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Understood Betsy

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  7,984 Ratings  ·  474 Reviews
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 1916)
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Matthew Mitchell
I am such a big softie.

This morning, Isaac and I just finished reading Understood Betsy together (again).

You might guess from the cover that manly men like Isaac and I wouldn't care for this book. You'd be wrong. Understood Betsy is a book about an overprotected girl who unhappily goes to live with some extended family who actually understand what a little girl needs to thrive.

Betsy learns how to do things for herself, how to make friends (and be a true one), how to be a productive member of a f
Originally published in 1916, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was a women's rights activist, educator, wife and mother. She eventually earned a doctorate from Columbia; something almost unheard of for a woman at that time. Many of her stories were considered autobiographical in some sense including UNDERSTOOD BETSY.

This heartfelt narrative was a wonderfully gentle story about an orphaned girl who, initially, was sent to live with three single women until she was nine years old. As she grew older, she wa
Oct 20, 2007 Jenne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is like totally some kind of Montessori school propaganda, those bastards!!
But it's also really sweet, it's kind of like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Anne of Green Gables or something, but it's all about how to be self-sufficient and be educated at your own level and have self-confidence and stuff.
Plus applesauce.
Jan 29, 2010 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Aimee Guest, Mikkee Hall,
Recommended to Shannon by: Anna Truss
Shelves: youngadult
After my ten year old read this book, she said to me, "Mom, this might be my favorite book EVER." This is high praise from a child who averages more than three books weekly, so I decided to see why she loved it. After finishing the book this morning, I asked her exactly what she loved about it and was told, "Oh... I love the way Betsy transforms from a weak girl to a strong one and the way she helps the little boy in the book and well, everything about it."

I have to agree with my daughter that B
Published in 1916. This is a charming little children's story that was quite popular in the early 20th century. It's the story of nine year old Elizabeth Ann (Betsy), orphaned and living with her aunt in the city. It's a medium size city in a medium size state in the middle of the US. (sounds like where I live). Because of her sisters illness, Betsy's aunt has to go out west to be her nurse and Betsy has to travel to Vermont to stay with her distant cousins, the Putney's, who live on a farm. It' ...more
I always wanted to read this when I was younger, since it had my name in the title, but I just couldn't get interested. Now, with Kindle + public domain, all things are possible!

I'm not sure what Ms. Fisher was wanting to do with this book, but it really isn't so much a kids' story as an extended scenario on how adults should behave towards children. All Betsy's inner feelings are documented so very densely, but she always seems to be reacting and discovering based on what some adult around her
Imagine you are nine years old, raised by an overly protective Aunt to the point that you have never accomplished anything on your own in your life. Then one day you are sent to the "horrible cousins" in Vermont. Immediately, without criticism, you are made to see that you can change, do things and think things for yourself. Betsy, as a nine year old discovers an amazing world of ability and excitement for living, learning, playing, eating, and actually having and being a friend.

Plus Betsy learn
Aug 19, 2007 Kitty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book written for 8-10 year old girls, but one I still enjoy rereading as an adult. I love the descriptions of Vermont and Vermonters, so much that on a vacation to Vermont, I made my family take a detour through Dorothy Canfield's hometown so I could find the farmhouse that she uses as a setting for Understood Betsy. The point she makes that children should be allowed to make their own decisions and learn to think for themselves wasn't lost on me - I only hope that I can do as good a job with ...more
J. Boo
My friends here that read turn-of-the-last-century girl's lit have all read Understood Betsy and rated it highly... and they're right! And exceptionally relevant and up-to-date feels this tale of a young girl who at the start of the story is deficient in life skills and pushed towards anxiety by helicoptering oversharing aunts.

Some great asides:

