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Book review: *Carney's House Party* and *Winona's Pony Cart* by Maud Hart Lovelace

  • Carney’s House Party and Winona’s Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (October 12, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062003294
  • Back-of-the-book blurb:  These are two books paired as a set and bound with one cover; two blurbs below:

    Carney’s House Party:In the summer of 1911, Caroline “Carney” Sibley is home from college and looking forward to hosting a month-long house party—catching up with the old Crowd, including her friend Betsy Ray, and introducing them to her Vassar classmate Isobel Porteous. Romance is in the air with the return of Carney’s high school sweetheart, Larry Humphreys, for whom she’s pined all these years. Will she like him as well as she once did? Or will the exasperating Sam Hutchinson turn her head?

    Winona’s Pony Cart: More than anything in the world, Winona Root wants a pony for her eighth birthday. Despite her father’s insistence that it’s out of the question, she’s wishing so hard that she’s sure she’ll get one—at least, that’s what she tells her friends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. . . .

    She Is Too Fond of Books’ review:  The world expands once again for fans of Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly!  HarperPerennial has reissued the remaining Deep Valley books – Carney’s House Party and Winona’s Pony Cart are paired and bound together, while Emily of Deep Valley stands alone.  That’s three “new” books in two volumes, each centering on minor characters from the three volumes of “high school years and beyond” which were reissued last fall (Betsy Was a Junior / Betsy and Joe, Heavens to Betsy / Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy and the Great World / Betsy’s Wedding). 

    Carney’s House Party opens in June of 1911, when Caroline (Carney) Sibley is preparing to return to Deep Valley after her sophomore year at Vassar.  Her East Coast friend Isobel Porteous has invited herself to spend the summer with Carney and her family, and Carney contemplates this – she wants to be hospitable, but worries about how her family and the relatively quiet ways of Deep Valley will appear to a sophisticate like Isobel.

    Meanwhile, Carney’s friend Bonnie Andrews is also returning to spend the summer in Deep Valley … all the way from Paris!  Carney and Bonnie have been faithful correspondents while Bonnie’s family lived overseas, and Carney is confident that her friend will be the same person she was when she left – grounded, yet full of fun.

    Mrs. Sibley suggests that the girls make a ‘house party’ of the summer … and they do!  From cool nights on the sleeping porch (accessible only through a bedroom window!), to warm afternoons picnicking near Murmuring Lake, Carney, Isobel, Bonnie and “The Crowd” enjoy the type of civilized summer living that makes me wish I lived 100 years ago (then I think of milestones like the Nineteenth Amendment and realize that I’d rather lose myself in the fantasy of these novels than have actually lived then!).  They explore relationships, learn about themselves and their hearts’ desires, and remind the reader of simpler times.

    Every day seemed to be a party of some sort – picnics, masquerades, dances.  They weren’t without their struggles though – a kind of “he loves me, he loves me not” questioning, when a young woman wouldn’t allow a man to kiss her unless they were engaged; weekly letters between close friends were full of nuanced meaning that can’t be conveyed in today’s text messages; and “put it on the book,” the equivalent of “here’s my AmEx” was a shock to those used to paying cash only.

    I loved Carney’s House Party and the escape it gave me.  From the routines at Vassar to summer in Deep Valley, Minnesota, it was all very quaint and charming, not overly sweet.  Maud Hart Lovelace’s phrasing made me smile wistfully when I read such lines as  ”Looking like a determined kitten …”. Descriptions like this automatically slowed me down and I relaxed into a quieter time.

    The Foreword, by Melissa Wiley, looks at character development and assesses how Wiley herself has been impacted by these books.  She says that she hopes her daughters “will become … the heroines of their own lives, facing life’s challenges with Carney’s integrity, Betsy’s determination, and Winona’s sense of fun.”

    The biographical information in the back of the book is a treasure trove.  This included details on the real people on whom Lovelace modelled the characters.  We learn more about Marion Willard (the inspiration for Carney) and her contemporaries, and view photos of them both in their early 20s and later years. 

    The cover illustration is original art by Vera Neville; it shows Carney with the dozens of letters she has exchanged with Larry Humphreys over two years – reading those letters again and again, she has memorized every word.  What little is known about Vera Neville is included in a brief bio.  No stone has been left unturned to share interesting background and bonus material with fans of Betsy-Tacy.

    Winona’s Pony Cart:  After I read Winona’s Pony Cart, I shared it with my 8-year-old (who is too young for Carney’s House Party – not because of content, simply because the length would be daunting to her); she and I agree that this is a sweet story. 

    LW8 was shocked when I told her that we used to dress for birthday parties (as Winona and her friends did), wearing tights, dresses, and black patent shoes to go to a friend’s house for simple party games and cake. I’m afraid she thinks I’m about 100 now, and I’m waiting for her to ask “Did they have cars when you were little?”

    My daughter pointed out that Winona made some choices I wouldn’t approve of (inviting more guests to the party than her mother had planned for), and we talked about how it worked out – the family pulled together to make everyone feel welcome, they made do with less, and were creative in doling out the cake and party favors that they did have. 

    As for the pony cart, you’ll have to read the book to learn what happens.  As a mother, I read it differently than I might as a child, but I still can relax enough to enjoy the story and to empathize with the girl who simply wants to celebrate her birthday with friends and to have her greatest birthday wish come true.

    Are you reading Maud Hart Lovelace’s books for the first time, or are you re-reading these favorites from your childhood?  You’ll find like-minded readers who have joined the “Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Challenge” hosted by A Library Is a Hospital for the Mind.

     There are two reissue celebrations that I know of:  

    Will I see you in Brookline?

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