Goodreads: Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Series: Betsy-Tacy #3
Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are now ten and ready for adventure. In this installment of the Betsy-Tacy series, the three friends fall in love wit king of Spain, plan their own coronation, and visit Little Syria.
I admitted previously that I did not enjoy the first two Betsy-Tacy books as much as I felt I ought to, considering that generations of readers have loved them and that they are considered children’s classics. Nevertheless, I continued with the series with the hope that I would like the later ones better. After all, the children age in each one and their adventures become a little more complex. Though I hardly consider Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill a masterpiece, I appreciate it enough to feel confident in my decision to continue the series.
In this book, Betsy and her friends are ten and their world has expanded. No longer is a meal eaten on a bench considered an adventure. Now the girls can go off places, can meet other people. Though they canvas the neighborhood a bit, their real journey lies in the other direction–to the place the locals call Little Syria, a settlement of Syrian immigrants.
These books were written in the 1940s and I admit I was a little hesitant when Lovelace first introduced Little Syria. How would the topic of immigrants, of foreigners be handled? Would the Syrians be real characters or just an exotic novelty for Betsy and her friends? Would the characters prove xenophobic? Would the book seem xenophobic?
At first it was difficult to tell. The girls have the expected encounter with a little Syrian girl. They like her and want to be friends, but keep her a secret. No one says that fraternizing with the inhabitants of the settlement is forbidden, but they do mention that one of their classmates calls the Syrians offensive names. (They also disapprove of this behavior.) Their keeping the girl a secret seems, in the end, not to be because they think anyone would disapprove but because they are little girls and they enjoy secrets.
And so it turns out to be. Betsy and her friends eventually visit Little Syria and readers are given a glimpse of another culture. Most people in town seem kindly disposed to the inhabitants of the settlement–it’s just because they live so far away that they mingle so seldom with the rest of the town. So, of course, Betsy and her friends get to know them and get to learn not only about their culture but about what being American means to them. These particular immigrants are here, we learn, because they seek religious freedom. They thus hold “being an American” at a higher value than the other inhabitants of Deep Valley.
So it is a nice story. Perhaps the elements are a little cliche and maybe some today will find the overt patriotism a little old-fashioned (children these days don’t seem to hold random patriotic celebrations in the streets or to think it a great honor to recite “The Gettysburg Address”), but it shows a friendship that bridges cultures while allowing the Little Syrian girl to be more than just someone whom the main characters are supposed to learn to accept.
The other bonus is that this plot line helps connect the other episodes in the book, so that we are not progressing from random events related in book form to what seems more like a “real story”. I found myself more invested in the narrative when it became apparent that people, places, and events would no longer be mentioned and then forgotten.
So it is with some sense of anticipation that I continue on through the stories. Perhaps by the time Betsy gets to high school, I will understand more why so many readers have loved her.