by Maud Hart Lovelace
Published 1945, 1946
In 1945, Lovelace published a new Betsy story. For the first four books, Betsy’s stories were illustrated by Lois Lenski, who captured the innocence and delight of these tales perfectly. But when Betsy entered high school in Heaven to Betsy, the story was illustrated by Vera Neville (who continued to illustrate the rest of the series). And somehow, that emphasizes the evolution of Betsy from a little girl to a young adult. Lenski’s illustrations were round and childish, while Neville’s are sophisticated somehow.
These books continue to delight me. The next four books each cover one year of high school, and watching Betsy grow and mature is wonderful. Despite the old-fashioned background (Betsy graduates with the class of 1910), Betsy’s struggles and life-lessons are surprisingly relevant, as Betsy learns to balance her life, to be true to herself, and that happiness is found through selflessness.
There is a perfect passage in Betsy in Spite of Herself. Throughout the book, Betsy has tried to take on a new persona, and has, to some degree, succeeded, and the handsomest boy in her class has been her steady beau for several months. When things end with him, Betsy goes for a walk and does some soul-searching.
“It couldn’t have lasted.” [she said to herself] “It wasn’t true from the beginning. It wasn’t the real me that [he] liked. No particular compliment in having him crazy about somebody who wasn’t even me.”
I love that, the realization that if people like you when you’re pretending to be someone who isn’t you–well, what’s the point in that? Why would you want people to only like you when you pretend? Then you have to spend your whole life pretending instead of living.
Originally, I fell in love with these books because of their whimsical sweetness, but as Betsy grows to adulthood, I am loving them for the insight that Lovelace slowly grants to Betsy. These are wonderful, wonderful books. I wish that I had read them years ago.