Friday, May 15, 2009

Betsy And Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

180 pages
Copyright 1943, renewed 1971
Published 1979 First Harper Trophy edition
New York, New York

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the fourth book in the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Besty, Tacy, and Tib are growing up. At 12 years-old they permitted to do lots of things on their own including trips together or alone to downtown Deep Valley. Even Julia and Katie (Betsy's and Tacy's older sisters) are growing up. They are in high-school and have boys carrying their books. It won't be long before before Betsy, Tacy, and Tib leave their childhood behind and follow the older girls into Deep Valley High. In a way, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the perfect story to segue between the girls adventures as children and the adventures they have as young ladies. I think because of this and because of the books strong focus on the arts (literature, theatre and music) Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is my favorite book covering Betsy's early years.

As is the case with the three previous novels, Mrs. Lovelace packs the short novel with many exciting experiences and has the girls uncovering wonderful surprises. It would spoil some of the fun if I were to list them all here, so I will only mention a few such as... making surprising new friends, matinees at the Deep Valley Opera House (theatre), riding in the first horseless carriage (automobile) to arrive in Deep Valley, and (my personal favorite) exploring the new Carnegie Library.

I found a few details of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown quite amusing. For starters, as the story opens the girls have discovered dime novels, which are in general frowned upon by the girls' parents. What made me laugh was which book it is that causes the ruckus in the Kelly and Ray homes -- none other than Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1862). I laugh because in 2009 that book is considered a classic right alongside the works of Dickens, Austen, and Wilkie Collins, yet in 1901 it was still considered "cheap literature" and a sensational or controversial read that is by no means equal to Dickens or Shakespeare. It is interesting to see how public opinion and literary tastes/opinions change over time. And interesting too that it is a book I really enjoyed. What does that say of my literary tastes? Hmm...

Another aspect that I enjoyed was Betsy's introduction to the new Carnegie library. During the first two decades of the 20th century the millionaire philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie funded over 1,680 public libraries in the United States in order to further self-improvement in citizens through reading. One such library came to Deep Valley (the fictional town version of Mankato, MN) and Betsy's parents encourage her self-improvement by letting her spend every other Saturday at the library on her own. Some of my favorite quotes from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown are found in the chapters where Betsy first visits the library:

"She thought of the library, so shining white and new; the rows and rows of unread books; the bliss of unhurried sojourns there and of going out to a restaurant, alone to eat." (Chapter 6, page 78)

"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." (Chapter 7 page 84-85)

As you can guess, I just loved Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. It was a fun story and filled me with warm happy memories as I read; especially of my childhood libraries. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown a 5. This is definitely a series to buy verses borrow. The good news is the early years (books 1-4) are still available in paperback and I've read that the later years (books 5-11) will once again be available in paperback later this year.

For more information about the earlier Besty-Tacy books check out my reviews here. And for the later books, stay tuned. Reviews to come.

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