From the moment I learned to string syllables into words I have been an insatiable reader, and one of the authors that my elementary school librarian introduced me to was Carolyn Haywood, who wrote a large number of children’s books about two suburban children, Betsy and Eddie, and their many adventures. The first book of this series, “B” is for Betsy, was published in 1939; as a young child, I read it and every subsequent book I could get my hands on. Born in 1898 and studying with the likes of Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ms. Haywood was a wonderful children’s author who also did her own illustrations until the 1970’s. Most of her books are long out of print, but I collected quite a few, library discards and such, so that my own children could enjoy them as they learned to read. I have purged many titles from my children’s library but I will never part with my Carolyn Haywood books. Betsy and Eddie are my personal childhood friends, after all.
So it made perfect sense for me to revisit “B” is for Betsy as part of Emlyn Chand’s 2012 Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge. The story starts on six-year old Betsy’s first day of first grade. She is afraid to go, as Old Ned who cuts the grass on her grandfather’s farm has described school as a terrifying place, with switches and a dunce corner. But with her mother’s gentle encouragement and the comfort provided by the stuffed koala bar hidden in her book bag by her doting father, she survives. Over the course of the book, Betsy meets her best friend, Ellen; gets lost on her first day walking to school by herself and is rescued by the friendly police crossing guard, Mr. Kilpatrick; watches tadpoles turn into frogs; acquires a puppy; hosts a birthday party; gets into trouble for picking violets but manages to make it right; and participates in a class circus. These sweet stories remind me so much of my own childhood; like Betsy, I had to walk several city blocks and cross a busy street to get to school, bought ice cream at a little shop on the way home, and spent happy summer days with a grandparent who lived “in the country.”
I am grateful I have a 1967 edition of this story; not only do I love Ms. Haywood’s artwork, but I am also guessing that some of the original details have been changed for the current paperback version of the book. For example, when Betsy takes a bouquet of pansies by way of apology to the home of the person whose violets, she walks right into a home she has never been in before to meet a person she has never even seen. Also, Billy wore a toy revolver in his belt on circus day. I am not suggesting that children should be encouraged to mingle with strangers or allowed to carry weapons of any kind to school, but these are narratives of a simpler time and I find their old-fashioned innocence charming.
I am grateful that Emlyn Chand gave me an excuse to reread this book that was so important to me when I was a little girl. Now I am looking forward to reading others in the series, and have even been entertaining the idea of about writing about what happened to Betsy and Eddie AFTER they finished elementary school. Romance, anyone?
Who was your favorite author of chapter books when you were an emerging reader?