Understood Betsy Hardcover – Oct 15 1999
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Anyone who fondly remembers how the fresh air of the moors puts a blush in the cheeks of sallow young Mary in The Secret Garden will love Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy just as much. First published in 1916, this engaging classic tells the tale of a thin, pale 9-year-old orphan named Elizabeth Ann who is whisked away from her city home and relocated to a Vermont farm where her cousins, the "dreaded Putneys," live. The Putneys are not as bad as her doting, high-strung Aunt Frances warns, however, and Elizabeth, who had been nurtured by her aunt like an overwatered sapling--positively blooms under their breezy, earthy care.
Elizabeth Ann's first victories are small ones--taking the reins from Uncle Harry, doing her own hair, making her own breakfast--but children will revel in the awakening independence and growing self-confidence of a girl who learns to think for herself... and even laugh. Along the way, "citified" readers of all ages will get a glimpse into the lives of people who are truly connected to the world around them--making butter ("We always bought ours," says Elizabeth Ann), experiencing the "rapt wonder that people in the past were really people," and understanding the difference between failing in school and failing at life. Fisher is a wise, personable storyteller, steeped in the Montessori principles of learning for its own sake, the value of process, and the importance of "indirect support" in child rearing. She also captures the tempestuous emotional life of a child as few authors can, crafting a story that children will find deeply satisfying. And in the end, readers will have grown as fond of the happier, stronger "Betsy" as the gentle, unassuming Putneys have.
Loving care was dolloped on this 1999 reissue of an old favorite--with sweet new pencil illustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root, and an introduction and afterword by Eden Ross Lipson that offer a historical context for the book and its author. (Ages 8 to 12) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
Fisher's beloved novel, first published in 1917, makes a smooth transition to audio in the latest from Chinaberry. Orphaned as a baby, nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann is taken in by her kindhearted great-aunt Harriet and cousin Frances, who aim to raise her in a loving, proper and cultured home in the early 1900s. Pale, thin, nervous Elizabeth Ann experiences a new kind of upheaval when Aunt Harriet becomes seriously ill. The situation requires that Elizabeth Ann be sent from her city home to "those horrid Putney cousins" (in Aunt Harriet's opinion) who live on a farm in Vermont. The change in scenery and attitude does Elizabeth Ann a world of good; in the country air where she is expected to do chores and where she can romp around and play with the animals, Elizabeth Ann becomes Betsy, a robust and happy girl. Her transformation is the heart of what remains a warm family tale, despite a few dated references. Reynolds gives a solid if sometimes precious-sounding performance, adopting a careful, pleasant storytelling tempo. Ages 6-11. (June)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Despite being an avid reader as a child (my biggest battle with our librarian was the six-book limit she enforced), I had never read Understood Betsy until last week. I spent one glorious afternoon on my bed reading and wiping away tears. My eight year old, who had already read it twice, wandered in and read me a chapter.
I fell in love with, and identified with, a number of the characters. Cousin Anne, the dour and capable one, who motivated Betsy to be resourceful and sensible. Poor Aunt Frances, shivery and frightened of life, yet longing to give Elizabeth Anne (later Betsy) the best that she could. And Betsy herself, so inept and weak at the outset, transformed to a strong, capable, humourous girl by the end. I cried as I cheered her on in her discovery of just how much she could accomplish, when surrounded by people who believed that she could. I loved the discussion that Betsy and Aunt Frances had towards the end of the book, when they each, simultaneously and gradually, break through the thicket of careful words to stand in the clearing and speak the truth.
At Club, we discussed the power of the spoken word, the danger of stereotypes, the pros and cons of being the older "helper" child vs. the younger "learning" child, what type of "personality" we had, and how we'd like to incorporate new strengths into our character. This book was a fantastic diving board into so many topics of discussion and learning.
We all recommend it highly.
The plot, briefly, is about a nine-year old orphan, Elizabeth Ann, who lives with her aunt and a cousin. When her aunt falls ill, Elizabeth Ann has to go live with some rural Vermont relatives, whom the rest of her family has never liked. At first Elizabeth Ann is afraid of them, too--they immediately shorten her name to Betsy--but she eventually overcomes her shyness and blossoms in the rural environment. She also learns to be much less nervous and uptight.
