Thursday, July 16, 2009

Off to Minnesota

I’m heading to Minneapolis today, first to give a talk at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, and then to luxuriate in the joys of the Betsy-Tacy Convention in Mankato. To make the trip even more fun, my sister, Cheryl, is meeting me there.

The Kerlan Collection is one of the world’s great children’s literature research collections, containing more than 100,000 books as well as original manuscripts and art work for more than 12,000 books – including mine. I was thrilled when the Kerlan accepted the donation of my manuscripts. Having the actual handwritten drafts of my books in the Kerlan’s temperature-controlled underground vaults is as close as I may be able to come to the writer’s dream of immortality. I’ll be speaking on the topic “Writing the New School Story” at the Elmer Andersen Library on Friday at 10 a.m.

Then, on to “Deep Valley,” the locale for the dozen books in Maud Hart Lovelace’s beloved Betsy-Tacy series. The books are based on Maud’s own childhood growing up in Mankato at the turn of the last century. Of all the books I have ever loved, I love these books the most. I consider Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown to be the finest novel in the English language. The best chapter of this best-beloved book is the chapter where Betsy, an aspiring writer, makes her first visit to Deep Valley’s brand new Carnegie Library. And I’ll get to see that very library in a few more days!

Because the books are so autobiographical, fans can visit the actual sites that inspired them: Betsy’s house and Tacy’s house are both maintained as small museums by the Betsy-Tacy Society; Tib’s “chocolate-colored” house is on view as well. Several years ago, I had the most satisfying experience of my writing career when I did a book signing at Tacy’s house on a family road trip/literary pilgrimage to De Smet, South Dakota (“Little Town on the Prairie”), and Mankato.

This time I’ll be giving a talk on the Syrian-American community in Mankato in the early 20th century, as Mankato’s “Little Syria” figures prominently in two of the books: Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill and Emily of Deep Valley. Following my talk we’ll all eat baklava and pretend that we’re eating it with Betsy, Tacy, Naifi, Emily, and Mr. Jed. Bliss!


  1. I would like to read the talk you gave on the Syrian-American community in Mankato in the eary 20th century. I just re-read Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and I am curious if Naifi is based on a real Syrian princess. Do you know anything about what happened to the Syrian characters, or were they entirely fictional?

  2. Thanks, Tracy. I don't have a written-out text for the talk, but do have some notes I could send you if you email me at The Betsy-Tacy Companion by Sharla Scannell Whalen goes through each book in the series and maps each one on to real figures in Maud Hart Lovelace's life. She says, "There is,unfortunately, no trace of a Syrian princess in Mankato," but says that this would be unsurprising. Lovelace did say that Naifi was based on a real person.