Dear Carolyn Haywood,
Happy 111th birthday! I know you're no longer with us to celebrate, but allow me to wish you a wonderful day anyway. You probably don't remember me, which is perfectly understandable since it's been about 34 years or so since I last wrote to you.
I was the 6 year old girl from Philadelphia who wrote to you as a fan back in 1976 (or maybe 1977). Your books, "B" is for Betsy, Betsy and Billy, and Back to School with Betsy (just to name a few) are the first ones that I remember loving as a child. I can still see myself tip-toeing, stretching to reach them and then, placing them, as if precious diamonds, ever so carefully on the circulation desk at the Fox Chase Library.
"I want to write Carolyn Haywood a letter," I announced to my mother. And lo and behold, we discovered from the book jacket that you, too, were a Philadelphian, living in Flourtown! A real life writer, right here in my city. You became real to me then, much as your beloved characters Betsy and Billy and Eddie and Betsy's sister Star became real to me as a child.
Somehow, maybe through the Yellow Pages or some other sleuthing, my mother tracked down your address - or maybe we sent the letter to the publisher. She cautioned me that perhaps you might be too busy writing books to write back, but undeterred, I wrote my letter and sent it off.
And then, your reply. Your gracious reply, written in longhand, answering all my questions. It definitely wasn't a form letter; you - my favorite writer - had taken the time to write to me. You enclosed a list of all your books and told me about your next book, still in progress. I felt like I was being let in on a most wonderfully delicious secret.
The Betsy books were just the beginning of my love affair with books. I still have the same feeling upon discovering a new author, a new work of literature (and your books were, most definitely, literature), a book that pulls me into its world. Even now, there's still that 6 year old part of me who gets so excited when seeing a reply from a "real writer" - not to a letter, but perhaps in reply to an email, or to one of my blog posts.
My daughter is especially fond of reading, and I'd like to think that I (and my mother's encouragement in my reading and writing) is partially responsible for that. In fact, it was my mother who tracked down a copy of B is for Betsy for my Betty. With some disappointment, I admit, I noticed the cover had been updated to a more modern look.
A look inside revealed the same writing, the same stories, the same pen and ink drawings that I'd loved ... and the happy ending to this would be for me to say that my Betty is equally as entranced by your quaint, charming stories. In this age of Junie B. Jones and Disney Princesses and fairies, she's not quite as captivated, and that's OK. (Sort of.)
It's me who is resisting the temptation to spend the rest of the afternoon on the couch reading about Betsy being a little scared about the first day of school, about needing to take her koala bear with her, and about meeting her first friend, Ellen. But, I have grown-up things to do today, like grocery-shopping and straightening up the house ...
... and a 7-year old girl to take to the library for some new books.
Happy Birthday, Carolyn. And thank you, 111 times.
Love, Betty and Boo's Mommy
Carolyn Haywood was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 3, 1898. She graduated from the Philadelphia Normal School for Girls and taught for one year before attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She studied with Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and served as studio assistant for Violet Oakley, renowned muralist. Haywood herself painted murals in banks and schools throughout Philadelphia, where they can still be viewed today. "During this time I was becoming more and more interested in children's books and eventually, through my interest in illustration, I found my way to Harcourt where Elizabeth Hamilton was editor of their juvenile department. She encouraged me to write something about little American children doing the things that little American children like to do." Her first children's book, When I Grow Up, was published in 1931, but in 1939 she hit her stride with the first of the Betsy and Eddie books, "B" is for Betsy. She wrote about the childhood adventures of these two for more than fifty years. She stopped illustrating her own books in the 1970s. Ms. Haywood died on January 11, 1990. (From Children's Literature Network.)