January 06, 2005

Kindred Spirits

My favorite characters from the books I read as a child:

Betsy in the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. She got into snowball fights, had the same best friend all through school, and fell in love with the theater after seeing her first play. She knew from an early age she was going to be a writer.

Laura Ingalls in the Little House on the Prairie books. She loved wild places. Town was too noisy and crowded for her.

Ramona the Pest in the Beverly Cleary books. She was willing to make a Great Big Noisy Fuss to get what she wanted.

Holly Hollister in the Happy Hollister books. At the age of six, she was a detective, and she traveled with her family to all kinds of cool places all over the world. She was a tomboy who wore her long brown hair in pigtails.

Anne of Green Gables. She had a quick temper, she lived in daydreams half the time, and she romanticized nature shamelessly -- a kindred spirit.

Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. The little girl in the story falls apart when she hits puberty and the pig is just plain stupid, but the spider is damned smart. Did you know that a female spider will kill a male spider after mating with him? That's not in the book.

Jo in Little Women. A tomboy with lots of sisters. I hate the part when she cuts off her hair to sell it and one of her sisters says, "Oh, Jo ...your only beauty!"

Randy Melendy from The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. The third child in a close-knit family of four kids, she was always getting into scrapes but she put her whole self into anything she did.

Mary in the Secret Garden. She believed in magic.

Portia from Gone-Away-Lake. In one scene, she gets to play dress-up with beautiful old ballgowns from an ancient trunk.

Arrietty in the Borrowers. She didn't want to live trapped under the floor. She wanted to emigrate, live outside - and she did.

Betsy in the Carolyn Haywood books, especially Snowbound with Betsy. She decorated a tree with peanut butter for the birds and learned how to make angels in the snow.

Pippi in the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. She was way stronger than most men. And totally unconventional. In one book, she gets to sail the south seas.

Posy in Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Like me, she was the third girl in the family. She wanted to dance, and nothing would stop her.

Harriet M. Welch, in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. She wanted to know everything and write it all down.


Jane said...

Ooooh, "Ballet Shoes"! I forgot all about that book, but that was one of my favorites growing up. I read it over and over and over again.

Anne of Green Gables was and still is my favorite book character. I still re-read those books from time to time.

negativecapability said...

Did you ever read the Great Brain books? I forgot who the author was, but the Great Brain and his brother (the narrator) were both kindred spirits to me for different reasons.

anbruch said...

Judu's just getting started with Ramona the Pest, but already she's a favorite.


Hypatia said...

Wow you've reminded me of many good books I enjoyed reading and listed some I'll have to find at the library (I'm a sucker for children's books). I always liked Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia because she always seemed to do just the right thing. I also liked Laura in Little House on the Prairie for the exact opposite reason

What Now? said...

Excellent list! I loved the Betsy-Tacy books so much that I decided that, since Ivanhoe was Betsy's favorite book, it would be mine as well. So in 5th or 6th grade, I solemnly informed my mother that Ivanhoe was now my favorite book and so I thought I should read it and would she please get it for me for my birthday? She probably thought this was a little strange but got the book for me. I started reading it and didn't like it! To this day, it's sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read.

Here's another Betsy for you: Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (from 1911, I think). One of my all-time favorites!

jo(e) said...

Oh, I'd forgotten about Understood Betsy! I loved that book. I still think about it whenever I make homemade applesauce.

I still have all the Betsy-Tacy books. I like how Betsy never gave up the idea that she was going to be a writer. Her description of how thrilling it was when the public library opened -- well, that's how I felt when I learned how to order books online. And I still feel guilty that I've never read Ivanhoe. Betsy said it was perfectly grand.

What Now? said...

Here's another Betsy-Tacy thoughts. You know at the end of Betsy's Wedding how Joe goes off to WWI? I was so upset about this as a kid that I got my parents to show me how to look up the dates of WWI and when the U.S. entered the war. I was very relieved when I realized that the U.S. had only been in the war for the last year, thinking that this would cut down on the chances that Joe had been killed. (I didn't realize at the time that the books were semi-autobiographical and written for Lovelace's daughter, which would have led me to believe that of course Joe comes back alive.) Anyway, this was the first time that it really clicked for me that authors write within and about particular historical contexts and that sometimes knowing something about that context helps one to think about the text. An important lesson for me to learn in elementary school, and one that very much informs my work today!

Thanks for this trip down memory lane, Jo(e)!

jo(e) said...

What Now? -- it's so nice to talk to another Betsy-Tacy addict. I have an older sister who once said that when she got older, she was going to have three girls and name them Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. The funny thing is that my sister does have three girls but she didn't use the names. She gave her first child Elizabeth as a middle name but had a hard time trying to work Anastacia or Thelma into the other girls' names.

I always thought the reason the series ends after the hometown boys go off to war is that maybe Maud Hart Lovelace didn't want to write the part where some of them get killed. Joe probably made it back (in real life, Lovelace's husband did), but maybe not Sam or Cab or Freddie .... okay, I know they are fictional characters but they were based on her real life neighbors and friends.

I have the same birthday as Maud Hart Lovelace. Isn't that cool?

YelloCello said...

Oh! Three cheers for the Shoes books! I remember well Pauline, Petra, and Posy. And, as I recall, there's a later book in the series in which Posy is all grown up and a dancer for films in California. In a cameo appearance, she offers advice to some new three-kid family (this one with two sisters and a brother) who are also English, but who are living with their screenwriter father in the States.

I liked many of the other characters you listed, too. Notably Jo and Anne of Green Gables. I also liked Emily of New Moon.

Dr. Sniffly said...

Betsy-Tacy! I haven't thought of those in a while.
I never liked Little Women. Don't know why though. Laura Ingalls Winder was an all-time favorite, and Ramona and Harriet and Charlotte. And Rachel in Dancing Shoes. And Caddie in the Caddie Woodlawn books.

What Now? said...

Having the same birthday as Maud Hart Lovelace is WAY cool! For a couple of years in my early 20s, I lived in Minneapolis, at which point I got into Lovelace's books all over again. That's also when I discovered her Emily of Deep Valley, which I hadn't read as a child. I actually like that novel best of all now.

I can't resist sharing one further Betsy-Tacy bit of my autobiography, now that I've discovered someone who will actually get this: Because of Betsy, my childhood dream was to grow up to be a Gibson Girl! I wanted to be just like the magazine women that Betsy modeled herself after, especially drooping like a willow, as she always tried to do. I wanted a "shirtwaist" just like Betsy's; imagine my disappointment when I discovered that a shirtwaist is pretty much just a blouse. I even wanted Betsy's bathing costume, complete with stockings and something to cover my hair.

jo(e) said...

The debutante slouch? I always loved it when she stopped and did the fashionable pose when she wanted to impress people.

And of course the thing Betsy kept coming back to, no matter what, at the end of every book, was this passion to be a writer. I so connected to that as a child .... and it's still what I keep coming back to in my own life.

The shirtwaists are always fresh, clean, and ironed. So appealing! I too was disappointed that they weren't something more exciting.

I only discovered the Emily of Deep Valley a few years ago when I was buying books for my kids -- of course, I love it. There's a book about Winona, too, and one about Carney. Betsy is a minor character in those books.

I still reread the Betsy-Tacy books whenever I feel like giving up on my writing. They inspire me still.

Wouldn't Betsy have loved a blog?

litprof said...

Oooh, Harriet! I love Harriet. That book inspired me to keep my own "spy notebook," and I had my own "spy route" before I ever came across the book--so you can imagine how delighted I was to read that book as a kid.

And I adore the Ramona books :) Ramona Forever always struck me as kind of sad since she'd grown up so much, plus her mom had a baby...just seemed like everything familiar and comforting was changing.

Zhoen said...

I never knew anyone else who read Gone-Away Lake. My first non-picture book that I read myself, it holds a dear place in my heart.