Maud Hart Lovelace was my favorite children’s author when I was growing up. She wrote a number of books collectively called the “Betsy-Tacy” series, and the first one I read, “Heaven to Betsy” remains my favorite childhood book of all time. When I ran across two previously out of print books written by her a few weeks ago, I was in heaven myself!
The edition I read had the two books printed together – Carney’s House Party which was aimed at intermediate/high school girls and Winona’s Pony Cart which was aimed at much younger readers. Taking the second book first, Winona Root was a minor character in most of the Betsy-Tacy books. Here, all the same primary characters were present, but existed as secondary characters revolving around the devilish and undignified Winona who was celebrating her eighth birthday. It was a very cute book and I enjoyed it mainly to see how the author handled her previously major characters with only a reflected spotlight.
The first section of the edition I read was Carney’s House Party which I enjoyed tremendously because it filled in a gap in the Betsy-Tacy series. In that series, Carney is an important secondary character and much is made of her great love and longing for her boyfriend Larry who moves away during their sophomore year in high school. Throughout the remainder of the high school books, Carney and Larry are said to keep up their relationship through correspondence, but then in one of the last books of the Betsy-Tacy series when Betsy herself is married, Carney is re-introduced with her new husband Sam, explaining that she and Larry mutually decided that they were better as friends. Carney’s House Party addresses this missing piece, shows what happened between Carney and Larry as well as the first meeting and courtship with Sam.
When I say “courtship”, I am not using that word lightly as this book as well as all of Maud Hart Lovelace’s novels are accurate to the time and the feel of Minnesota in the early twentieth century. Women and men do not kiss until their engagement is announced. Girls spend a great deal of time embroidering linens for their hope chests and discussing the type of houses they will keep for their husbands. It is quaint, sweet, and a lovely portrayal of a simpler time, but if you’re looking for a book to help empower your young daughters, this isn’t it. Although, in my opinion, I’d favor this book over a Disney princess story any day of the week.
Of course, the true magic of any Maud Hart Lovelace book is the fact that these novels were based on Maud’s life and friends growing up in Manketo, MN at the turn of the century. There was a Carney. And a Larry. And a Winona. And Betsy Ray, the heroine of them all was based on Maud. At the back of the novel I read were excerpts from letters between Maud and her friend Marnie (the fictional Betsy and Carney) as Maud sought permission to write the story of Marnie’s relationship with Larry and subsequent marriage to Sam.
My favorite story of all was not the novel, itself, but contained in the reader’s guide in the back of the book. It told the story of the 1961 reunion of most of the characters of the Betsy books (Maud’s real-life childhood friends) when Maud was honored at “Betsy-Tacy Days” in Mankato. Standing alongside Maud on the dias were Frances “Bick” Kenney Kirch and Marjorie Gerlach Harris (the real-life counterparts of Betsy’s best friends – Tacy and Tib)
I was thrilled to re-enter the town of Deep Valley and visit with its inhabitants once again. And thanks to Maud Hart Lovelace, my bucket list includes a trip to Manketo (Deep Valley) someday to visit Betsy’s house which was just named to the list of National Literary Landmarks.
Check out more information on Maud Hart Lovelace and the Betsy-Tacy Society at: