When it comes to reading autobiographies, there are two authors I place above all the rest, and both have quite a bit in common with each other. Both grew up in the Midwest (namely Minnesota), both lived more than 100 years ago, both grew up with sisters, both wrote a series of children’s books based on their experiences growing up, and both have three names. I’m talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is probably more well-known than Maud due to the popularity of the TV show Little House on the Prairie. But if you’re under the age of 20 and have really lame parents, Laura Ingalls was born in the big woods of Wisconsin and from 1867-1881 she moved around to places such as Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. The eight books in her series are accounts of her experiences as a pioneer with her family – Pa, Ma, older sister Mary, and two younger sisters Carrie and Grace. She eventually meets and marries Almanzo Wilder, and an account of their marriage can be found in a separate book called The First Four Years.
I always called this “the boring one”.
Maud Hart Lovelace was born in Mankato, MN in 1892 but didn’t move around like Laura did. She wrote ten books about her life in Mankato from age 5 in Betsy-Tacy, to her early 20s when she lived in the Twin Cities, although in the books she changed the name of Mankato to Deep Valley, as well as the names of her and all her friends. She eventually marries high school sweetheart “Joe”, and an account of their marriage can be found in the final book Betsy’s Wedding.
I love the Little House books. I first read them years ago in elementary school, and continue to read them today. I always skipped Farmer Boy because it was only about Almanzo life growing up in New York, therefore held no interest to me. My favorite was always The Long Winter because I love books about winter and snowstorms, though as I get older I find myself loving Little Town on the Prairie because the girls are, like, teenagers now. They seem so much older and cooler and modern.
I didn’t really read the Betsy-Tacy books until this year, believe it or not. I read the first four a while ago, but the books that take place during Betsy’s high school years I didn’t read until a few months ago. And it was no surprise that I totally loved them, possibly even more than the Little House books. The Betsy-Tacy high school years books take place from 1906-1910, which is a time period that I love reading about. It feels more modern than Laura’s pioneer times, mainly because they all live in houses and have electricity and even cars in later years, as opposed to living in dugouts and reading by candle and oil light. But it’s still far enough removed from my life in 2011 that it’s like stepping into a completely different world.
The main difference between these two series’ is the overall tone of the books. In the Little House books, bad things always seemed to happen to the Ingalls family. In those eight books we get to read about danger from Indians and wild animals, serious illness, death, drought, crop destruction, and severe winters. In the Betsy-Tacy books, all these kids have is plain old fun. They are always going to parties, going on hayrides, ice-skating, making fudge, or going shopping downtown. And making more fudge. Seriously, the biggest problem Betsy ever had to deal with was how to tell a certain boy that she only wants to be friends (Betsy and Joe). And how much fudge to make.
But what both series’ do well is show how much a person can change over the course of their childhood years. We see Laura grow from a scrappy little half-pint tomboy to a responsible teacher and loving wife, and we see Betsy grow from a imaginative, awkward child to a successful writer and loving wife. And even if they don’t have cell phones and computers and TVs doesn’t mean we can’t relate to things that they go through. Betsy has identity confidence problems just like teen girls do today. Laura has to deal with a bully (Nellie Oleson) just like teens do today.
There is no real winner in the Battle of the Autobiographies. I love both authors the same, even though I read them at different times of my life and both mean something different to me. But Laura and Betsy seem like close friends of mine now, friends that I know I can go back to whenever I want, knowing that they’ll always stay the way they were when I first met them. And that is a comforting feeling.
If you want to read more about Laura and Betsy, here are the stories of their life:
- Little House in the Big Woods
- Little House on the Prairie
- Farmer Boy
- On the Banks of Plum Creek
- By the Shores of Silver Lake
- The Long Winter
- Little Town on the Prairie
- These Happy Golden Years
- Betsy, Tacy, and Tib
- Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
- Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
- Heaven to Betsy
- Betsy In Spite of Herself
- Betsy Was a Junior
- Betsy and Joe
- Betsy and the Great World
- Betsy’s Wedding
And for even more info, you can contact both societies devoted to the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace. Yes, they have their own societies! The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society is located in DeSmet, South Dakota, where Laura and Almanzo settled down before settling down for good (if you know what I mean) in Missouri.
The Betsy-Tacy Society is located in – surprise – Mankato, MN, and remains pretty active today. They continue to have yearly get-togethers, and next July there will be a B-T convention so big that it will take two cities to contain it, touring “Betsy’s Minneapolis” and then of course all of Betsy’s “Deep Valley” childhood and high school years. Assuming we’re living in MN by then – and assuming we’re back from Comic-Con by then – I totally want to go. I’ve seen Laura’s dugout and Plum Creek, but I’ve never been “up the Big Hill”, nor have I seen this: