Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield is one of those books that has been on my TBR list for a long time–actually, before my TBR list existed anywhere outside my brain. It was its appearance in Ann‘s post entitled “Best Books for Girls: 20 Books She Has Loved” that finally prompted me to add it to the real list. (Hope and I have quite the same taste in books, it seems. 🙂 )
My reading of it was somewhat disjointed–I’m feeling pulled in so many ways these days that I find it difficult to make time to read (and difficult to focus on reading when I do!). However, I now understand why this book shows up as a favorite on so many homeschoolers’ lists. This book gives the best examples of practical parenting I’ve ever read. The catch, of course, is that Betsy isn’t being raised by her parents–instead, she has gone to live with a couple of elderly relations and their no-nonsense, middle aged daughter. When Betsy joins the Putney household, she is simply folded into their lives, with no worry or question over whether their staid farming lifestyle would be appropriate for a young girl. Betsy, accustomed to being coddled by an overly-solicitous aunt, is somewhat taken aback by the Putneys’ assumptions that she can more or less take care of herself. However, she quickly figures out that this is a good and interesting way to live one’s life–to be not so fixated on one’s own concerns and problems, but rather, to add value to the household and community in which one lives. The fact that Betsy is an orphan who goes to live in a household of elderly adults makes me think of Anne of Green Gables (of course!), and Cousin Ann’s practical ways remind me of Marilla Cuthbert. How could I help but like this story?
In her review, Carrie points out that Dorothy Canfield (Fisher? I promise that must be her name, but the cover of my book lists her only as Dorothy Canfield, as does the book I’ve linked above. Hmmm. . .) was an outspoken proponent of the Montessori method of education, and Understood Betsy reads almost as an advertisement for the method. I was not aware of this “hidden agenda” while I was reading the book, so perhaps some of its heavy-handedness (which is there, I admit) might’ve slipped by me. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It really inspired me to continue on in the path of teaching my girls (and eventually the DLM, of course) how to do things for themselves and then expecting them to do those things well. Janet’s review of this vintage story indicates that she feels much the same as I do about it.
I dog-eared many pages in this book for the potential blogworthy quotations contained therein, but rather than making this blog post even longer, I think I’ll merely point you in the direction of the one quote I’ve already shared and to this digital version of the book itself, in case any of you are inspired to read this good (but instructive! 😉 ) story for yourself. There’s also a free audiobook download of this at LibriVox. I’ve yet to try out this “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain,” but hey–they’re free! 🙂
This is a story I’m sure I’ll share with my girls as a read-aloud in the next few years.