`Betsy-Tacy' fans get new editions

Classic: HarperCollins is reprinting three long-lost titles in the Maud Hart Lovelace series geared for girls and girls at heart

July 05, 2000|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Christmas is coming early for "Betsy-Tacy" fans, that rabid band of readers who cherish the autobiographical novels for young girls written by Maud Hart Lovelace.

Although Lovelace has never enjoyed the wide-ranging popularity of Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery - "I thought I was the only one!" is fans' rallying cry on the Betsy-Tacy Web page - her work has long been championed by a diverse group of grown-up fans, including Anna Quindlen, Bette Midler and Nora Ephron.

There are Betsy-Tacy societies nationwide, a newsletter and even an Internet e-mail network for fans. There have been conferences in Mankato, Minn., the inspiration for Lovelace's idyllic Deep Valley. (Lovelace's life at the turn of the century was clearly the model for her heroine, Betsy Ray; her best friend, Bick, inspired Tacy.)

But despite such a cult-like following, three of the 13 books in the series published between 1940 and 1955 were impossible to find until now.

HarperCollins has begun publishing those three long out-of-print titles - "Winona's Pony Cart," which appeared this spring, "Carney's House Party," to be published this fall, and "Emily of Deep Valley," which will be published early next year.

"I'm over the moon," says Michele Blake of North Easton, Mass., who is in charge of membership for the Betsy-Tacy Society. "I think my life is complete."

For years, HarperCollins had resisted fan entreaties to publish these books, which have largely disappeared from public libraries and are often available only via illegal photocopies. A used copy of "Carney's," the rarest of the three, would cost at least $250, says Drusilla Jones of Drusilla's Books in Baltimore - assuming one could be found.

"I haven't seen one in a long time," she says.

Blake says a copy would cost much, much more. (A check of online used book dealers turned up only one old copy of the trio, an "Emily of Deep Valley" priced at $450.)

The 60th anniversary of the first Lovelace title, "Betsy-Tacy" prompted the publisher to bring out new editions of all 13 books, says editor Susan Chang. Readers will be able to buy them in paperback for as little as $5.95, with a small printing of hardcovers for libraries and serious collectors.

"We feel it's a treasure on our back list," says Chang, who read and fell in love with the books as a fourth-grader, but got the opportunity to read "Carney's House Party" only when she joined HarperCollins.

These new editions include an expanded biography of Lovelace and new cover illustrations, but retain the original artwork by Lois Lenski and Vera Neville. Some editions also have new forewords by popular children's writers such as Judy Blume and Ann M. Martin, creator of the Babysitters Club series. Some of the books even feature a blurb from Midler, who notes: "I loved them as a child, as a young adult, and now reading them with my daughter, as a mother. What a wonderful world it was!"

The books are targeted to readers age 8 and up; their fans are almost exclusively female.

Quindlen, the journalist and novelist who is perhaps the best-known among Lovelace devotees, explains the series' appeal this way: "They're really intimate. There's a sense not that you're watching, but that you're in it, you're one of the participants."

The books were particularly meaningful to Quindlen because Betsy, like Alcott's Jo in "Little Women," assumed from an early age she would make her living as a writer.

Lovelace wrote about her characters Betsy and Tacy from the age of 5, up to and including their marriages on the eve of the First World War. This last book, "Betsy's Wedding," was published in 1955. Lovelace died in California in 1980, a month before her 88th birthday.

"The Ray family is plainly the Hart family," she wrote in 1961. "It is a great joy for me to have that dear family between book covers.

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