On Writing or Thank You Maud Hart Lovelace

By Sherry Harris writing on a windy day

IMG_2836As a published author I’ve been asked more often why I write, so I’ve thought about it a lot. I can draw a direct line from my favorite childhood series, The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, to my desire to write.

First a bit about the books — the series is based on Maud Hart Lovelace’s life growing up in Mankato, Minnesota which she calls Deep Valley in the books. When we first meet Betsy she is five and the reading level is suitable for that age group. But as Betsy ages so does the age level of the books. We follow Betsy from the first book, Betsy-Tacy, to the last in the series, Betsy’s Wedding.

IMG_2838Betsy wanted to be a writer from the time she was a little girl until she became one as an adult. And since I wanted to be Betsy, I wanted to be a writer too. The books start in the late 1800’s and follow through to the Great War.  We go with Betsy on her first ride in a horseless carriage, feel her first heartbreak, sneak off with her to the store to buy dime novels. When her mother finds the dime novels, Betsy gets a library card and is allowed to go alone. The characters are wonderfully drawn but face issues that are relatable today.

IMG_2839I’ve read these books over and over. Even as an adult, I still love to read them. Betsy has an older sister, Julia and I have one, Janet. Both are great piano players. My sister and I used to argue about who was Betsy and who was Julia. (Obviously, I’m Betsy!) Betsy’s full name is Elizabeth Warrington Ray. In fifth grade I decided if I ever had a daughter I’d name her Elizabeth Rae. And yes, my daughter is named Elizabeth Rae. Betsy’s family supports her writing, as does mine.

IMG_2843The Unofficial Book Reviewer says this about Betsy: Generations of literary-minded girls have found a soul mate in Betsy Ray, who blushes too easily, wobbles on ice skates, and nearly flunks algebra. That line could have been written about me.

The books were mentioned in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Anna Quindlen mentions the series in one of her books. I was surprised by the number of authors who related to the books I loved so much. You can read their thoughts at the Betsy-Tacy Society.

So thank you Maud Hart Lovelace for writing such wonderful books and for inspiring me.

Readers: Who inspired you when you were young?

72 Thoughts

  1. What a lovely story, Sherry, and something I didn’t know about you! I somehow never read these, but will look for them in the library. I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books – enchanted by this family of Jewish girls living in New York at the start of the 1900s. In terms of inspiration, though, I also read lots of biographies of strong historical women: Jane Addams and Clara Barton are two that stand out.

    1. I read somewhere that even though they are beloved, they never attained the recognition of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Of course I read all of those too, but these I related to more.

      1. What a charming story of your relationship to the characters in these books. And your sister… very sweet. And your daughter… Aw Sherry. <3

  2. These books were never in our library when I was a small girl. Maybe they were not written yet.

  3. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of these books. I’m going to have to look them up. I remember reading Little Women and wanted to be Jo. That was probably the first time I thought about writing. The books that influenced me the most (and could be the reason I write mysteries) were the Nancy Drew mysteries. When I read all of them, I went through the Hardy Boys. I had a major crush on Frank Hardy way before the TV show, lol.

    In high school I graduated to Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. I found two Victoria Holt books at an estate sale a couple years ago and had to buy them. And re-read them. They were still enjoyable, even if I did want to shake the heroines a few times.

    1. Out of curiosity I checked and our library system does have them. I never read the Hardy Boys. I loved Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney but I haven’t read either in years. Mary Stewart was another favorite.

      1. I forgot about Mary Stewart. I loved the Moonspinners and vaguely remember seeing a movie of it starring Hayley Mills on TV when I was a kid–before I was old enough to read the book.

      1. Jo validated being a tomboy, which was kind of amazing when you think about when the book was written. (Maybe it soothed anxious parents that Jo went on and married and led a “normal” life.)

      2. I still think about being Jo. She had a special writing hat she put on later, didn’t she? Or a special shawl or something? A talisman.

  4. when I took a break from Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, et al, I read Betsy Tacy Tib and Anne of Green Gables (who also grew up to be a writer). And all those blue and orange-covered biographies which shaped our lives. My daughters loved PR Naylor’s Alice books in the same way.