What really makes this book stand out are its digressions. The author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, often informally addresses the reader: one chapter is called, "If You Don't Like Conversation in a Book, then Skip This Chapter!" The most insightful sequences show Betsy discovering that not all learning takes place in school; measuring butter with her aunt, she is astounded to discover that "an ounce" exists in real life. She thought it was only found in textbooks. But you have to read the book to see how well this is pulled off.
When I was a child I owned an edition with an afterward by Peggy Parrish, which pointed out how modern the book was for its time (it was published in 1917.) Indeed, the women and men share all the tasks, and Betsy is forbidden from nothing because of her gender. That makes this book a really excellent and inspiring gift for young girls, although its message of equality is never heavy-handed.
Occasionally there are sections that are too sentimental, and not really necessary to the story, but the rest is so good that this is easy to forgive. Conclusion: Buy it for a child, but read it for yourself first!
Elizabeth Ann, known as Betsy to her farm relatives, was orphaned as a baby. Her city relatives scoop her up to save her from being reared by the 'Putney Cousins' (our heros in Vermont). But fate sweeps Elizabeth Ann away from the only woman who *understands* her, and takes her to the dreadful farm in Vermont, where children have been known to *do chores*. How does Betsy fare?
That's the children's part of the story. For the adult, especially one who is unfamiliar with children, the lesson is given that you *can* love a child into the the fearful person you yourself are. But you *can* also love a child to let that child find things out for herself, and become aware, that she is aloud to find things out for herself. Isn't it amazing that children have brains, and they do not have to be programmed by 'pre-warning' them of every consequence to their behavior?
Please read, and see Betsy grow into a useful engine (for those of you who know Thomas the Tank Engine). Please read and learn yourself, how to help your children, by learning to leave them alone to find things out for themselves.....
Astonished at being instantly called Betsy and suddenly expected to Do for herself--not to mention, for others--the girl finds herself helping with household chores for the first time in her young life. Over the months she blooms with health, intelligence, new skills, and compassion for others--this is surely the Vermont Cure! She gradually becomes the pride of the three old folks at the farm, a joy to her teacher and even a temporary big sister. Betsy is amazed to discover herself and her innate talents; she actually enjoys lending a hand and living life to the fullest. Betsy needs to exercise both her smarts, to get out of difficult situations, and her heart, to promote social justice. Settling
into a simple but comfortable New England routine, she truly matures from a fearful, dependent Elizabeth Ann, into the lively and capable Betsy. But where will she ultimately be happiest? First she just wanted to be "understood" by her adult relatives, but finally she tries to do some "understanding" herself. After all, isn't that what people basically want--to be Understood (appreciated as and for ourselves) by those dearest to us? A quaint, gentle childhood classic set in simpler times, of particular interest to girls 9-12.
Most recent customer reviews
This book is purely delightful. I'm reading it to my 8-year old daughter and there have been many times when I had to stop reading because I was laughing so hard! Read morePublished on April 11 2007 by CanadianMother
I have never forgotten this book! I am 37 and I believe this to be my very first favorite book. Over the years I have thought of this book and its simple charm. Read morePublished on Feb. 23 2004
My mother bought this book for me since I was a very shy and reserved child. She is a teacher and wanted to help me overcome the shyness. Read morePublished on April 17 2003 by E. Frank
I give this book as gifts to adult friends that I really care about -they might never find it on their own since Understood Betsy is disguised as a children's book. Read morePublished on March 20 2003
"Understood Betsy" presents a picture of the wise and gentle relationships within a normal family during the second decade of the 20th century. Read morePublished on Nov. 29 2002 by Character Sketches
some books are timeless. while the slang is a little dated,you can explain the meaning while you are reading this, this is as sweet as the boxcar children but written when your... Read morePublished on April 30 2002
I like to read old stories about young girls and this one was perfect. Betsy changed from a shy city girl to a strong country gal. Read morePublished on Oct. 2 2001 by An 11-year old reader
This delightful tale marks Dorothy Canfield Fisher as one of those rare authors able to hold the sympathy and attention of adults and children alike. (C.S. Lewis was another. Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2001 by Una cliente
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