HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Understood Betsy
Author: Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Publisher: Wilder Publications, republished in 2008
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Fisher, Dorothy Canfield. Understood Betsy (originally published in 1916 by The Century Company; republished in 2008 by Wilder Publications LLC, P. O. Box 3005, Radford, VA 24143). Elizabeth Ann is a nine-year-old orphan girl who lives in the city home of her father’s frail aunt, Great-Aunt Harriet, and is taken care of by Aunt Harriet’s daughter whom she calls Aunt Frances. Elizabeth Ann, who is timid and small for her age, feels that she is understood by only Aunt Frances who coddles her and expects her to live a sheltered life which results in her being neither strong nor well. However, Aunt Harriet becomes very sick and must quickly be taken to a warmer climate, so Betsy is sent to live the nearby Lathrop cousins. When she arrives, she finds that they have an outbreak of scarlet fever, so she must go to stay with the dreaded Putney cousins of her mother on their farm near Hillsboro, VT.
Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, and Cousin Ann, who all call her Betsy, are very different from Great-Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. While in Vermont, Betsy learns how to drive a horse-drawn wagon, starts helping with meal preparation, walks alone to a school where Aunt Frances has not told the teachers to pamper her, starts a sewing society among her friends and schoolmates to help a needy boy, and celebrates her tenth birthday by going to the Necronsett Valley Fair over in Woodford where she is accidentally left behind and must get herself and her little friend Molly home by themselves. By the end of her stay, she is no longer pale, thin, and weak, but tanned, muscular, and strong. What will Aunt Frances think when she comes to take Elizabeth Ann home? And will Betsy decide to go with her or will she want to stay with the Putneys?
Understood Betsy is a delightful story. Dorothy Canfield Fisher helped to introduce the Montessori method of teaching into the United States, and this book reflects her belief that children learn best in natural settings rather than artificial environments. This sounds a lot like what homeschoolers have found, doesn’t it? Mrs. Fisher’s views that school should be a place for actual education and learning rather than a mere formality may seem quaint to some but helps to explain what so many of us have found objectionable with modern public education. The word “gosh” is used a few times, and one man says, “Lord, no.” There is one reference to dancing. Some have objected to what they feel is the author’s somewhat heavy-handed “preachiness” on the subject of child-rearing, but it is still a wonderful book and will give children a good view of what life was like almost a hundred years ago.