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The Betsy-Tacy series is a collection of books written by Maud Hart Lovelace between 1940 and 1955. The books are written at progressively more difficult reading levels as the characters age. They follow the adventures of Betsy Ray and her friends and family from the time that Betsy turns five until she is in her early twenties. They take place in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As the series progresses, the cast of characters grows larger and the plots progress to reflect the changing concerns of the characters. In the first two books, the action is mainly confined to the "Hill Street" neighborhood that is home to the three main characters, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. In books three and four, the girls' world becomes a bit larger and they have several adventures in new parts of town.
In Heaven to Betsy, the characters begin high school, and this book and the next three books (Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior, and Betsy and Joe) each cover a year of high school life. Plots in these books tend to involve schoolwork (such as the Essay Contest, which features in all four of these books) and romances. Betsy and the Great World takes Betsy on a tour of Europe, and Betsy's Wedding covers the first few years of Betsy's marriage. Betsy is a storyteller from the beginning and considers herself a writer from the time of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Later books deal significantly with her progress and success in writing and publishing stories.
Almost all of the characters in this series are based on the family and friends of Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy Ray is based on Lovelace herself. Many of the incidents in the books actually happened to Lovelace, with the significant exception of Betsy's relationship with Joe Willard. Although Joe is based on Maud's husband, Delos Lovelace, Maud and Delos did not meet until their late twenties.
Most of the novels take place largely in and around the fictional town of Deep Valley, Minnesota, which is based on the author's actual hometown of Mankato, Minnesota. The books in the series also mention other real places in the United States, such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the character Tib Muller lives for a time.
As of 1992, only the first four books were still in print. A letter writing campaign to the Harper Collins publishing house organized by The Betsy-Tacy Society, a group of mostly adult Betsy-Tacy fans, led to all of the Betsy-Tacy books being reprinted. By 2006, several of the later books had gone out of print again, but three new editions (in 2009) by Harper Perennial Modern Classics feature pairings of the final six books, with forewords by authors who remember the stories fondly and illustrated notes on the books and Lovelace herself.
In the 1998 film You've Got Mail, bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) describes the first two books of the series to young Annabel Fox (Hallee Hirsh), who immediately decides she wants them all.
Deep Valley, Minnesota, is based on the author's actual hometown of Mankato, Minnesota, and many locations described correspond to actual locations in Mankato. Deep Valley is the setting for all the books, except for Betsy and the Great World, in which the title character travels across the Atlantic Ocean and to various countries in Europe, and Betsy's Wedding, which takes place in New York and Minneapolis. The first four books in the series (when Betsy is age 5-14), the Rays live in the little yellow cottage on Hill Street across the street from the Kellys' rambling house, with Tib moving to the chocolate-colored house two streets away at the end of the first book, Betsy-Tacy.
The fifth book, depicting Betsy's freshman year of high school, begins with her on a short trip to a nearby farm where she gets terribly homesick. When she comes home, there is a surprise- a new, bigger house nearer to the downtown. Although the rest of the family is thrilled, sentimental Betsy is sad to leave the cute, little cottage.
By the last book, Betsy's Wedding, all three girls, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, have moved out of Deep Valley. Betsy lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Joe Willard. Her parents and younger sister Margaret also live in Minneapolis at 909 Hazel Street, along with Tacy and her husband Harry Kerr. Tib lives there most of the time, although does occasionally stay with her family at the chocolate-colored house. Tacy's father is said to have died prior to her marriage (mentioned in Betsy and the Great World); it is assumed that her mother lives in the rambling house on Hill Street.
Lovelace wrote three other books also set in Deep Valley, in which characters from the Betsy-Tacy books have a minor or implied role.