In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

We are what we read

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Your last paragraph made me tear up.  I'm so glad that you're out there talking about and selling books to people.

I know what you mean about feeling like certain books belong to certain readers.  (And of course I have my own, books that are so intertwined in my childhood that they feel entirely mine.  Today at lunch in the English teachers' lounge, one of my colleagues referred to a character in one of Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik books, and I lit up -- I adored and identified with Anastasia, and hadn't thought of her in so long.)

This past week, Eleanor and I started reading a book which I will forever identify with my friend Cyd: the Maud Hart Lovelace classic Betsy-Tacy.  Cyd is an amazing, voracious reader, and has been since she was two years old.  Since we became friends in high school, she's mentioned Betsy-Tacy a number of times as being one of the formative series of her childhood, and told me recently she'd just re-read the first two books with her daughter Rebekah.  (The series takes Betsy and Tacy from childhood up into early adulthood over the course of ten books.)

Reading the book with Eleanor, I see Cyd in its pages.  Betsy-Tacy is the story of two best friends (Betsy and Tacy), both 5 years old, who live across the street from each other in turn-of-the-century Minnesota.  Betsy is Lovelace's alter-ego, a storyteller and budding writer, filled with imagination.  Betsy and Tacy are deeply loyal to each other, and totally engaged in an imaginative world together: they climb trees, make a house outside in a piano box, dye sand with Easter egg colors and use it to fill jars which they sell to other neighborhood children, dress up in their mothers' clothes and go calling on neighbors.  Their play is lovely and old-fashioned and real.

Big warning for the first book, however: in the chapter titled "Easter Eggs," Tacy's youngest sister, Baby Bee, dies of an unexplained illness.  Cyd warned me about this a while ago, but of course I forgot until this weekend, when I was reading it on the subway to Eleanor and her friend Ian.  Then there was a mention of Baby Bee being sick and...I paused and scanned the pages rapidly...oh.  I made a lame excuse about the length of the chapter and moved onto the next one.  You can do this -- while Betsy and Tacy discuss Bee's death in the chapter (Betsy reassures Tacy that Bee is up in Heaven in a way I imagine will only reassure your child if this is also your family belief and you've discussed it previously), there's no mention of it in later chapters.  Eleanor has already looked through the book on her own, found the picture of Betsy and Tacy in a tree with their Easter eggs, and asked about what happens in that story -- if she pushes, I'll have the conversation with her.  But for now, I'm fine with keeping infant mortality off the table.

Aside from the one chapter, Betsy-Tacy is an unadulterated pleasure.  A new old friend.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. I adore the Betsy-Tacy series and am looking forward to sharing them with my daughter. Thanks for bringing up the topic of editing- it can be a tricky one, but for little children in this day and age, it seems that some of the classics must be eased into Thank goodness infant mortality isn't common enough that most 4 or 5 year olds would understand that in a story! I recently re-read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and realized that there was quite a bit of farm reality that wouldn't be appropriate for very small children either!