It was a warm evening in August. Betsy was sitting on the top of the wall that ran back of the garden.
In 2008, I reviewed Carolyn Haywood's B is for Betsy. At the time, I wasn't all that impressed. I thought the book--originally published in 1939--was dated and old-fashioned. And it is both. But I've since come to appreciate such books, at least more than I used to! (For example, I've discovered Mary Poppins, Henry Huggins, and Five Children and It, etc.) So I was pleased to see two more Betsy books on the library shelf: Back to School with Betsy and Betsy and the Boys.
Back to School with Betsy, like B is for Betsy, is episodic for the most part. It opens with a worried Betsy. She's sad that Miss Grey will no longer be her teacher, and she's worried that she'll never see her. Her mother assures her that even though Miss Grey is getting married (and thereby retiring from teaching) that they'll still be able to see each other. Maybe not as often as they would in the school setting. But Miss Grey will still care about seeing Betsy and her friends. Betsy can't see any reason in the world why her teacher would want to go and do a silly thing like get married. Her friend, Ellen, tries to convince her that this is a good thing. They'll get to go to the wedding! They'll get to eat cake! Billy and Betsy don't really see why weddings are fun outside of the cake-eating opportunity, but that is just enough to cheer them up for the moment.
Betsy has also been worried about the creepy house next door. A house that hasn't been lived in for quite a while. But within a chapter or two--at most--Betsy learns that the house has been bought! A Mr. Jackson is moving in, and he has a job or two for Betsy. The thought of earning enough nickels to buy Miss Grey a present is motivation enough to overcome her worries.
Any guesses as to who Miss Grey is marrying?! It may surprise Betsy and Billy and Ellen. But this reader saw it coming from the start!
The first four chapters of Back to School with Betsy deal with the wedding and the new neighbor. The remaining chapters focus on Betsy and her friends at school. In chapter six, for example, "The Tale of the Blackboard Picture" Betsy and her classmates learn about Mexican Indians and create a blackboard picture to illustrate everything they've learned about this exotic culture.
And in chapter nine, readers learn exactly what Betsy has always wanted, a black baby. Not just a brother OR a sister, a black baby brother or black baby sister. When her mom tries to explain to her that that won't be happening, that they'd have to adopt a baby to get a baby of a different color, Betsy remains determined. She does bring home a black little girl, but her parents won't let her keep her. And she is returned safely to her mom--who was very worried. The illustrations are in black and white, and it is interesting how they try to portray ethnicity solely through hairstyle. (Looking at the illustration, you'd never guess, unless you read the text, that one of the little girls was supposed to be black.)
"But couldn't we get one all ready made? I forget what you call babies that you get all ready made.""You mean 'adopt' a baby," said Mother."Yes," replied Betsy. "Couldn't we 'dopt one?""No, dear," said Mother. "We already have a baby.""I'll bet if a little baby could talk, it would say it would like to be 'dopted by us."
"Well now, we won't talk about it any more," said Mother. "You have a dear little baby sister to play with.""Yes," said Betsy, "but I want a lot of babies. And I like all different colors." (143)
The book covers Christmas and Easter too.
Is this children's book dated? Is it old-fashioned? Yes. But I am glad to have read this one. I have become interested in reading these older books, interested in tracing the history of children's books.
In case you were curious, the book is illustrated by the author, Carolyn Haywood.