    1. Betsy, Nancy, Cherry, and Anne all seem like old friends to me since I read all their books over and over.

  5. Somehow these books completely escaped my notice. I second Anne of Green Gables (loved it when she accidentally died her hair green!). I’d add Little Women, which I first read when I had the measles in fourth grade. Maybe it was the fever, but many parts of the book have stuck in my mind ever since (and I still have that copy). “In a tearing hurry, yours ever, Laurie.”

    1. I love Jo too! When we lived in Massachusetts, I took all of our guests to Orchard House. The Betsy-Tacy books have the same warmth.

  6. Another Anne of Green Gables devotee here. I also loved Mary Calhoun (Katie John series), Beverly Cleary, and Betty Cavanna, plus my mother’s Emilie Loring romances. I was a moony kid and loooooved to read about looooove.

  7. I remember loving the Betsy series by Carolyn Haywood. I even wrote a fan letter to her, and she wrote back! It was probably a form response, but when you’re seven, you don’t know that.

  8. Oh Sherry, I LOVED the Betsy, Tacy, and Tibb books. Read every one I could lay my hands one. Such fun to remember. Thanks for this post!

    For me the Oz books. Anne of Green Gables. Also lots of books by Booth Tarkington (Alice Adams. The Magnificent Ambersons. Penrod and Sam). Lots by Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Little Princess). And of course all of Louisa May Alcott. Then I graduated to Jane Austen.

  9. You’ll be happy to know that the Betsy Tacy books still get checked out at the library, which is pretty remarkable for books that were written in the 50s. They’re so wonderful, they are passed along through generations. Did Elizabeth like them too? I love that you named her after Elizabeth Rae!
    I was more of a Beverly Cleary, Nancy Drew type, then moved on to Elizabeth Peter’s Vicky Bliss, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart. Adore Mary Stewart.

      1. I’ll lend them to you–I think I have every Mary Stewart I ever read, back in high school (I quit after The Crystal Cave). And Victoria Holt. I knew there was a reason I was saving all of these!

  10. I must admit I’ve never read these books. I’ve heard of them, just never read them. Someday….

  11. I’ve never heard of these. (Actually, I must have, because I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail like 100 times.) But I do love domestic tales of stout-hearted girls and will have to look them up.

  12. Thanks for the pingback, Sherry. I’m always happy to know that someone is reading my book reviews–and even happier to connect with other Betsy-Tacy fans. These are my all-time favorite children’s books.

    1. I was thrilled to see your review! And that you described Betsy so well in so few words! I love finding other lovers of the series too!

  13. BT Fans! There is a Betsy Tacy Society and we have conventions (there’s a gathering this summer in Mankato) and everything! They also have local chapters. I belong to the New England group and we have a blast.

    Go to http://betsy-tacysociety.org/ for more including teacher resources!

    The society has purchased and restored the homes that Maud/Betsy and Bickie/Tacy lived in and runs them as museums.
    Heather Vogel Frederick’s Mother-Daughter Book Club series includes a book about BT – “Home for the Holidays”

  14. I’ve never read these books, but I have heard of them as an adult. I don’t know how I escaped reading them growing up. I don’t remember them in our school library. I would have loved them, I’m sure. Hopefully one of these days I can at least sample them. I loved mystery even as a kid, so I read Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.

    1. I read somewhere they never attained the status of The Little House on the Prairie books. I hope you get a chance to read them some day!

  15. This summer in Mankato (the original of Lovelace’s Deep Valley) there is a Deep Valley Homecoming celebration for fans of the books. You can see the originals of many of the locations, and tour Betsy’s and Tacy’s houses (Maud’s and her best friend Bick’s). Please come! It will be great fun.

      1. I hope you’ll come. I believe there will be an authors’ event, along with everything else cool. The full schedule isn’t up yet, but some details are on the Society’s website.

  16. Your shelf looks much like mine, though I envy your hardcover of Carney’s House Party! Like you, I always identified with Betsy and…grew up to be a writer! Visited Mankato once. What a joy that was!

