Written in the 1940s and set at the turn of the 20th century, Maud Hart Lovelace’s novels featuring Betsy Ray, her best friend, Tacy, and other characters in Deep Valley, Minnesota, have stood the test of time. Last year, in large part due to the urging of Harper Perennial associate publisher Jennifer Hart (aka Book Club Girl), a lifelong Lovelace fan, six of the Betsy-Tacy stories were brought back into print, including Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself. And two more books in the Deep Valley series were recently reissued: Emily of Deep Valley and Carney’s House Party/Winona’s Pony Cart.
The novels, written for young adults, have garnered admirers of all ages. “Visiting Betsy’s world is such an absolute pleasure,” wrote author Meg Cabot—who first read the books as an adult—in The Wall Street Journal. In Mankato, the model for Deep Valley, it’s possible to experience the real-life places that inspired Lovelace’s fictional world.
We spoke with Julie Schrader, the author of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Deep Valley: A Guidebook of Mankato Places in the Betsy-Tacy Series, to find out more about the Minnesota town and what’s there for literary travelers.
Julie Schrader: Lovelace fans have been visiting Mankato for many years, although the numbers have greatly increased in most recent years. The reason for increased attention has been the re-issue of the books and the Betsy-Tacy Society’s acquisition and restoration of the Betsy-Tacy houses on Center Street.
Readers are always thrilled to learn that there really WAS a Betsy and Tacy and that Deep Valley really does exist. For younger readers it creates an excitement for reading and for older readers it creates a renewed interest in the stories they remember from their childhood.
In 1961 the American Association of University Women organized Betsy-Tacy Days in Mankato. This weekend celebration not only brought together Maud Hart Lovelace and several of her childhood friends who were characters in the books, but also featured the first organized Betsy-Tacy neighborhood walking tour. There have also been five Betsy-Tacy Conventions held in Mankato since 1992 that have brought many fans to town and plans are to hold a convention in the summer of 2012.
ND: For those who have never before been to Mankato, what should be their first stop?
JS: Your first stop has to be the Betsy-Tacy houses located at 332 and 333 Center Street where the books begin. Until the Betsy-Tacy Society (established in 1990) purchased Maud Hart Lovelace’s (Betsy) and Frances Kenney Kirch’s(Tacy) childhood homes, fans could only see these houses from outside and imagine what they would have looked like in the early 1900s when the author and her best friend lived there.
The Betsy-Tacy houses have been restored to their 1900 period charm and are open to the public. When you visit these houses you will feel like you stepped in to the pages of the Betsy-Tacy books. In Betsy’s house (above left) you will see the kitchen where Betsy, Tacy and Tib made “everything pudding” and the front parlor where Mrs. Ray played the piano for Betsy’s birthday party. Visitors can sit on the bench where Betsy and Tacy had their picnic suppers or view the bench from Tacy’s beautiful bow window—what Maud called the “heart of the Kelly house.”
The Betsy-Tacy houses were designated literary landmarks in May 2010. Tacy’s house is the gift shop and interpretive center. Be sure to pick up a full color, detailed map of the many other Betsy-Tacy sites in Mankato (Deep Valley).
ND: What is your favorite literary landmark in town?
JS: My favorite landmark is of course the Betsy-Tacy houses and the bench, but after you visit them, you will want to see Tib’s “chocolate-colored house” which looks just as so many of us first imagined it while reading the books. You can also see the Carnegie Library, where Betsy’s (Maud’s) love of reading really grew and which figures prominently in Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. And Carney’s house is also still standing, and you can even see the sleeping porch!
ND: Betsy-Tacy house tours are given weekly year round, but for those planning future trips, what time of year do you recommend they visit Mankato?
JS: Any time of the year is beautiful on the Big Hill! In writing the Betsy-Tacy books, Maud was very descriptive of all the seasons. In the spring and summer, you can picture Betsy and Tacy hunting for violets on the Big Hill and gathering wildflowers to decorate for the Naifi’s queen coronation or have a picnic on the bench just like Betsy and Tacy. In the fall the Big Hill is radiant with color and you can imagine the girls walking to school on a crisp October morning. Wintertime is beautiful when Hill Street is blanketed in sparkling white snow. Imagine Christmas at Betsy’s house or sledding on the hill. Visitors will identify with the Betsy-Tacy stories no matter what the season.
Stop by one of these events celebrating the publication of Emily of Deep Valley and Carney’s House Party/Winona’s Pony Cart:
-Sunday, November 7th The Maud Hart Lovelace Society Party at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis
-Saturday, November 13th Mitali Perkins Event at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA
-Saturday, November 20th Melissa Wiley Event at Readers Inc in Santa Mesa, CA
[Photos ©Betsy-Tacy Society]