I am a Wisconsin girl. Even though most Wisconsin children grew up reading Wisconsin based Caddie Woodlawn, I grew up reading the Betsy Tacy books because my mom was raised on the Western side of the state which borders Minnesota. Maud Hart Lovelace is one of the great authors to come out of Minnesota in the last century.
Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Lovelace grew up in Mankato, Minnesota. She married a journalist and wrote historical fiction novels. When her daughter was a very little girl, Lovelace would tell Merian stories of her childhood. These stories were so delightful to Merian that Lovelace decided to capture them and memorialize them in the Betsy Tacy stories, illustrated by Lois Lenski. The stories are innocent, wholesome, true to life, and imaginative. Lovelace based her characters on her own family and neighbors so closely that readers wrote her letters for decades begging to know what was true and what was fiction.
Like many other series of its kind, the stories follow little girls who grow up. Betsy was modeled after Lovelace. “Betsy is like me, except that, of course, I glamorized her to make her a proper heroine.” Tacy and Tib were based on Lovelace’s real life best friends. When the stories begin, Betsy and Tacy are about five years old and it chronicles their first meeting, their first days at school, birthday parties, and their imaginative play. Near the end of the book they meet Tib. For five to seven-year-old girls, I cannot fathom a more delightful and endearing story of girlish childhood.
In the second book, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, the girls are eight years old and we are regaled with more stories of childish play and friendship. Reading it feels like enjoying a second helping of a delicious dessert.
In the third book, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the series hits a more serious (but still wholesome) note. The girls turn ten and marvel at their double digit age. They have a friendship with a Syrian immigrant friend and this brings an international awareness to their happy little world.
In doing research for this article, I discovered that there is another book which I knew nothing about! It seems that Winona’s Pony Cart may go backwards in the Betsy-Tacy timeline. It appears to be about an eight-year-old friend. It is not included in any of the Betsy Tacy sets or omnibuses that I have seen growing up, so I am not sure how it fits into the series.
In what I always thought was the fourth book, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, the series makes an age-appropriate turn into more mature content. Still wholesome and lovely, but certainly not interesting to young readers. This book covers the end of elementary school and ushers in the transition into high school.
The rest of the series continues to be good food for teen and adult readers. Just like the Grandma’s Attic or Little House on the Prairie or Little Britches series, the characters mature and reap the harvest of their childhood. My rule of thumb is to roughly match the book with the age of the child. I consider the books through Downtown appropriate for my almost eight-year-old daughter.
If you fall in love with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, consider checking out this website. It has birthday party planning packs, curriculum guides, etc.
Just in case you didn’t know, Betsy-Tacy is available at Audible.