Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy (1940)
Illus. Lois Lenski
Harper Collins, 1968

I first met Betsy, Tacy and Tib when I was nine or ten, but I didn’t know them as well as I might have. I kept re-reading the third and fourth volumes of the series and never filled in the gaps, so  Sarah’s Second Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Challenge was the impetus to get reacquainted. I hoped to surprise myself and read more than the first two volumes, but October brings out the under-achiever in me, so I just met my challenge goal and read no further.

Betsy Tacy is primarily about those two little girls: Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly.

Betsy lives in the small yellow cottage, last on Hill Street; she is middle-sized with plump legs and short short brown braids which stuck out behind her ears, and she is almost always smiling.

Tacy lives in the rambling white house opposite Betsy’s, the last house on that side of Hill Street; she has red ringlets, freckles, and thin legs, and her mother has ten children besides her.

Sometimes they sit on a bench at the end of the street, sometimes they play in their piano box, which is their “headquarters, their playhouse, the center of all their games” (21). When they play paper dolls (which are cut from fashion magazines and stored between the pages of those magazines), the “five-year-olds were the most important members of the large doll families” (49).

Sometimes they have adventures and these include fantastic moments wherein girls fly and horses talk (ever-so briefly, but they do), but mostly the girls inhabit the everyday. They deal with life changes, a death in the family and a birth in the family, and they start school and explore their neighbourhood, gradually expanding their horizons (literally). Milwaukee is a magical, mysterious place, far away from Deep Valley.

The Mullers move to Deep Valley, to Pleasant Street and, so, we have Betsy, Tacy and Tib.

Tabetha (Tib) Muller lives in the chocolate-coloured house, which is beautiful indeed, with its front and back stairs, tower and panes of coloured glass in the front door. She meets Betsy and Tacy when they are eight, at the end of Betsy Tacy. Tib is the smallest of the three girls; she is dainty with her round blue eyes and her fluff of yellow hair.

The girls are growing up, travelling up the Big Hill is commonplace now. Although travelling two blocks is still a long way, so the families have agreed that Tib is allowed to do anything that Betsy’s and Tacy’s parents have given permission for the girls to do, so that they needn’t run to Tib’s house every time they need to ask something. It’s charming, isn’t it.

But although two blocks is a long way, and although the Big Hill is familiar, it’s still a Big Hill, and the girls are still innocent and inexperienced. In Betsy, Tacy and Tib, they make a project out of learning how to fly and, left alone in the kitchen, the three of them make Everything Pudding, at which even Lady Jane Grey sniffs and turns up her kitty-cat nose and walks away.

They’re still learning about the world, from events, like the street fair coming to Front Street and Aunt Dolly coming to visit and one of them contracting diptheria, which has all the grown-ups looking sombre for a good while, until recovery is assured.

And there’s noticing differences, differences that matter. For instance, when Tib and Freddie build a house in their basement and when their father inspects he says it’s a “good little house”. He suggests that Freddie will be an architect when he grows up, and when the girls ask if Tib won’t be an architect, too, he says, no, she’ll be a housewife.

“Betsy and Tacy thought that was strange, for Tib had done as much as Freddie toward building the house. But it didn’t matter much, for in their hearts they were sure that Tib was going to be a dancer.” (49)

That’s another difference about which the girls are aware, now that they’re getting older. Tib’s father is an architect; Betsy’s father has a shoe store; and, Tacy’s father sells sewing machines in an office. Betsy comes from a Baptist family; Tacy comes from a Catholic family; and, Tib’s family is Episcopalian. These things never mattered before, even if they were known about, but the girls are getting older.

Next year they’ll all be ten. “It’s the beginning of growing up, to get two numbers in your age.” (128)

The books feel decidedly old-fashioned. My two young listeners, ten and seven, were not enthralled (though on another occasion, they might be more patient), but I contentedly reminisced.

Have you been dipping into any old-fashioned favourites lately?