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Understood Betsy

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Book Overview: 

Understood Betsy is a 1916 novel for children by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. The story tells of Elizabeth Ann, a 9-year-old orphan who goes from a sheltered existence with her father’s aunt Harriet and cousin Frances in the city, to living on a Vermont farm with her mother’s family, the Putneys, whose child-rearing practices had always seemed suspect to Harriet and her daughter. In her new rural life, Elizabeth Ann comes to be nicknamed “Betsy,” and to find that many activities that Frances had always thought too demanding for a little girl are considered, by the Putney family, ordinary expectations for a child: walking to school alone, cooking, and having household duties to perform.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .She blew the light out and moved over a little closer to Elizabeth. Ann, who immediately was enveloped in that delicious warmth. The kitten curled up under the little girl's chin. Between her and the terrors of the dark room loomed the rampart of Aunt Abigail's great body.

Elizabeth Ann drew a long, long breath ... and when she opened her eyes the sun was shining in at the window.

CHAPTER III

A SHORT MORNING

Aunt Abigail was gone, Eleanor was gone. The room was quite empty except for the bright sunshine pouring in through the small-paned windows. Elizabeth Ann stretched and yawned and looked about her. What funny wall-paper it was—so old-fashioned looking! The picture was of a blue river and a brown mill, with green willow-trees over it, and a man with sacks on his horse's back stood in front of the mill. This picture was repeated a great many times, all over the paper; and in the corner, where it hadn't come out even, they had had t. . . Read More

Community Reviews

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 an...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...more

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 wi...more

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 an...more

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 “fau...more

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 Railw...more

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 wor...more

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 UNDER...more

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