But my favorite series as a kid? The Betsy Tacy books.
Set at the turn of the century in Deep Valley, a fictionalized version of Mankato, MN, these stories are loosely based on the life of author Maud Hart Lovelace. The main character, Betsy Ray, is a lively, creative little girl (and, eventually, young woman) who has a stubborn streak and a penchant for the dramatic, not unlike Jo from Little Women. She has two very dear friends -- Tacy (short for Anastacia), a shy little redhead from a big Irish family, and Tib (short for Thelma), a spunky German-American girl -- who accompany her on most of her adventures throughout the books, which follow Betsy from age 5 to her mid-twenties.
One of the best features of these books is that they grow up along with the characters and the reader; the difficulty of the text increases with each novel, which makes them age-appropriate at every level. As a result, Betsy's exploits always feel relatable to the reader, from making up fanciful stories and fighting over who gets to be the May queen in the early books to cramming for exams, falling in love, and taking a trip around the world by cruise ship in the later stories.
Lovelace's books were originally published in the 1940s, and I just adore the illustrations that accompanied those versions of the series. They were reissued in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, and though the new look perhaps appeals to a more modern audience in some respects, I think you can't get much better than those lovely first covers.
(image -- and you have to read the accompanying article!)
If you'd like to read an excerpt or two from these darling books, here's one from an early book when the three girls are so excited to turn ten years old ("It's the beginning of growing up!") and another from Betsy's high school days when she learns her lesson about helping some fellow students who slacked off on their summer reading assignment (guess that happened in 1910 as well as in 2010!).
Though I'm all for letting kids read what they want, these are the kinds of stories I hope my daughter and I will read together one day -- sweet, wholesome, imaginative, fun.
Anyone else a Betsy-Tacy fan? I'd love to reminisce with you! Or tell me about your favorite book series growing up (did you read these? I want to do a post about them, too!).