Haywood, C. (1945). Betsy and the Boys. Orlando: Harcourt Books.
Don’t judge a book by the cover. This cover is an update. The content of this book and the illustrations are authentic 1940s fluff. Betsy and the Boys follows the daily lives of Betsy and her best friend Billy as they cook, attend school, enjoy Valentine's Day, prepare for a play, wash dogs and play football.
With all of the ‘gees’, ‘gollies’, ‘jimminies’ and ‘you betchas,’ it’s easy to think the book is stereotypical of the time it’s describing. That is of course, until you think about the plot. Billy bakes along side Betsy. And Betsy searches for a way to play football with the boys. (Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t completely deconstruct gender stereotypes—the parents seem to embody traditional gender roles and Betsy *SPOILER* is subtly directed away from playing football)
Betsy and the Boys shares the experiences of everyday middle class (white!) suburban experience. Most of the children in the narrative are good and well-intentioned. The chapters feel episodic (which would lend itself to being read aloud) with an overarching plot that fades in and out.
This is one book in a larger Betsy series by Haywood.
Activities to do with the book:
While I wouldn’t say that Betsy and the Boys is the most tense or fast-paced book in the history of the world, it can still manage to be engrossing as a read aloud to eight or nine-year-olds or as a social studies read into life in the U.S. during the 1940s (without that pesky second World War to bring anyone down).
Older students could use this book to examine how both gender and childhood are constructed. Since Valentine's Day is celebrated in a certain way in the book, students could "write back" with their own experiences of the holiday.
“Betsy, Billy, and Ellen had met in the first grade. They had become fast friends as they worked and played together” (p. 1).
“After the pancake and cream puff experience, Billy began calling Betsy “Pancake” and Betsy called Billy “Cream Puff.”
At first, Billy didn’t mind. He just thought it was funny. But when the Wilson boys, who lived around the corner from Billy, heard Betsy call Billy Cream Puff, they screamed with laughter” (p. 16).
“Who ever heard of a girl on a football team?
“Girls can do anything,” said Betsy. “Girls can fly airplanes and drive taxicabs and run streetcars. Why can’t they play football?”
“Cause they can’t,” said Rudy.
“Well, I betcha I’ll be on the team,” said Betsy” (p. 20).