10

The Betsy-Tacy Series

by Rebecca Ripperton
March 4, 2019

When I think of books that defined my childhood, the Betsy-Tacy series books are the first to come to mind. As I was growing up, I read them more times than I can count. I loved these books with all of my heart then, and to this day, I still enjoy reading them!

The series is about a young girl named Betsy, and her bashful, redheaded friend Tacy. The girls meet when Tacy’s family moves into the house across the street from Betsy’s family. Betsy is excited to discover that Tacy is exactly Betsy’s age, although Tacy initially refuses to speak to her due to bashfulness. But the girls befriend one another at Betsy’s 5th birthday party and soon become inseparable.  Together they share the difficulties and joys of growing up, going on countless adventures – both real and imagined.

The books are set around the turn of the 20th century in the small Minnesota town of “Deep Valley.” The series then follows Betsy throughout her adolescence and concludes during World War I with Betsy’s first year of marriage.

In total, there are 13 books in the Betsy-Tacy series. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote 10 books that center on Betsy, and 3 more that focus on other Deep Valley characters. As the series progresses, the reading level of the books also advances, so a child can read about Betsy and Tacy growing up as they themselves are maturing (which is just what I did and recommend). Apparently Maud Hart Lovelace told these stories to her daughter at bedtime before turning them into books. As her daughter grew older, so did Betsy and Tacy. Over time, the two developed into fuller characters, and their stories became more involved.

The magic of Deep Valley

As a child, these books felt magical to me. Deep Valley seemed like an ideal place to grow up, and Betsy Ray’s “crowd” felt like the sort of friends that anyone would be lucky to have. There was such richness in Betsy’s experience of the world. I loved that Betsy and Tacy played dress up and with paper dolls, just like me. I also loved reading about the many ways in which their lives differed from mine.

In the winter, they would ice-skate on a frozen pond together, and throughout the year, they regularly congregated in living rooms to gather round the piano and sing. When Betsy was in high school, she and her friends would even roll up the living room carpet to hold “dances.” The activities they engaged in weren’t extravagant, but they always seemed celebratory, imaginative, and full of merriment. A strong sense of community is also a constant current throughout the series.

Betsy as an “authoress”

Throughout the series, Betsy aspires to be an author, or “authoress.” As a child, she scribbles short stories and plays that she keeps in an old cigar box. And just like in Little Women, Betsy puts on performances of her plays, recruiting neighborhood children to take part in them. 

Betsy also grows up reading classics like Ivanhoe and Don Quixote. Familiarity with great literature is a given in her family, with references to books and poems appearing throughout the series. The world of Deep Valley, particularly in the Ray household, is a place where books and ideas matter.

Betsy’s whole family supports her in her writing and takes great pride in her work. Her mother prepared a writing desk as a special surprise for her, and her father encourages her to establish a regular habit of going to the town library to continue her literary education. In high school, Betsy competes each year in the high school’s essay contest, which is both an honor and a responsibility she treats very seriously. As a child who also wanted to grow up to be an author, I loved reading about Betsy’s relationship with literature and watching it deepen as she matured.

A love for music and art

Another aspect of this series that I especially appreciate is the emphasis Maud Hart Lovelace places on music and the arts. Music plays a very important role in Betsy’s family. She and her two sisters all learn to play the piano at a young age, with both parents encouraging their musical talents. 

Betsy's older sister Julia has an exquisite voice and takes singing lessons, eventually becoming a professional opera singer in her adulthood. As a teenager, Julia took occasional trips to the Twin Cities to go to the opera with her mother, and eagerly devoured new musical scores whenever she can get her hands on them. All of Betsy and Julia’s friends seem to love music, as well, regularly singing in groups at social gatherings. Betsy's parents also frequent the theater and model an appreciation of the arts for their daughters. 

Despite the smallness of the town, or perhaps because of it, there’s a tremendous value placed on art as an important means of enriching our lives throughout the entire series.

Ages

The first book, Betsy-Tacy, could be read by children ages 5-8, either as a read-aloud or independently, depending on the child’s age and individual ability. I recommend reading at least Betsy-Tacy aloud in order to give the child a sense of the style and to familiarize them with the Deep Valley and its characters, and perhaps also Betsy-Tacy and Tib, the next book in the series.

Betsy-Tacy and Tib is appropriate for a slightly older child, somewhere in the range of 6-10 years old. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown could be read by children ages 8-12 and 10-13, respectively. The remainder of the books are generally ideal for children ages 12-18, although the final two books of the series are about Betsy’s adulthood, travels in Europe during World War I, and the first year of her marriage, so an older reader might appreciate them more than a younger one.

Giving a child ownership of their reading

After reading the first two or three books with a parent, I would let a child take responsibility for when and how they read the remainder of the series. You could even consider letting them take responsibility for finding the books, which is what we did in our home.  

