Wednesday, August 10, 2005

handing off the books

I'm getting ready to see my niece and nephew next week, after far too long. My favorite part of the preparations is figuring out which books to get them.

The Wednesday Witch is on its way. If it doesn't arrive in time, I can always send it for Rowan's birthday, which is in about a month. Today I got her two books that I would have given her anyway, at some point, because they are two of my first and favorite chapter books. How happy am I that she asked for them!

First, there's the real Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers. I didn't even know Rowan knew there was anything besides the treacly Julie Andrews movie. She rules.

Then there are the Little House books. I didn't know kids still read these, but I'm glad they do. My favorite was Little House in the Big Woods, because I loved the scene where Ma and her sisters got ready for the dance, in their pretty ginghams, with their hair braided and rolled. I LOVED those women, and wanted to be just like them when I grew up. I also loved it when Mr. Edwards brought Christmas treats, including an orange for everyone's stocking. She's already read that one, so I'm getting her the next one, Little House on the Prairie (this is the next book in the series according to ME! I am not buying Farm Boy, just because the publisher has pedantically numbered the books).

If The Wednesday Witch gets here before we leave, I'll have three books for her. Of course I'm dying for her to be a reader, and she seems kind of maybe interested--not the way I was when i was her age, but I think she's getting more interested as she gets older. My sister is pretty strict about setting aside lots of reading time. I know, I know, Rowan gets to choose her own books and have her own subjectivity. I'm pacing myself, though, and getting reacquainted with the childhood books I don't think she or her brother can live without before I pass them on. Because, really, some of my favorites haven't held up that well. Take my old friends Betsy-Tacy. You might remember their books looking something like this:

I loved those books. I read them several times throughout elementary school. I thought I had never heard cuter names and I used to dream of having twin girls who I would name Elizabeth and Anastasia, so they, too, could be Betsy-Tacy. But, you know, it turns out those girls don't really do much besides hang out and be really girly together, sewing, and making cookies. The one time they go outside, they either ice skate on a semi-frozen lake, or run around in a rainstorm, and wouldn't you know it? One of Tacy's siblings catches a cold and dies. There's a lesson there, kids. You know it's one of Tacy's, because if I remember correctly, she's from the wrong side of the tracks, from some big, poor Catholic family, where children are often lost due to carelessness and neglect. There're just too many damn children to keep alive! That's why Betsy's more genteel, Protestant family graciously allows Tacy to hang out at their house, eat their food, wear Betsy's clothes, sleep in her warm bed, etc. So while I might have enjoyed these books for the insightful critique of class tensions in early 20th century America, I don't think my niece would dig them. Besides, have you seen the new covers? What the hell is this?


Blogger La Lecturess said...

I LOVED the Betsy-Tacy books! In fact, I was going to mention them in my previous comment, as you got me thinking about children's books. I think my mom introduced me to them. One thing I loved was how many there were, and how, like the Little House books (which of course I also devoured), they became more age-appropriate as the girls themselves aged. As a 10 or 12-year-old, I remember loving reading about the girls going to college and having beaux. I learned the word "cad" from the Betsy-Tacy books.

Two of my strongest B-T memories: first, one of the girls (Betsy, I assume, but I think following her sister's lead?) becoming an Episcopalian and her parents complaining good-naturedly about how much kneeling and then getting up again there was. Second, their going off to college and one girl being assured that her "thing" would be to be the mysterious type: she should always dress in deep greens and blues, and look pensive, and not talk much.

Actually, I was thinking of that just the other day as I was at the mall, noting a great green dress . . .

This is so cool--I don't know anyone else who's ever read them, and I'm psyched to know they're still in print.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a child, I tried to read the Little House books and was more or less bored out of my mind.

I tended to only appreciate things that were high stakes, plot-heavy and escapist.

I had far greater appreciation for Anne of Green Gables than for Laura Ingalls Wilder because she was imaginative and a romantic and slightly too fantastical for her dullish surroundings.


11:10 AM  
Blogger What Now? said...

I also loved the Betsy-Tacy books, although I didn't discover them until I was in 6th grade or so and thus appreciated the later books in the series more. I loved that Betsy was a writer.

Now what's the problem with Farm Boy? I haven't read it since elementary school, but it was one of my favorites in the series.

Depending on how old your niece is, may I also recommend Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy? One of my all-time favorites!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Yes, the Betsy-Tacy books are back in print (I'm not sure they ever went out of print) and waiting for you at a nearby bookstore. If you ignore the odious, new, Babysitter's Club style covers, you will find that the illustrations you loved are still inside.

Welcome back!!! I, too, loved Anne of Green Gables, though I always felt like a johnny-come-lately because I didn't discover them until sixth grade. What I disliked, though, was how un-spunky she got once she got older and got married. Same with Mrs. Wilder. My theory as an adolescent was that all series books were okay UNTIL the heroine started wearing her hair up. Lose the braids, lose the personality.

What Now,
I'm so excited about the Dorothy Canfield recommendation. Thanks! I teach her novel The Homemaker in a middlebrow literature class, and the students always like it quite a bit. The problem with Farm Boy is pretty simple: it's about a boy, and I never, ever, ever read books about boys when I was a kid, unless there was magic involved. What made the Little House books great was the costuming--loved the dresses and bonnets. Almanzo's suspenders and hats just didn't do it for me. But maybe it's worth checking out now that I'm a little more tolerant.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous joanna said...

I read just about all of the books you all have mentioned, and I can't remember a darn thing about them except my love for them. I know I didn't read Farm Boy because I only read books about girls. Said girls could have brothers, fathers, sons and students (thus covering all of the bases for Louisa May Alcott's books!), but the main character had to be female. There was also an orange- bound biography series that I loved--again, although there must have been a hundred bios in that series, I only read the ones about women, who were either "the first woman to. . ." or First Ladies or the mothers of presidents.
I think that the only male character that I ever read about
and liked was Christopher Robin.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are wrong to think that Betsy and Tacy only made paper dolls and went ice skating. One of the great themes of these novels is that Betsy's parents encouraged their daughters to develop their talents (writing, opera singing), to follow their religious beliefs (changing religion) at a time early in the 20th century when women did not traditionally have careers. You would benefit from rereading the whole series!

6:23 PM  
Blogger Elinor Dashwood said...

I'm not slow as a rule in detecting (and perhaps sometimes imagining) Protestant patronage of Catholics, but I don't see it at all in the Betsy books. Tacy's family isn't poor - they have warm clothes and plenty to eat and a horse and buggy, and her father sells sewing machines - I'd call them middle class. The whole family is orderly and industrious, and they're brought up to work hard in school and read good books. (Her father has a fit when he finds her reading a rubbishy dime novel, when he has Shakespeare and Dickens in the house.) The baby dies from an unspecified cause, but there were lots of things to die of in 1900. And outdoors? I wonder if you're remembering a different book. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are outdoors all spring, summer, and fall, and as much as they can be in winter. They explore, write and act plays, climb trees, go sledding, and picnic all over the place. Read the books again; they're wonderful.

2:03 PM  

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