by Maud Hart Lovelace; ill. by Lois Lenski
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1940
As the parent of a school-age child, I’m all too aware that bullying is a hot topic. My daughter’s school handbook has a section on bullying (they call it “harassment” or “assault,” depending on circumstances). The parenting blogs I read bring it up. I see an article about it in a major news outlet at least every couple of months.
I’m also very aware that bullying often presents differently in girls than it does in boys. Statistically, girls are less likely to use physical aggression as a bullying tool. Instead, they tend to bully via social weapons like gossip and ostracization.
But thankfully, girls can also build devoted, affirming friendships with one another–friendships of the sort that last decades, even a lifetime.
I know women whose friendships have outlasted careers and cross-country (even across-the-world) moves. I know women whose girlfriends have helped them bury children and husbands, have sat by them in the cancer ward, have provided a safe haven from abusers. You probably do, too.
So how do we help the girls we know find those kinds of friends? How do we help them recognize and choose those kinds of friendships?
Reading them books about true friends is one way to do it. And Betsy-Tacy is a perfect candidate for that.
Set in the late 1800s in a small Midwestern town, Betsy-Tacy is the story of two little girls who first meet at age 4 and go on to form just the kind of friendship we all want our daughters (nieces, granddaughters, students) to have.
The two girls are very different. Chubby, brown-haired Betsy is imaginative, voluble, and assertive. Gangly, red-haired Tacy is practical, quiet, and retiring. Initially, It’s a match of convenience: the two girls play with each other simply because they’re the only five-year-olds on their street.
But, over the course of a few months, a bond forms. They find that they both love stories (Betsy tells them; Tacy listens). They both also love nature and have a keen appreciation of beauty.
Perhaps most importantly, they both have soft hearts. They reach out to one another, encourage one another, affirm one another.
Over the course of the book, each girl experiences a life-changing event, and it is absolutely inspiring to see the way the other affirms and comforts her friend. (Fair warning: have some tissues handy for Chapter 8; I was full-on blubbering by the time I got halfway through.) They draw each other out, appreciate one another, and convince each other to keep pursuing the best life can give them.
The result is a book that shows girls not just how to be a friend, but how to find and receive friendship. It plants the seed of an idea: “True friendship is for every girl. And there’s a true friend out there, just waiting for you.”
And that’s inspiration a girl can build on.
Betsy-Tacy is only the first in a series of ten books that follows the girls well into adulthood, with the stories’ complexity and reading level keeping pace with the girls’ increasing age (which is why I’ve marked this for tween/teen readers). And, unlike many girls’ books of the era, Lovelace depicts Betsy and Tacy throughout as smart, strong women who have an active purpose in life.