    1. My copy of Carney’s House Party is new. My sister read it once when we were young (checked out from the library) and then it disappeared. We were starting to think we’d imagined its existence. I’m so glad they finally reprinted it!

  17. I grew up on the Betsy~Tacy books and have a bookshelf very similar to yours! I’m proud to say my teenage girls have also read the books and the stories of their antics, adventures and friendships have become part of who we are. Maud was an inspiration to so many, writers and otherwise.

  18. Another vote for Betsy-Tacy! I first learned of them via Edward Eager, who mentioned Betsy-Tacy in one of his marvelous books for children. (He also mentioned E. Nesbit…her books are great, too.) I pedaled over to my library and started reading the series – out of order – and was hooked. Always, always, read the books your favorite authors mention in *their* books.

    Betsy always seems so real to me – her worries and dreams, her squabbles with her sister, her relationships with family and friends are so authentic. That’s probably why I own every book in the series (two copies of some!) and re-read the books at least once a year. Thanks for paying tribute to my favorite series of all time.

  19. I first read Betsy was a Freshman when I was in the 8th grade and read the whole series every few years and I am 75 years old. Got a chance to visit Mankato once and made my husband drive around to try to find the different locations. Introduced the series to my daughter when she was in the 1st or 2nd grade and she loved them too.

  20. I love the Betsy-Tacy books, as well as the “other” three Deep Valley books (Carney’s House Party, Emily of Deep Valley, and, though it’s not as special to me, Winona’s Pony Cart).

    These books are as grounded in the place and time as the Little House books, but feel far more contemporary, with all the social goings-on and the middle-class girls who, as a matter of course, go to college after graduating high school. And Maud Hart Lovelace wrote so very well . . . I read the books over and over as a child, and the lovely prose got into my bones.

    1. You said it perfectly — they still have a contemporary feel! My daughter could relate to Betsy’s move. I related to Tib’s when I thought my best friend in high school was going to move. The stories strike a deep, deep chord.

  21. I absolutely loved this tribute to Maud Hart Lovelace. The Betsy-Tacy books are my all time favorites. I’ve shared your link with a number of friends who love children’s literature today.

    If you are not a member of the Maud-L maillist, I think you would enjoy it! Hopefully this link will work – there is a mention of the Maud-L list here: http://www.betsy-tacysociety.org/links. I’ve been a member of the group since 1995, and it is a wonderful gathering of children’s literature fans.

  22. Thank you for promoting the beloved tomes. Many of the list members are fans of series mentioned here:Anne, little house, all of a kind family, beany malone, and (my non-bt favorite) those miller girls. These literary treasures have shaped us in unexpected and magical ways. The list is a marvelously supportive group, no matter what challenges we face. Last summer we rallied round a beloved sister whose husband was facing grave heath issues. We sent practical gifts, and loved and routinely conducted tribal rituals involving dance and animal (as in animal cracker!) sacrifice. How wonderful that there are still adventurous, intelligent, and loving women to join us!

  23. Thank you for the lovely article about my favorite series. Betsy (and Maud) are inspirations indeed (I love saying “indeed”. And “prefer.”) I helped get the books mentioned in “You’ve Got Mail”. Long story, but it’s one of my claims to fame (among Lovelace fans, at least.)

  24. Thr Box Car Children stories resonated with me immensely. I think it was their sense of creativity in fixing or correcting situations. Or that they were the first to use a “shipping container” to create a roomy “small home?”

    1. I love the first book, The Box Car Children, but the endless, formulaic series books that follow do nothing for me. In those, the four siblings (and the dog) do not live in the wonderful boxcar, supporting themselves with grit and innovation, but with their wealthy grandfather, and he bankrolls the adventures they go on. To me, there is a huge distinction between such series (and that includes Nancy Drew; I was never a fan) and those like the Betsy-Tacy books, or All-of-a-Kind Family (the first 3, anyway). The latter are historical fiction, and the characters, who grow, experience life, and learn, are fully developed. I support those who enjoy the various syndicated series, but they are not for me.

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