Don't forget that the wonderful Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace are in danger of going out of print. Heaven to Betsy, the fifth title in the series (and the first of the high-school books), is already OOP, I'm sorry to say. If you find a used copy, snatch it up.
It's almost hard for me to believe, now, that I grew up without Betsy and friends. I never heard of the books until 1994, when I was a young staffer at HarperChildren's, and the galleys for the reissues—the very editions that are now going out of print—began to float across my desk. You never saw a happier little coffee-fetcher than the girl I was, newly married and soon to be expecting baby Jane, sitting in my cubicle devouring those galleys and getting paid for it. Not paid a whole lot, mind you, but still.
Where had Betsy Ray been all my life? Clearly she was a kindred spirit of the likes of my beloved Anne and Laura. I loved her instantly and passionately, right down to her gap-toothed smile. My own dear mama has the same smile, and I could picture Betsy's grin exactly. (I would have it too, but for the junior-high braces.)
I had taken that job because I wanted to write, and I hoped working in a publishing house would open some doors for me. (Happily, it did.) In the evenings I would go home to the bitsy three-room Queens apartment in which Scott and I began our married life, and the whole scene was so very Betsy-and-Joe I could hardly contain myself. Betsy's bird print above her writing desk (Uncle Keith's trunk) reminded me of the picture I'd hung on the wall beside our computer: a sepia-toned print of a stone doorway between a courtyard and a garden, taken at a monastery we'd passed through briefly on our honeymoon. That doorway spoke to me of all the possibilities that lay on the other side. Step through, it beckoned, and see what surprises await you down these paths.
Betsy would have understood just how I felt.
Even little tiny Betsy, the five-year-old or the ten-year-old: she knew all about the fun of discovering what lay over the Big Hill or alongside the downtown streets. Her cheery disposition, her impish sense of humor, her fierce loyalty, her quarrelsome streak—she was a real and whole person, and when I discovered I was expecting a baby, I couldn't wait, couldn't WAIT, to share Betsy with her. Oh, but what if she were a he? Well, then, his sister. Surely, surely, there were girls in my future, my own little Betsy and a Tacy and an Anne and a Jane-of-Lantern-Hill. Right? Right?
When the Lovelace reissues came out, I got to take copies home to lay in wait for the passel of children I hoped to have. And here they are, a passel indeed, and as diehard a bunch of Betsy-Tacy fans you'll never see—except perhaps in the Edmisten house. And, um, the Cottage. And at Dumb Ox Academy. And okay, fine, in hundreds of other homes around the world.
But hundreds of homes is not enough, not enough to generate new print runs in a world of bottom-lines. And so we're in danger of having to say bye-bye Betsy. Will the day come when my daughters fight over who gets to have mom's collection?
There's one book I won't let them fight over. I bought a bunch of copies just in case it, too, disappears, as will likely be the case one of these days. Maud Hart Lovelace's most beautiful novel, Emily of Deep Valley, takes place in the same Minnesota village as the Betsy-Tacy books, and indeed Betsy makes a cameo appearance. Emily wasn't part of the original relaunch plan, and when I left my job at HarperCollins to stay home with the due-any-minute Baby Who Would Be Jane, I did so with a photocopy of Harper's library copy of Emily of Deep Valley in my backpack—a gift from one of the editors on the next floor.
Two years later the same editor sent me, triumphantly, an actual book. She'd been successful in lobbying for the reissue of Emily of Deep Valley, and I could kiss her for it. If you haven't read this book, oh what a treat you are in for. Emily is the kind of character we don't often see in these days of "you have to do what's right for you." What seems "right" for Emily, devoted scholar, is a college education like the rest of her high-school chums. But she lives with a very elderly grandfather, and somehow, somehow, she can't bring herself to leave him alone. That, her conscience whispers, wouldn't be right.
Sometimes, you see, "right for you" isn't the same as just plain Right.
Doing the real right thing, Emily finds, is often the hardest thing. (Wasn't I writing about this just the other day? Emily is one of the people I learned it from.) She also finds out that the Right Thing can be like a doorway, and when you step through it, you find beauty on the other side, beauty in places you never knew existed.
That's why I have a stack of Emily of Deep Valley tucked away for my children. She mustn't disappear, this strong and gentle young woman who understands that love means sacrifice and cheerfulness, and the kind of love that cheerfully sacrifices blesses the giver a hundredfold. I can't think of a finer role model for my young brood—not even Betsy or Anne or Laura.
The Betsy-Tacy books, in chronological order
The early years:
Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Winona's Pony Cart
The high-school books:
Heaven to Betsy
Betsy in Spite of Herself
Betsy Was a Junior
Betsy and Joe
After high school:
Betsy and the Great World
Carney's House Party
Emily of Deep Valley