Thursday, October 05, 2006

Childhood Favourites

Danielle’s got a great post up about her favourite books from childhood, and about children’s classics that she missed. You’ll likely have gathered this, since I mention them at every opportunity, but my all time favourites are Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books. Sooner or later I’ll pen a post about the whole series and why I love them so. In the meantime, just to give you a taste, here’s an excerpt from a scene in which twelve-year-old Betsy makes a trip to her town’s brand new Carnegie Library in the Autumn of 1904.

     She entered a bit self-consciously, never having been in a library before. She saw an open space with a big cage in the center, a cage such as they had in the bank, with windows in it. Behind rose an orderly forest of bookcases, tall and dark, with aisles between.
     Betsy advanced to the cage and the young lady sitting inside smiled at her. She had a cozy little face, with half a dozen tiny moles. Her eyes were black and dancing. Her hair was black too, curly and untidy.
      “Are you looking for the Children’s Room?” she asked.
     Betsy beamed in response.
      “Well, not exactly. That is, I’d like to see it. But I may not want to read just in the Children’s Room.”
      “You don’t think so?” asked the young lady, sounding surprised.
      “No. You see,” explained Betsy, “I want to read the classics.”
      “You do?”
      “Yes. All of them. I hope I’m going to like them.”
     The young lady looked at her with a bright intensity. She got down off her stool.
      “I know a few you’ll like,” she said. “And they happen to be in the Children’s Room. Come on. I’ll show you.”
     The Children’s Room was exactly right for children. The tables and chairs were low. Low bookshelves lined the walls, and tempting-looking books with plenty of illustrations were open on the tables. There was a big fireplace in the room, with a fire throwing up flames and making crackling noises. Above it was the painting of a rocky island with a temple on it, called The Isle of Delos.
      “That’s one of the Greek islands,” said Miss Sparrow. Miss Sparrow was the young lady’s name; she had told Betsy so. “There’s nothing more classic than Greece,” she said. “Do you know Greek mythology? No? Then let’s begin on that.”
     She went to the shelves and returned with a book.
      “Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mythology. Classic,” she said.
     She went back to the shelves and returned with an armful of books. She handed them to Betsy one by one.
      “Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb. Classic. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Classic. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. Classic. Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. Classic, going-to-be.”
     She was laughing, and so was Betsy.
      “You don’t need to read them all today,” Miss Sparrow said.
      “May I get a card and take some home?”
      “You may get a card, but you’ll have to get it signed before you draw out books. You may stay here and read though, as long as you like.”
      “Thank you,” Betsy said.

From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (1943).


Anonymous said...

I absolutely adore those books. I had never heard of them until I was well into my 20's and Victoria magazine had an article about them, but then again I think they had been out of print for years. When they started bringing them back the local bookstore would only have the first 2 or 3. Imagine my joy when I went on vacation and the bookstore there had the rest-and at a huge discount, too. To this day finding those books is the part of that particular trip I remember the most.

Rebecca H. said...

Must re-read these. I loved them when I was little but haven't looked at them since, and would get a big kick out of it, I'm sure.

Jenn said...

Love the Betsy-Tacy shoutout. My best friend and I have called each other Tacy and Tib since childhood (neither of us would allow the other to be Betsy). I lived for several years in Mankato, MN, which is Deep Valley's alter ego, and did the walking tour of Betsy-Tacy sites several times. We went up the Big Hill, saw where the chocolate house and Little Syria used to be, and I worked at that very library.

mary grimm said...

Yes, rereading: me, too!
I love this excerpt, which reminds me not only of reading the books, but also of my own childhood library. It didn't have a fireplace, but I had the same sense there of entering a wonderful welcoming place, full of mysteries.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I had ever heard of these (the shame) until I saw them here on your blog. Maybe they were floating out there somewhere in the background. I need to go and check them out!

LK said...

I'm with Dorothy -- must reread! I loved these books...

Anonymous said...


With all of the new books coming out, sometimes its easy for these books to slip through the cracks...

We working to develop a program that offers free books, these classics included.

The model is pretty simple on the macro-level: we get books, sort through them, most are made available for donation for organizations that request them, some are resold through online partners and our little storefronts and a large portion are obsolete or damaged and subsequently recycled.

We have been doing this for a year and are now trying to get things incorporated online.

Kate, we would be honored if you and other bloggers with developed opinions would look at our site. We need educated people to ask tough questions and tell other people about the program etc.

Any input, reviews, blog comments, etc. would be super appreciated and help to develop this little company. Not only that... it could be fun :)

Thanks for your time and attention. We hope to hear from you soon.

John Keller