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Betsy-Tacy, My Daughter and Me

One of the joys of having children is revisiting favorite books from your own childhood. Or maybe that’s one of my joys—I was a bookworm. As a kid, I checked out 10 books—the maximum number—when my mom took me to the library every other Monday. I’d take them home, read them and return them two weeks later so I could get more books.

I sat with Fern on hay bales, chatting with a pig and a spider. I traveled through the universe with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which by means of tesseract. I repeatedly returned to WWII-era England to disappear with Lucy into the wardrobe. I spent an entire year waiting to perish from cancer, as Meg’s older sister did in A Summer to Die.

The words themselves lift me along like a breeze, back in time, to when old jokes were still new and the world spread ahead of me, fresh and waiting to be discovered.

Having cried over Meg’s older sister one too many times, I think I will let my kids find that novel on their own. (But I’ll recommend it to you, dear reader: Lois Lowry’s first novel, based loosely on the early death of her older sister. Beautifully written and very powerful.) But I’ve forged ahead with other books. My boys sat rapt through A Wrinkle in Time, Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I even managed to persuade them that Little House on the Prairie—with its growling wolves and angry Indians circling the Ingalls family homestead—was suitable guy fare. But there are some literary lanes down which even this enlightened mom could not travel with a pair of sons. That is why it is, once again, so great to have my daughter, S. We are now halfway through one of my favorite girl book series: Betsy-Tacy.

It amazes, and saddens, me how many people do not know of these novels. Of course, I wouldn’t have tripped over them if my own mother had not tracked them down for me when I was about S’s age, 8 years old. They were her beloved stories from when she was a kid. There are 10 books in all. They follow the life of one Betsy Ray, as she and her best friend, Tacy, grow up in a small Minnesota town in the early 1900s.

Now I’ve never been to Minnesota; neither has my mom or daughter. We all live in Los Angeles. But these books, based on the childhood of the author, Maud Hart Lovelace, echo happy and sad moments in our own childhoods. Some things, it turns out, never change. Like girl friendships.

Just like Betsy, S has a best friend, M, who lives two doors away. M's brown hair hangs straight past her shoulders; S’s blond hair does the same. They both prefer shorts and short-sleeve T-shirts, even when the mercury dips below 70 and the skies threaten rain. They like to play Barbies together and make up songs to which they can dance. Together, they avoid S’s older brothers and try to keep out M’s younger one.

At night, S lays in bed while I read her a Betsy-Tacy book. Right now, we’re on the fourth one; the fictional girls have just turned 12. As we read, we hear in the stories echoes of S’s life, and I’m brought back to my own girlhood. The words themselves lift me along like a breeze, back in time, to when old jokes were still new and the world spread ahead of me, fresh and waiting to be discovered. On a good day, by the time we get two pages into a chapter, I’m back there with S, a kid again, who knows the importance of a best friend and a good book.

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