"[Betsy] weighed out the salt needed on the scales, and was very much surprised to find that there really is such a thing as an ounce. She had never met
Cynthia Egbert
Mar 02, 2015 Cynthia Egbert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I loved this book more deeply than I can express, I will be posting some quotes below that will give you an idea. But I love the author and what she was trying to accomplish just as much. Here is her thoughts on choosing books for our children, "There is no set rule of thumb for this or that child which can be followed by parents as a cook follows a recipe, beating her eggs and thinking about something else. To help your children to the right reading, right for them, requires everything…not only ...more
Such an interesting little read. This book felt like Little House On The Prairie meets Anne of Green Gables meets Betsy and Tacy to me. Timeless values that illustrate the resourcefulness, genuine intelligence and innate goodness of children (yes, the author is a big fan of Montessori) against a rustic rural backdrop. I cried for pages during the establishment of the sewing society and laughed joyfully over Betsy's treatment of the calf when Aunt Frances comes to the farm. I found myself half wi ...more
Jun 13, 2016 Josiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had the Newbery Medal existed in 1917, Understood Betsy surely would have won it. I can't imagine there was any stronger candidate than Dorothy Canfield Fisher's novel about public and personal education and the importance of developing the habit of learning while young, when one's psyche and worldview are moldable enough to adopt new form. Until age nine, orphaned Elizabeth Ann is so overprotected and micromanaged by her Aunt Frances that she's prevented from defining her own life to any extent ...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Aug 26, 2015 Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are still kids inside, or who have kids
I first bought this book when I was about 10, the first book I chose for myself at a bookstore. It was magical to me; I read so many stories of little girls who were sent to the country/the mountains/the seaside "for their health" that it took me several years to realise it was never going to happen to me--the doctor was never going to look grave, shake his head, and tell my mother that I was "run down" and that I needed to take a long sea voyage "if she's going to have a chance."

In this case, E
I forget what made me put this book on hold, exactly... but it was a classic children's title I'd never read. It's a very nice story and is great encouragement for children to learn at their own pace and also to puzzle things out for themselves at times.

The book is pretty darn heavy-handed in relating the author's take on education, but I didn't look her up until after I was done, so that's when I found out that Dorothy Canfield Fisher was a major advocate for bringing the Montessori method to t
Elizabeth K.
Mar 26, 2012 Elizabeth K. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-new-reads
Okay, it's not really that new to me because I read it as a kid, and then again for the NYBT book discussion group. It was amazing to me how many years have gone by since I've read this (although I did read it multiple times as a child) and SO MANY of the scenes and details were instantly familiar. You would think I had read it yesterday.

Let's see, orphan Betsy lives with her milksoppy aunt and cousin, and when her aunt becomes ill, she is sent to live with other relatives in Vermont, who are h
Nov 21, 2007 Theresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: children in general
This is a book about a young girl named Betsy who lives with her elderly aunts. When her parents died, they rushed to take care of her. They always are watching out for the least possible sign of any illness or distress of any kind, and quickly trying to make it better. But one day one of the aunts gets very sick and the girl is sent to another part of the family. This family is thought to be too rough and unsympathetic to raise such a sensitive child, but that's the way it has to be. So Betsy m ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Lekeshua rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
Simply adore this book. A perfect mix of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. This is Elizabeth Ann's (Betsy) journey of living in a sheltered life to blossoming into a beautiful young lady. Elizabeth Ann learns important lessons on her own but not without the great love her her extended family at Putney Farm. Such a classic. Can't wait to share with my children soon.
Sep 25, 2011 ABC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I put off reading this because I heard it was a preachy book on how to raise a child. So finally I started it as a read-aloud to my son. I got so interested that I read the book silently to myself in one day!

It is a book on how to raise a child, a lot like "The Secret Garden". In the story, Elizabeth Ann lives with her nervous but loving aunts. She never does much for herself and is taught to be fearful. Then one aunt get sick so Elizabeth Ann moves to a farm where she turns into Betsy. She is l
Oct 13, 2010 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOVED this book! I found it on a list of recommended classics for young girls and this was the only book that I hadn't read on that list. It's a wonderful story that I would liken unto Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I was reading more about the author of the book and she is the one that introduced the Montessori way of teaching children to America and this book was written to showcase those principles. There are really great lessons taught in t ...more
Mar 01, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! Why did I wait so long to read it? Pure joy. :)
Amy Rae
I read this because Goodreads wouldn't stop recommending it to me, and I just wanted to stop seeing its little book-cover thumbnail on my homepage already. It proved to be reasonably diverting, but still inferior to Betsy-Tacy as far as historical Betsies go.

Understood Betsy reminds me of Heidi or The Secret Garden insofar as it's about how the outdoors can cure one's ills and blah blah blah. Here, rather than being physically disabled, Betsy (or Elizabeth Ann, as she's called at first) has been
This is one of my family's favorite read-alouds of all time. We've read it twice before; now it's 7yo Beanie's turn to hear it (she was two years old last time around), but Rose is listening in, along with anyone who happens to pass through the room and be grabbed by the story. Which is to say: anyone who happens to pass through the room.
Jay Ginsburg
Mar 10, 2008 Jay Ginsburg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kids-books
My mother read this book as a girl, and I did too. Betsy was a role model for me, inspiring confidence and pragmatism. Now I am gathering copies of the book for my granddaughters.
Mar 02, 2016 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All little girls and women
March 2016: I have just read this book again and I love it more than I did the last time I read it. It is such a gem. Every little girl and woman should read this book -- more than once :-) I wish I had read it aloud to my nieces when they were little.

Nov. 2014
Sweet sweet turn of the century children's classic. The aunts in the book reminded me of when my nieces and nephews were young and I would take care of them.

Favorite passages:

"What's the matter?" asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered fa
Disclaimer: I'm sorry, my inept attempts at communication fail to do this book justice...

One of my favorite children's classics of all time. I'm rediscovering it as I read to my sisters...

A lot of times, children's authors cater to simple entertainment, which is not altogether bad...but of course, it remains mostly at a superficial level, with characters doing a lot, but not really evolving in personality. (Or doing neither *cough*ElsieDinsmore*cough*) The character development in Understood Be
Dec 13, 2013 BookSweetie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"That room was full to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Happiness."

So ends (on page 211) Dorothy Canfield Fisher's beloved juvenile classic UNDERSTOOD BETSY, first published in 1916.

We immediately meet the pale, anxious 9 year old orphan Elizabeth Ann who lives in a "medium-sized city in a medium-sized state in the middle of the country" where she has been raised since infancy by lovingly devoted relatives, in particular, the kindly yet hovering Aunt F
Jul 05, 2013 Susannahcox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Understood Betsy is one of those stories that serves as a better guide to my parenting and homeschooling than many how-to books on my shelf. Elizabeth Ann's (Betsy's) growth from fearful, self-conscious, over-protected child to confident, loving girl gives the reader a strong impression of what a wholesome upbringing really looks Iike. One of my favorite scenes has Betsy transitioning from a mass-schooling mindset to a small one-room schoolhouse, where she is nurtured and instructed as an indivi ...more
Read this because it is one of my girlfriend's all-time favorites, which she first read, I believe, when she was nine. I think I have an idea of why she likes it so much.

Elizabeth Ann (Betsy), the protagonist, turns ten years old during the novel, and during our time with her she learns several great self-truths: she can be independent, make decisions, and take care of herself; in thinking for herself as well as asking herself "what would Cousin Ann do?" she discovers her capacity for problem s
Mary Catelli
About a little girl, Elizabeth Ann, who was being raised by her great-aunt and first-cousin-once-removed, with the best of intentions. Except that one day, when they bring in a doctor and don't quite believe him when he says Elizabeth Ann is perfectly healthy, the great-aunt coughs, and the doctor diagnoses the great-aunt.

After a plot twist, the little girl finds herself packed off to the Putney farm, though those were the relatives that the great-aunt and cousin most wished to keep her from. (W
Gillian Brownlee
This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I reread it today for a trip down memory lane, and it was just as wonderful as I remembered!

Elizabeth Ann (or Betsy, as she is later called) is the epitome of child-like wonder. She looks at the world and sees all of the wonders that it can hold, and doesn't shy away from new experiences even if they make her nervous.

If I ever have kids, I'm reading them this book. I get the feeling it will never stop being relevant.
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Understood Betsy 1 4 May 18, 2015 01:11PM  
What's The Name o...: YA Historical Fiction, Girl Sent to Rural New England [s] 3 140 Dec 07, 2012 08:49PM  
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Dorothy Canfield Fisher (February 17, 1879 – November 9, 1958) was an educational reformer, social activist, and best-selling American author in the early decades of the twentieth century. She strongly supported women's rights, racial equality, and lifelong education. Eleanor Roosevelt named her one of the ten most influential women in the United States. In addition to bringing the Montessori meth ...more
More about Dorothy Canfield Fisher...

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“What's the matter?" asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.

"Why—why," said Elizabeth Ann, "I don't know what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?"

The teacher laughed at the turn of her phrase. "you aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, aren't you? What difference does it make what grade you're in! And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication table?”
“Not a thing had happened the way she had planned, no, not a single thing! But it seemed to her she had never been so happy in her life.” 1 likes
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