When I initially began to read the Betsy-Tacy series, we had the first 2 or 3 books at home, and then I slowly collected the remainder of the series over time. It was always exciting to go into a bookstore or library sale and look to see whether or not they had the next book in the series. Our local library also had several, which I checked out to read at home.

For me, the process of hunting for each new book definitely generated a lot of excitement, so even though you can now purchase all of the books from Amazon at a single go, I definitely recommend encouraging your child to look for them for themselves at libraries or at book sales. It’s a great way to give them some ownership of their reading habits.

Share your experience

Have you ever read any of the Betsy-Tacy books? Please leave us a comment below telling us about your favorite memory of these stories!

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4

Opportunities for Giving Books throughout the Year

by Lisa Ripperton
February 28, 2019

Many families have a tradition of giving books to their children at Christmas and on their birthdays. While this can be a wonderful ​custom, today I want to talk about finding opportunities for book giving outside of those occasions.

Our family's struggle with giving books as birthday and Christmas presents

With my oldest son, the practice of giving books on holidays turned out to be less rewarding than I had initially hoped. As energetic as he was, he tended to gravitate toward gifts that gave him opportunity to move and play actively, rather than those that involved sitting still and reading. Because I didn’t want to waste valuable time wrapping books that would be quickly set aside, I soon stopped presenting him with books on those occasions altogether.

Of course we still bought books and incorporated them into our family read-aloud time, but we didn’t make a special occasion out of it. I reasoned that since nourishment for the mind is as critical as nourishment for the body, books are not optional; they are a necessity. But I wouldn't wrap up a loaf of bread to put under the Christmas tree and expect him to be overjoyed upon discovering it, so why should I do that with books?

Creating an Advent tradition

We did have one exception to not gifting books on holidays, however, and that occurred each year during Advent.

In anticipation of St. Nicholas’ annual visit on December 6th, my children put wooden shoes in front of our fireplace on the evening before. In addition to chocolate coins, clementines, and a long hand-written letter, St. Nicholas often left a few other goodies to help them prepare for the holidays. One year he gave them cookie cutters and aprons for baking gingerbread cookies, and another year, beeswax and molds for making candles. But every year, the children also had the pleasure of finding next to the wooden shoes a couple of new Christmas picture books to brighten the season!

Were I able to go back in time, however, I would want to find more occasions throughout the calendar year to give gifts at times when my children would appreciate them, and in doing so, establish a rhythm that they could anticipate eagerly. (File under “things I would do differently if I had to do it over again”).

Finding inspiration from Joyous Lessons

Several posts by Celeste Cruz at Joyous Lessons offer excellent ideas for this sort of practice. In one post, Celeste describes tucking a book as a gift in each of her children's Easter baskets, selecting from a store of books she has stockpiled for just such occasions. (I only wish I had heard that suggestion thirty years ago!) In another post, Celeste shares about the celebrations their family holds at the end of each homeschooling term, where part of the presentation is a stack of book that relates to their studies from that term. These books aren’t presented to individual children, but rather given to all to share!

While both Easter and the end of the term present occasions where we might give small presents to children, those gifts aren’t traditionally books. We love that Celeste is using these special times to create her own traditions with her children and to share books with them in such a meaningful way. What better present could she give them?

Establishing new traditions of book giving

If presenting books to your children for birthdays and Christmas is already a well-established and joyful ritual, by all means, continue. But we suggest that you consider establishing some new traditions, as well.

One great occasion for giving books to children is when they are about to have more time on their hands than they are accustomed to, say at the start of summer vacation or the beginning of a week by themselves at grandma's house. Either instance would be a great opportunity to offer sequels to some titles they have already enjoyed, or to hide a new book in their suitcase as a surprise.

And, as you head out on a family vacation, be ready with a bag of books related to the places you will be visiting, and audio books for the whole family to enjoy throughout the car ride. Additionally, you can introduce seasonal books to welcome each new season. (Especially rewarding will be those books that provide impetus for new activities out of doors, such as gathering nuts in the fall, or following tracks in winter.) You may even want to put special emphasis in your family on a holiday such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving by marking the occasion with the gift of a book that brings home the meaning of the holiday.

On what other occasions could you give children books?

In families with lots of children, birthday celebrations happen regularly, and are enjoyed by all. If you have an only child, on the other hand, celebrations are much less frequent. You might make their half birthday the cause for celebration each year, or even give them a new book every month on the day of the month that they were born.

Besides birthdays, there may be other days in the calendar significant to your family, but no other. It might be the day a child was adopted, the anniversary of the passing of a loved one, or the occasion of some other momentous event. The gift of a thoughtfully chosen book could be a meaningful way to observe the day.

As you can see, there are boundless opportunities for book giving – marking a beginning, an end, or a special day in the life of your family – which can serve as way posts on your family's journey through the year.

Share your experience

We’d love to hear what occasions you commemorate in your family by giving books! Please let us know in the comments below.

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