Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

She [Tib] looked anxiously now at Tacy's tear-stained face.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Tacy's father found Lady Audley's Secret under her bed."

"And he threw it in the kitchen stove," said Tacy.  "He said it was trash."

"Trash!" cried Betsy.  "Im trying to write books just like it."  (from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, page 6)

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, the fourth book in the Betsy-Tacy series, originally published in 1943, is my favorite of the Betsy-Tacy books so far.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are 12 years old and are trading in picnics on the Big Hill for solo trips to downtown Deep Valley, Minnesota, and they embark on more grown up adventures to the library and the Opera House.  Like all of the previous Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown made me laugh out loud numerous times.  In one of these hilarious scenes, Maud Hart Lovelace introduces a new friend, Winona, whose father is an editor for the Deep Valley Press and gets free tickets to various theatrical productions.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are determined to persuade Winona to take them to see Uncle Tom's Cabin, and when giving her gifts doesn't work, they seem to think hypnosis will.  If the amusing way in which Lovelace wrote this scene doesn't elicit a laugh, then Lois Lensky's illustrations of three little girls with a zombie-like stare will do the job!

Lovelace also introduces Mrs. Poppy, a former actress who lives in the hotel her husband built in downtown Deep Valley.  She first befriends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib when she offers Tib a ride in her husband's "horseless carriage," which is one of the first automobiles ever seen in the town.  I thought the story of this lonesome new woman in town and her efforts to use her wealth and experience to help others was endearing, but Betsy's budding career as a writer stole the show for me.

Betsy, sitting in her favorite tree and later at the trunk her mother converts to a desk, aims to mimic the romance novels she borrows from her family's housekeeper.  She has tons of notebooks from her father's shoe store filled with stories and poems, and she even turns one of her stories into a play.  I think it's great that her family supported her desire to write, and her father even went out of his way to plan an every-other-week excursion to the new library, allowing Betsy to walk to town by herself, visit the library, and have lunch.  The idea behind these adventures was to expose her to classic novels so she could improve her writing.  Young girls can learn a lot from this part of the story, as it is important for them to take their interests seriously and actually pursue them.  When Betsy sends a story off to a magazine and never receives a response, she doesn't give up.

The more I read about Maud Hart Lovelace and the further along I get in the Besty-Tacy series, it becomes more and more obvious that the stories are semi-autobiographical.  At the back of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, there is a picture of the library in Lovelace's hometown, and it is nearly identical to Lensky's illustration of the library in Betsy's hometown.  It's these little touches that make reading the Betsy-Tacy books a richer, more enjoyable experience.  It's amazing how Lovelace took ordinary characters and an ordinary turn-of-the-century town and created a captivating story, and the personal connections I've made with the characters mean I will treasure these stories forever.  Reading about Betsy and her writing brought me back to fifth grade, when I wrote my first poem (which I can still recite from memory), and to junior high, when I wrote my first short stories.  (It's embarrassing to read them now!)  I'm looking forward to seeing where Lovelace takes Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as they become young women.

Read my other Betsy-Tacy reviews:

Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown from HarperCollins for review purposes.


Serena said...

These books sound like more and more fun. I'm glad that you are enjoying them.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

These covers are really lovely!

bermudaonion said...

These books sound delightful!

Heather G. said...

You have a lovely blog! I wish you luck on your writing!

Anna said...

~Serena: Anytime you want to borrow my copies, let me know!

~Diane: I agree! I wonder how the original covers looked?

~bermudaonion: They are! I think you'd enjoy them.

~hmsgofita: Thank you very much!