The Betsy-Tacy children’s books were written between 1940 and 1955 by Maud Hart Lovelace, a resident of Mankato, Minn., a small city located in a rural area of the state famed as much for the blue tint of its rich soil as for being home to some of the country’s most respected children’s educational publishers. The series of 13 books about two girls named Betsy and Tacy, who live in the 1900s in a town called Deep Valley, are a celebration of turn-of-the-century smalltown life, family traditions, and enduring friendships. The series has been beloved by generations of readers for more than 60 years.
This is the house in Mankato that Tacy would have lived in, that is, if she could walk out of the pages of the books and into our world. Actually, Tacy’s House is the real-life home of Lovelace’s best friend, Frances “Bick” Kenney. It stands across the street from Lovelace’s real-life home, Betsy’s House. Both houses have been restored to their original charm by the Betsy-Tacy Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 to preserve the legacy of Lovelace and her writings, especially the Betsy-Tacy Books.
Since 1992, the Betsy-Tacy Society has gathered every three years to celebrate Lovelace’s life and work. This year’s convention marks the fifth time the members of the Betsy-Tacy Society have met in the real-life Deep Valley—Mankato. The 2009 Betsy-Tacy Convention, which drew just over 200 attendees, took place July 17—20. The highlight of this year’s convention—besides shopping for Betsy-Tacy swag, of course—was the keynote address on the convention’s final morning by another prolific author, beloved by today’s generation of girls: Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), who has been a huge fan of the Betsy-Tacy books since she first read them at age 30.
Cabot wrote the foreword to one of the three reissues of the Betsy Tacy high school books, which feature two novels in each volume and will be released on September 29 by HarperCollins. Cabot’s foreword appears in Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe.
After being stranded in Atlanta’s airport en route to Mankato from her home in Key West, with her luggage arriving on a later flight, things perked up for Cabot when she stopped in at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul to meet fans and sign books. It could have been worse: she might have had to go to Minnesota from Florida in the wintertime. At least she would have had the plane to herself.
Cabot spoke to more than 300 people at the Betsy-Tacy Convention—more than the number of total attendees, as her speech was free and open to the public. She spoke of her love for the Betsy-Tacy books and compared them to her own books. She said, "The spirit of the books are kind of the same even though the Betsy Tacy books are set 100 years ago. They are still about girls that have problems with boys, problems with friends. So, it's basically kind of the same spirit.”
After her presentation, Cabot signed books and met some Betsy-Tacy fans, including two very cute girls who look like they just stepped out of a Betsy-Tacy book. The smaller girl is holding a doll that looks like someone bought it for her at the Betsy-Tacy Convention. Wonder if they asked about the possibility of getting their hands on an Allie Finkle doll or two to go along with the Allie Finkle books she's signing for them? We hope so!
Cabot was even lucky enough to meet characters from the Betsy-Tacy books while at the convention. Here she poses with Aunt Ruth. Do you think Aunt Ruth would take any lip from Mia Thermopolis? We doubt it.
While in Mankato, Cabot got to visit Betsy’s House. If you’re planning to visit Mankato, and visit Betsy’s House too, don’t go in winter, unless you like snow and cold.
Not only did Cabot visit Betsy’s House, but one of her fans was lucky enough to get her pic taken with Cabot at Betsy’s House.
After touring Mankato’s Betsy-Tacy landmarks and speaking at the convention, Cabot took a break at a ceremonial bench at the end of “Hill Street,” (Center St.), where Betsy and Tacy often sat and “picknicked” with their supper plates. It looks very restful. The soil behind the bench doesn’t look very blue though.
Even though she'd had those problems with Delta Airlines and her luggage, Meg said she had a great time roadtripping to Mankato, declaring, “It was inspiring to attend an event with so many people who not only love books, but female-empowering books like the Betsy-Tacy books, and who've worked so hard to keep the memory of the author alive... even restoring her house with reader donations!”
All photos courtesy of Tracy van Straaten.