the stories (and shenanigans) of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. These books have a Laura Ingalls-esque feel, but without the same “taming the land and working the homefront” back story. MHL captures every thought and detail so perfectly–something that many writers would take hundreds of pages to acomplish–but she does it in very few words. Her command of the language and storytelling skills aren’t able to be surpassed…truly one of the greatest writers of all time.

  • http://havinsnest.wordpress.com/ Kathy Havins

    Maud Hart Lovelace wrote the Best. Books. Ever. I love these books as much at 53 as I did at 11 when I discovered them. I give the first book as either little girl baby shower gifts or as 5th birthday gifts. I read them to my kids when they were young and will read them to my grandchildren as well.

    Tight family relationships, warm friendships, love for their home town and eager to see beyond the Big Hill…those things were part of what kept me reading and re-reading the books.

    Maud’s characters are as real in 2011 as they were when originally written. They are engaging, fun, charming and with just a touch of the D as Maud would say. The girls love to pretend and have adventures. They grow and become giggly, boy crazy teenagers who have sleep overs and like shop. just like the high-schoolers at my school.

    And, yes, I am one of “those women” who go to the Convention and belong to the Betsy-Tacy Society and the Maud Hart Lovelace Society.

    So thankful to Harper-Collins for keeping these books in print so that other generations can read them.

  • Andrea Lerum

    I became a fan in the early 80′s, when my mother passed along her copy of “Betsy and Tacy go Downtown” to me. The book was published in 1966 through Scholastic and I read it with vigor. I was so amazed that there were actually MORE books in the series and rushed to my library to find them. I still love them to this day because they are simplistic in time, yet Betsy had the same emotions and reactions that we all did as youngsters and teenagers. Her family was so full of love and joy, it was hard not to be swept in by all that love. I still read my collection today and STILL love Betsy!

  • Linda Fletcher

    Like many of the commenters, I discovered the Betsy-Tacy books in elementary school. I started with the high school books (I didn’t read the childhood books till later in my life), and they immediately captivated me. I loved the fact that Betsy wanted to be a writer, just like I did, and I loved that she was smart and brave, and I loved following her all the way through her high school adventures, her time in the Great World, and through her marriage to Joe.

    Thanks to Mrs. Lovelace’s inspiration, I’ve become a writer (both in my day job and as an aspiring novelist in the evenings), and even at 54 years old, I faithfully re-read every book in the series, from Betsy-Tacy through Betsy’s Wedding, once a year. I call them my comfort books, and they’ve seen me through some rough times, and lots of good ones, too.

    A couple of years ago I got to visit Mankato, and it was the biggest thrill of my life, bar none, to walk in Betsy and Tacy’s footsteps. If my husband and I had kids, you know they’d be Betsy-Tacy fans, but I’ve settled for introducing the books to my nieces and friends’ kids. Not always successfully, but any exposure that keeps the books alive is worth it to me.

  • Kate

    I adore these books. My grandmother gave me “Downtown” when I was eight, and over the years I received the other books as presents or bought them with my allowance.

    I love the importance on strong female friendships, and that Betsy is such a feminist, even though the concept didn’t really exist yet. She knows what she wants, and she knows if she works hard enough, she can achieve her goals. (And it has nothing to do with her gender.) But she’s very human; she falls into the same troubles that people fall into today (especially where boys are concerned). Yet she always learns from her mistakes (without Lovelace beating her readers over the head with The Message).

    I love historical fiction, and it thrilled me to have Betsy and her wonderful friends in the same state as me (even if the first stories are set 100 years ago).