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Understood Betsy

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  11,978 ratings  ·  774 reviews
For all of her nine years, fragile Elizabeth Ann has heard her Aunt Frances refer in whispers to her "horrid Putney cousins." But when her aunt can no longer care for her, Elizabeth Ann must leave her sheltered life to live in the wilds of Vermont with those distant relatives.

In the beginning, Elizabeth Ann is shocked by country living--pets are allowed to sleep in the hou
Hardcover, 229 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 1916)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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 ·  11,978 ratings  ·  774 reviews

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Well this book has just taken the last free place on my top-ten-favourite-books-of-all-time shelf. If it wasn't for goodreads I would never have discovered this book as it's one of those well known in US and Canada but unknown here in England.

This was wonderful, from the first page we were hooked, the story so well told, the characters so real (in fact we know an Aunt Frances and a Elizabeth Ann - before her transformation) and the story had so much humour, and kept us guessing right up to the e
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
Cindy Rollins
Loved reading this to my granddaughters on Zoom. Lots of great thoughts on over-parenting and education. I feel so blessed to have had an opportunity to read this again
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, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2007 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.
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I inherited the Anne books and Understood Betsy from my mom. And like my mom, I read and re-read and still to this day re-read this book. This book, the Anne books and the Earth Children's series are the books I never get tired of reading and have become an intimate part of my life, like a tattoo, like family. I love this book for the simple life lessons, the sweetness and simplicity of the time and the locale and the unexpected pluckiness and inner strength of our young heroine Elizabeth Ann, w ...more
Gretchen Rubin
How many times have I read this novel? Fifteen, twenty, maybe more. I love it more every time.

"I think I never heard of a child's doing a smarter, grittier thing...and I don't care if she does hear me say so!"
This superb story is sure to be loved by children and adults alike, with its clear message of the value of tolerance, understanding, affection, trust and the importance of nurturing responsibility and self-confidence in young people.

I listened to a delightful Librivox recording by volunteer (and professional) reader, Lee Ann Howlett, and also discovered a wonderful illustrated edition of the book at Project Gutenberg.

This story is truly a joy! I plan to read other works by this talented author.
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Ivonne Rovira
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Anne of Green Gables
Recommended to Ivonne by: L.J. Rinaldi
Even beyond its literary value, teachers will appreciate Understood Betsy, first released in 1917, as one of the first books to introduce the Montessori Method of education to America. That said, author Dorothy Canfield Fisher spins a pretty interesting yarn for fans of Daddy-Long-Legs, The Railway Children, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or Anne of Green Gables.

Nine-year-old orphan Elizabeth Ann — the titular Betsy, of course — lives with her widowed Great-Aunt Harriet and Harriet’s middle-aged d
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What can I say about such an old favorite? A book which my mother read to me when I was little, and many years later I read to my children, and which I just finished reading to my mother, knowing it would offer a small measure of comfort and cheer as she is dying. I can easily see the book's “faults” – the passionate didacticism, the stock characters, the romanticism of country life – but those have become part of the book's charm for me. Reading “Understood Betsy” now, having homeschooled my ch ...more
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was better the second (or is that the third?) time through, and really seemed to engage my 7yo son as well!
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book as a child and was delighted to find that it is just as wonderful for an adult. I remember loving it for the blossoming resourcefulness of Betsy. As an adult, it reminded me of the wonderful feelings of first discovery and dawning independence. But oh, it does it in such a homey loving way that I’m sure any child would hardly know they are being encouraged to stand on their own two feet. It’s just a beautiful story.
I would recommend this little story to everyone I know.
Jan 29, 2010 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
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Aug 26, 2015 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
Rebekah Morris
4.5 stars
A delightful story from my childhood! I just love watching Elizabeth Ann change to Betsy, and the ending! I laughed, and smiled my through this wonderful story. The characters are so well written that each one feels real and living even if they aren't in the story more than a few sentences. The setting is perfect without too much to distract or too little to leave you floating around.

There are several euphemisms that I didn't know of before, and one use of the Lord's name when they were
Julie  Durnell
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens
A nostalgic delightful tale of growing up and maturing after being cossetted by an aunt then thrown into an unknown family of relatives on a farm in Vermont-well done!
Luisa Knight
The girls were "full of excitement, looking over their shoulders at nothing and pressing their hands over their mouths to keep back the giggles. There was, of course, no reason on earth why they should giggle, which is, of course, the reason why they did. If you've ever been a little girl you know about that."

This is a great family read-aloud! Fun stories for the children and for the adults, hilarious interpretations of childhood and the mixed up ways of a condescendingly doting aunt.

The writing
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
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
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
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
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.

Updated December 2016: Read it this time to Huck and Rilla. Every bit as delicious as the times before.
I loved this even more in rereading it! Such a precious story of a young girl who has to go to some country cousins when her great-aunt falls ill. This tale just makes me want to hug Betsy!

Content: a "sanitized swear"
Cynthia Egbert
Dec 27, 2014 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
Aug 19, 2007 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
Ellen Hamilton
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very wholesome and loveable book. I will admit that I was surprised by the Putney cousins. I had expected this to be a typical city-girl-goes-to-country-cousins-with-hardworking-papa-loving-mama-and-many-children-to play with. Rather the family was made up of an old aunt and uncle with a younger cousin who was the hardy kind. I think it's difference made it rather nice, and I like that there are no long speeches or anything of that kind. It's just simple hard work, eat well, have good ...more
Liz F.
I loved this book!!!!! I can't believe I haven't read it before!! It's such a sweet book! :D

What I liked...

-The message of family love in this book was so strong and so sweet with Betsy, Molly, and the Putney cousins!

-The characters! Cousin Ann was very strong and hard-hearted at first, but I grew to love her character as the story went on! Aunt Abigail was so sweet and I loved that she taught Betsy how to do everything! Uncle Henry was nice to, even though he didn't talk a lot! ;)

-I loved Ele
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-school
My son and I both enjoyed this book. Lots of good lessons throughout. Especially about being brave and stopping to think instead of panicking. We have been working on that a lot lately so it was a good tie-in.
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Also wrote under the name Dorothy Canfield.

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.

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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?”
“I declare! Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out the window!” 2 likes
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