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Understood Betsy

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  10,037 Ratings  ·  578 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
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Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1996 by Sonlight Curriculum (first published 1916)
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Hilary
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
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Matthew Mitchell
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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Linda
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
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Jenne
Mar 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Sandy
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.
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Sara
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Melora
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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Josiah
May 28, 2016 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
Shannon
Jan 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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Duane
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
Nickie
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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Kitty
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Cynthia Egbert
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Elizabeth
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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Melissa
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.
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
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Ava
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's really one of those four-point-fivers, but what can you do?
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
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Kellyn Roth
Read this with my family for school. It's pretty awesome! <3
Trace
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book...loved the beautiful theme of relationships... loved reading about Betsy's adventures towards self-reliance. Simply but beautifully written - I was caught off guard by the happy tears I shed at the ending...lovely book.
Cheryl
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second read (in just a few years, never as a child) even more delightful. A bit implausible, more Sara Crewe in some ways than Little House. But a joy. The earnest lessons about how to raise children, and to respect them as people, are leavened by lots of adventure and humor.

I've also enjoyed The Home-Maker by the author, in which she shows that women are people, too... and even that men don't have to be trapped in roles that don't suit them. I suppose she pretty much covered the ground necessa
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Judy
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: children-s-lit
THE SUNDAY FAMILY READ


Understood Betsy is another book I read many times as a child. I have been rereading those favorite books to help me remember what I was like then as an aid to the memoir I am writing.

Betsy is an orphan being raised by relatives in St Louis, MO. Her Great-Aunt Harriet and cousin Frances are over-protective worriers. The effect of all Frances's sympathy has made Elizabeth Ann into a thin, pale, and timid nine-year-old.

Then Aunt Harriet becomes deathly ill. Betsy must be sen
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Sorento62
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I started out to read just the first chapter last night, so I would have at least begun the book before having to return it to the library tomorrow -- but then I couldn't resist finishing it today. Maybe I should give this 5 stars because it made me cry, which normally makes a book a shoo-in for a 5 star rating from me.
But the voice (and the didactic outlook) of the narrator is a little too prominent for my taste in this book, even though the author/narrator certainly makes her case well and ov
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Elizabeth K.
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Susannah
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Julie
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
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Theresa
Nov 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
ABC
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Understood Betsy 1 8 May 18, 2015 01:11PM  
What's the Name o...: YA Historical Fiction, Girl Sent to Rural New England [s] 3 143 Dec 07, 2012 08:49PM  
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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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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?”
4 likes
“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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