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Michelle's column: If Betsy can do it, so can I

I had some pretty incredible friends when I was 9 or 10 years old. I spent hours with them. I learned their secrets, I delighted in their successes. They, on the other hand, helped to make me who I am today. All these years later, they're even helping me write this column.

Their names were Betsy, Tacy and Tib. And then there were Nancy, Bess and George, too. And oh, does it bring back good memories to think of them.

If those names sound vaguely familiar, they should. They might have been your friends, too. Betsy, Tacy and Tib, of course, hail from the Betsy-Tacy series of children's books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Nancy, Bess and George were always trying to figure out who-done-it in the Nancy Drew series of books by Carolyn Keene.

Those two series were the first long chapter books I read as a child in Gaylord. A new library opened up in town when I was around 9, and the librarian, Judy, suggested I try reading a Nancy Drew book. It was The Mysterious Mannequin, and it looked awfully long.

There weren't pictures, but there was an illustration in every chapter. There were words I didn't know, and I had to go ask my mom for help. I'd sound out the spelling, and she'd help out if I really couldn't get the word. Sometimes I had to ask her questions - like, what a telegram was - but I eventually I made it through my first chapter book.

The librarian's daughter, Kelly, was in my class and a friend of mine. Kelly was reading the Nancy Drew stories, too. There were only so many on the shelves in the library, and Judy would have to order books from other libraries for us. Some days it felt like forever before those books came in.

Somewhere along the way, Judy also encouraged me to check out the Betsy-Tacy series. It wasn't a crime solving series. It was just a series about girls, much like myself, who lived at the turn of the 20th century. Well, it didn't take me long to get caught up in Betsy and Tacy's adventures. Then a new girl moved to the neighborhood, Tib, and the three became inseparable.

Maud Hart Lovelace's series was based on her own childhood (Betsy) and her friendship with Frances "Bick" Kenney (Tacy) and Marjorie Gerlach (Tib). The books are set in Mankato, where she grew up. I've always had a fondness for the series, so when I saw that a Maud Hart Lovelace actress was coming to the Dakota County Library in Farmington last week, I made an excuse to go.

The woman acting as Maud Hart Lovelace brought along photos from Betsy's House, the museum owned by the Betsy-Tacy Society in Mankato. I don't know why it never occurred to me that I could look online and see what Maud, Bick and Marjorie actually looked like, but I pulled up the telephoto on my camera lens just so I could get a peek when the actress shared the pictures.

The woman playing Maud Hart Lovelace acted out a couple of scenes from different chapters in the early books. She talked to the kids at the library about the way things were done back in the early 1900s. In a world filled with computers and automobiles, the kids were asked to imagine life with typewriters and horses and buggies.

I have my own stash of Nancy Drew books - between books I'd gotten as a child and ones my parents have picked up at antique shows, I have a pretty good collection - and I'd started to buy a few of the Betsy-Tacy series a few years back. I've pulled out one of the books here and there, just for fun. It's amazing how fast I can get through those books now.

On Monday, I got an email from North Trail Elementary School, talking about a Read Aloud and book fair that was going to be held at Barnes and Noble in Apple Valley, with the proceeds going to the NTES literacy program. I called the school, and talked to one of the teachers on the literacy committee. In a nutshell, the literacy committee is trying to keep students reading over the summer, and the committee hoped the event would help to do just that.

And that got me thinking about my own childhood, and how I always seemed to have a book in my hand. I spent hours over the summer, in my bedroom, pillows propped up behind me, poring over the pages of my favorite books. Sure, I got outside and I played or went swimming with my real friends, but I spent plenty of time with my fictional friends, too.

Is it a coincidence, then, that I was 10 when I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up? Not at all. If Betsy could do it, so I could I.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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