It can be scary to revisit a beloved childhood classic: will you still love it? Does it contain terrible clichés and stereotypes, or outright racism, that you missed the first time? Happily, some classics stand the test of time, and authors Jasmine Guillory and Greg Pak can personally vouch for two.
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace were favorites of Guillory’s growing up, and she rereads them regularly.
“I always, right before I go to bed, I’m always rereading something, because I know myself well enough to know that if I’m reading something new right before bed, I’ll stay up too late and keep reading it, so I try to cut myself off,” says Guillory. “So the Betsy series absolutely fits into my constant reread cycle.”
“I’d had the regular editions, the regular new editions, for while, and then I had a really stressful medical period in my life a few years ago. I had surgery, and some of my friends sent me an Amazon gift card, and I used it to buy the ebooks of all of these books so that I could have them with me at all times. And so I reread these a lot, sort of as a either comfort read or just before bed, or I’ll dip in and out.”
And she’s been happy to find that Betsy deals with some of the same concerns we face today. “It’s really amazing how modern these books feel in so many ways. I mean, in the early years, there’s a whole sub-plot about how there’s a group of Syrian immigrants in their town, and Betsy’s reaction is, ‘How are we going to help them?’”
“And Betsy’s family is really into her becoming a writer. Her parents are immediately like, ‘Well, yes, obviously you can do anything you want to.’ And so I mean, they were set 100 years ago. Obviously they’re not like … they don’t have current time thoughts about race and feminism and stuff, but it really is amazing how well these books hold up. […] I’m happy to give them to any little girl I know. I think they’re really fun books about little girls discovering what they want to be and who they are.”
Greg Pak was deeply relieved to find that Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain had aged well.
“I went back and reread and you know…because Eilonwy is the princess who’s throughout the whole story, [she’s] a big chatterbox, she talks all the time and I was like, oh my god, I…I hope that that’s not an awful thing. You know what I mean?”
“But the kind of beautiful thing about Eilonwy is that, yeah, she is a chatterbox, she talks the whole time, […] but she’s always on point. She’s always right. And the book just respects the hell outta her.”
The Chronicles also still resonate with him on a personal level. “To me these books have a very sort of democratic, non-elitist, non-royal bias to them, which I just thought was really refreshing in a fantasy book. It’s not about what blood runs through your veins. Or, what destiny has been laid upon you or whatever, it’s about what you do with your life. And who you are is not determined by your past or more specifically by your parents’ past or by anything like that.”
Guillory and Pak also had thoughts on how these books have affected their own writing; catch their full interviews on our podcast, Recommended. And let us know: what beloved books from your own childhood have stood the test of time?
Note: the above quotes have been lightly edited for readability.