Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield

Understood Betsy was one of the books I enjoyed reading when I was young. I liked Betsy well enough, but not quite as much as Anne of Green Gables or My Friend Flicka, but the book was one I would reread every few years. I revisited Understood Betsy last year, as I previously had Heidi and found I had forgotten the ending or confused the ending with some other book(s). I am so enjoying rereading some of my favorite books I read time and again growing up. New perceptions and ideas are discovered about these books from the lens of adulthood. 

–Title page from one of the many editions of Understood Betsy
Dorothy Canfield wrote this children’s classic and the book was first published in 1916. After reading about Ms. Canfield, I discovered she was a contemporary of Maria Montessori and with this current reading, I was attuned to her promotion of Ms. Montessori’s ideas. Really, this book seems to be written to promote self-reliance, open-mindednes, hard work to reach goals, charity to those with less, and not prejudging others based on hearsay. Well, that’s a few of the values promoted in Understood Betsy.

Elizabeth Ann was orphaned young and lived with her aunt and great aunt in a city in the northeast.  The younger aunt, Aunt Frances, watched and worried over the child so much that Elizabeth Ann was scared of her own shadow. Aunt Frances loved her charge very much, but she herself was high strung and skittish. She was especially overprotective of her niece. 

Circumstances occurred that would force Aunt Frances to send the girl to live with her country cousins, the  Putneys. These people were so totally different in their treatment of Elizabeth Ann, whom they immediately started calling Betsy, that Betsy could not but help but become less afraid, more self-reliant, and healthier all around. If she did something in her mind that was outstanding, Betsy was used to Aunt Frances gushing over her. These country people expected her to do certain things and didn’t blink twice when she actually did. The first thing she accomplished was taking the reins, literally and figuratively, on the drive home from the train station. I was reminded of Anne Shirley being picked up at the train station as well, and how she talked constantly the whole way to Green Gables. Betsy was not as much of a talker and was more of a doer without her protective aunt watching her every move. After no one coming to wake her up and dress her, for once in her life she got up and got dressed all on her own on her first morning at the Putney house. 

–Uncle Henry and Betsy on the way home

Betsy has lots of wonderful experiences living in the country with her aunt, uncle, cousins, and friends and really grows and matures into a wonderful young lady. I don’t think this would have happened if she had stayed under the care of her overprotective aunt. The book has many lessons contained in the chapters, and I recommended Understood Betsy for readers of all ages, especially pre-teens and tweeners.