Betsy-Tacy. by Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrated by Lois Lenski. 1940. HarperCollins. 129 pages. ISBN: 9780064400961
Like the works of Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary, Betsy-Tacy portrays a world of childhood innocence and imagination that doesn't really seem to be typical of contemporary children's books. Not only is the story old-fashioned and clearly set in the past, it's also filled with the possibilities of an idealized world where children don't need constant supervision and can feel free to wander the neighborhood without fearing for their safety. There is no question that the story is dated. The mothers have calling cards which they deliver to friends' houses, the main mode of transportation is a horse-drawn carriage, and all the children attend school in a schoolhouse. But it is this historical context that makes the book so charming.
The writing itself also transcends time. The text is clearly written at a child's level. I was able to get inside the minds of Betsy and Tacy as well as I could Ramona's mind or Carolyn Haywood's Betsy's mind. They might live in another time and place, but the thought processes of these girls are universal, as are many of their experiences, from the first day of school, to playing with paper dolls to anticipating a new baby in the family. Lovelace tapped into the way children think and behave, and even if kids growing up in the 21st century don't understand every historical reference, they will see themselves in Betsy and Tacy nonetheless.
Finally, I love the illustrations by Lois Lenski, which depict the style of dress, home decorating schemes, and schoolhouse furniture of the time period. The drawings perfectly match the tone and style of the story and further immerse the reader in the nostalgic atmosphere of this fictional world.
Betsy-Tacy is the first book in a series that follows Betsy through to adulthood. I hope to read the other titles in the series throughout the upcoming year, and I'll be sure to make a post about each one!
Learn more about Betsy and Tacy and their creator on the website for the Betsy-Tacy Society.
I borrowed Betsy-Tacy from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.