A series of children's and young adult books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series, these books come close to being straight autobiography. Lovelace renames her characters, unlike Wilder, but otherwise uses many of the same techniques. She provides a picture of immediately post-pioneer midwestern life at the turn of the century, as opposed to pioneer life in the 1860s and 70s.
The books loosely follow the lifelong friendship of Betsy Ray (Lovelace) and her friend Tacy Kelly (Lovelace's childhood friend, Frances "Bick" Kenney). Their friend Tib Muller (Marjorie "Midge" Gerlach) provides a third main character, and the three have any number of adventures of the growing up variety. The characters are introduced at age five and develop through the series until the last book, Betsy's Wedding, by which point they are all in their early twenties.
The series is largely set in the small town of Deep Valley, Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, Lovelace based this town almost literally on her childhood hometown, Mankato. Reading the books, one can get quite a clear picture of the town's culture. Lovelace makes certain, for instance, to go into great detail about what everyone was wearing (the Merry Widow hat makes a grand appearance), the popular songs each year ("K-K-K-Katy", for instance), the food, the dances, and the yearly visits of the great Irish tenor, Chauncey Olcott.
While the books are not intended to be social history, they certainly provide substantial evidence of how society functioned at the time and place. They may focus most on teenaged frivolity -- they are a good bit more frou-frou than Wilder's books -- but they focus as well on the cultural surroundings. For instance, Betsy's reaction to the places she visits (Milwaukee, where Betsy spends a German Christmas in Betsy in Spite of Herself, and Europe, which she tours in Betsy and the Great World) give a picture of her reactions to other cultures. The sharp contrast between these cultures and her own only serves to enhance the picture of Betsy herself, and her own mentality.
Visitors to Mankato today can check out any number of Betsy-Tacy sights, including childhood homes and the bench where a very young Maud and Bick ate frequent picnic suppers. Mankato is also the home to the Betsy-Tacy Society, www.betsy-tacysociety.org, which preserves the local historical sites and holds conferences on Lovelace and her work semi-annually.
The series runs as follows:
Betsy-Tacy and Tib (1941)
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (1942)
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (1943)
Heaven to Betsy (1945)
Betsy in Spite of Herself (1946)
Betsy Was a Junior (1947)
Betsy and Joe (1948)
Betsy and the Great World (1952)
Betsy's Wedding (1955)
Lovelace's other books include the Deep Valley books, three supplements (more or less) to the Betsy-Tacy series, in which we get a few more stories starring peripheral characters. They are Winona's Pony Cart, Carney's House Party, and Emily of Deep Valley.
The Betsy-Tacy series