In December my girls and I read Maud Hart Lovelace’s last six Betsy Tacy books for our Young Ladies Tea series. This is one of my favorite YLT book clubs to date. I was very ill in November and was confined to a chair for a number of days. During that time, Betsy and her gang kept me highly entertained. I read these books long ago, when I was a young girl like my young readers. I loved them then, but I think I love them even more now! I am thrilled to say that my girls also loved the books!
First, a clarification about which books we are talking about. Maud Hart Lovelace is famous for her young Betsy Tacy books. I wrote a review of those books here. The stories center on three very little girls and their days of beautiful girlhood. The books we read for this tea, however, are the high school, college/travel, and marriage books.
Betsy and the Great World
You read that right. My tween and teen girls read six books for one book club. Nearly everyone finished the series in time. Those who did not vowed to go home and do so. Nearly all of the girls thought Betsy and the Great World was their favorite. (All of them remarking how wonderful it was to travel through Europe vicariously with Victorian Betsy.)
Again and again my girls have said to me that they wish they could have a high school experience like Betsy did. When I was their age, I shared their request. These books make old-fashioned high school seem like the perfect blend of scholastic pursuits and social bliss. Despite all of the growing pains that realistic Betsy goes through (she is patterned off of Lovelace, and her experiences come right out of Lovelace’s high school diaries), she is living an idyllic life.
Like Anne Shirley or Jo March, Betsy makes all kinds of blunders. And we just love her all the more for it. These stories showcase true girlish coming of age in a time when virtue and womanliness were still deeply valued.
One caution: Betsy and her friends play with an Ouija board at a certain point. I truly believe that at that time, Christians did not know the dangers of Ouija boards and that they were considered innocent party games. I do not think that Lovelace was advocating for the Occult in her books. Nonetheless, I was not going to let that pass without a serious discussion with my girls. We spent nearly 40 minutes talking about Church teaching on the Occult, and Ouija boards in particular. We also talked about what the girls should do if they find themselves in the presence of one of these or some other Occult item. We had a lively and healthy conversation. A few weeks later, some of the girls told me they saw an Ouija board at a local game shop and were glad to know what it looked like. They also prided themselves on walking away as soon as they saw it (I love these girls!).
Here are some of the questions we chatted about:
- Do you keep a journal?
- What did you think of Joe and Betsy’s meeting at Willard’s Emporium?
- What do you think of the two school societies?
- What do you think of the sorority?
- What do you think of Betsy and Julia’s conversion to Anglicanism?
- Which member of The Crowd are you most like?
- What do you think of Tony, and why?
- What do you think of Tacy’s avoidance of dating?
- How does Betsy grow and change throughout the books?
- Does knowing that these are loosely autobiographical change how you view them?
- What do you think of Mr. Gaston’s grading of Betsy’s Ivanhoe essay?
- What do you think of Julia’s dating practices?
- Why does Betsy want so badly to be someone “changed” or different than herself?
- What do you think of Phil Brandish?
- What was your favorite place that Besty lived in Europe?
- What did you think about Betsy’s marriage?