Last week I binge-read through the Betsy-Tacy series, all ten books plus two others set in Deep Valley (Carney’s House Party and Winona’s Pony Cart).
I was first introduced to the series years ago by one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail. There’s a short scene in the movie where Meg Ryan’s character tells a little girl about the books, and I still remember the line where she regretfully explains that Tib’s real name is Thelma. Anyway, because of the movie I first read Pride and Prejudice (also an old fave) and I remember checking out the “Shoes” books by Noel Streatfeild (How do you spell that? S-T-R-E-A-T-F-E-I-L-D *sob*), but I don’t know why I never got around to Betsy-Tacy.
Literally 20 years later, I finally did and they were just lovely and had so many of the elements that make my inner bookworm beam with delight. Some of which are:
- Children’s/young adult literature genre There’s something therapeutic about rereading favorite childhood books. And I got the same warm and fuzzy feelings from reading this series, even though it was for the first time as an adult. The world was simpler when you were a child, and so were the worlds in your books. And sometimes life is complicated, but in the end what’s important sort of boils down to some of the universal themes in good children’s books: be kind (to family, friends, strangers and animals), eat well (preferably in picnic form on sunny days), and live each day to its fullest.
- Historical Midwest/rural America setting As I messaged to a friend recommending the books, “Turn of the centuryish pioneer, frontier girl books are my spirit animal.” “Ish” is liberally applied to mean turn of the century, give or take 50 years in either direction. As for the setting, although the girls don’t grow up on a farm necessarily, nature and animals and the seasons are such a part of their lives. The Midwest town life described of school and play and family sing-a-longs is pretty idyllic and perfect for a little literary getaway.
- Descriptions of nature and the seasons As I said above, I love how nature and the seasons are such an integral part of the characters’ lives. It’s just easier to notice the seasons changing when you’re constantly outside for picnics and adventures and drives out with friends. I need more nature and picnics in my life.
- First-love-turned-forever-love stories Gilbert Blythe, Almanzo Wilder, Mr. Darcy… and now Joe Willard. Be still my beating heart. One thing that amused me was the numerous references to Joe’s golden pompadour. I get it, considering how important Betsy’s hair was to her and it’s a part of his appearance, but it made me smile a little. I need more hair-care in my life.
- Nostalgic black-and-white pen illustrations I just love bold, simple black-and-white pen illustrations from time periods ago. Lois Lenski illustrated the first four books and the drawings are just darling! The reading experience wouldn’t be the same with modern illustrations. The first letters of every chapter decorated with little flowers were also very sweet.
- Home cooking Another reason I think I like Midwest/frontier-y books set in the past is the descriptions of food! I realized this more while reading Betsy-Tacy. Betsy has such a lovely home life and food is really integral to that. From the picnics and spreads the girls make to Anna’s cakes and Mr. Ray’s Sunday lunch sandwiches, everything sounded so yummy and wholesome. Food was made with love and consumed with loved ones. I definitely need to rework my relationship with food, and reading the books inspired me to eat more healthy and home cooked meals with those near and dear this year.