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There’s A Place Named Deep Valley, Deep Valley, Deep Valley

Smarty Pants Susie reviews the first four books of the childhood classic Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

There’s A Place Named Deep Valley, Deep Valley, Deep Valley

Please welcome back Smarty Pants Susie, who you may remember from her posts on the Harry Potter name game, hating on Holden Caufield, and YA heroines who never appeared in a book. She's back to give Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series the book report treatment, starting with the first four books. 

BOOK REPORT for Betsy-Tacy Books 1-4 by Maud Hart Lovelace

Cover Story: Meh
BFF Charm: H to the L YES! x3
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Lovelaceian (Not to be confused with Lovecraftian)
Bonus Factor: Minnesota
Anti-Bonus Factors: Selective Diversity, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Relationship Status: Childhood Chum

Cover Story: Meh

This is the cover to the anthology edition I read for this review. The paperbacks I read as kid fell apart about a decade ago. It's done in the style of Lois Lenski's illustrations. Though this is a bit broader and cartoonish compared to those, it gets the job done. I am a little disturbed by Betsy's flash of garter.

The Deal:

In Betsy-Tacy: imaginative Betsy Ray meets bashful Tacy Kelly and a lifelong friendship is formed.

In Betsy-Tacy and Tib: fearless Tib Muller is added into the mix and is a perfect fit. Misadventures follow.

In Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill: they go over the big hill of course. With the girls reaching the advanced age of ten, the format shifts from a string of vignettes to an over arching plot. And it's a doozy. There's a community of immigrants, a reclusive rich man, and an undiscovered princess. Yet it never turns into melodrama.

In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown: they go downtown. These titles definitely reflect the content. And OMG horseless carriages! And ugh Uncle Tom's Cabin. But yay libraries! And Uncle Keith!

BFF Charm: H to the L YES! x3

The charm is platinum coated adamantium because our bond is unbreakable.

Betsy, you are the best. You were a writer before you could write. I will never not follow you on your flights of fancy. Even if it does get us into a few scrapes.

Tacy, your shyness can make you hard to get to know, but you are worth the effort. You always have Betsy's back, so I'll always have yours. Also I'm super jealous of your red ringlets.

Tib, you may look like a dainty princess, but you are a major BAMF. You are not afraid of anything. Not jumping from the backyard maple. Not standing up to boys who are harassing Naifi (more on her later). Not even taking the first ride in a horseless carriage. (No horses, how will it know when to stop?) Though your Vulcan-like adherence to logic can get a little annoying, we like you anyway.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

There’s no swoon and that is as it should be. Betsy and Tacy go from five to twelve over the course of the four books. Their primary relationship is with each other. And it's an awesome relationship! More than Turk and JD, or Troy and Abed, or even Leslie and Ann, Betsy and Tacy are my platonic ideal of fictional BFFs.

Talky Talk: Lovelaceian (Not to be confused with Lovecraftian)

Lovelace's prose is straightforward. She's not trying to confuse her young readers with elaborate metaphor. And while she sometimes can be a little precious about her subjects, she will surprise you with a well placed bit of snark.

Julia actually liked the baby. You could tell that she did. She "Oh-ed" and she "Ah-ed"...Julia never did have much sense.

And she captures quintessential childhood moments so well. Like this description of being left home without an adult for the first time.

When the door had closed behind her the house seemed very still. It was so still that they felt they wanted to tiptoe when they walked.

Bonus Factor: Minnesota

I grew up in Chicago. Between these and the Little House books, I was convinced Minnesota was the most magical place in the world. Now that I live here, I'm constantly having little déjà vu moments while climbing big hills or trudging through several feet of snow. I hope to make a trip to Mankato which Deep Valley was based on, and see Betsy and Tacy's houses.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Selective Diversity

Deep Valley seems to be mostly populated with white people. There are Irish immigrants as domestic help. And there's Little Syria, a village of immigrants from Syria. (It's made a point that they Christian and not "Mohamadians")
But there doesn’t seem to be any black people. I don't know enough about Minnesota during the 1900s, but I don't think that's accurate.

Also, in Book Three, Besty, Tacy, and Tib make friends with a Syrian girl named Naifi. And while it's all very sweet, once the lesson about accepting everyone regardless of ethnicity is over, Naifi is not seen again in the series. And only mentioned in passing as something that happened in the past. Way to drop a friend, girls!

Anti-Bonus Factor: Uncle Tom's Cabin

In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, the girls are super excited to see a play at the posh downtown opera house. I'm less excited because the play is Uncle Tom's Cabin. Here's the thing: it's an important book. It did a lot to convert people to the cause of abolitionism by highlighting the suffering of slaves and injustice of slavery. BUT it's also full of terrible black stereotypes. In fact it introduced and/or popularized stereotypes that were still widespread eighty years after it's publication. And is responsible for the racial slur "Uncle Tom."

The Deep Valley books are set in the early twentieth century and written in the forties, time periods where Uncle Tom's Cabin was still seen as one hundred percent positive and progressive. As a person of this century it's cringe inducing. Not to mention the inclusion of white actors in blackface to portray the black characters in the play. Though when it comes racial insensitivity, nothing tops The King and I's Uncle Tom's Cabin musical number. Which was a white writer's idea of how a broad Asian stereotype character would adapt another white writer's novel full of black stereotypes as performed by white actors in yellowface doing blackface. ALL OF THE CRINGING!

Casting Call:

This was tough to cast. I'm not up on current child actors so I went to Google. Side note, if you ever want to feel super creepy, type "child actress under twelve" into Google. Anyway, the only actor that is the right age and who’d I'd seen in anything was the non CGI version of Renesmee, and... I just can't.

So since Maud Hart Lovelace based Betsy, Tacy, and Tib on herself and her two best friends. Let's pull out the TARDIS and cast:

Maud Hart as Betsy

So cute!

Francis Kenney as Tacy

Francis, or Bick as she was called, is on the left.

Marjorie Gerlach, also known as Midge, as Tib

That's the accordion pleated dress, you guys!

Relationship Status: Childhood Chum

Books, its difficult to think of a time when we weren't friends. We're from different eras, but that couldn't divide us. When things got bad for me, I knew I could always go to you for a game of paper dolls and a pan of Everything Pudding. I'm so glad we got to grow up together.