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Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

June 6, 2011

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher     Lexile Level 1000

A children’s book review:

A gem of a little book you can download for free from Gutenberg Project, Understood Betsy was first published in 1916.  The story of orphaned Betsy is told in a humorous, lighthearted, thoughtful, and wholesome narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This book will appeal to girls  since the main character is female, but boys who appreciate a simple story will also like it.  If you know someone who enjoys the Laura Ingalls Wilder or Sarah Plain and Tall books, they will likely enjoy Understood Betsy.

Nine year old Betsy is being cared for by her ‘spinster’ aunt who is timid and fearful of many things. Betsy is a pale, thin, withdrawn little girl as she absorbs the fear and timidity of her primary care giver. Aunt Frances is raising Betsy in the city and there are many things she warns Betsy to be wary of, including her Putney cousins who are a rough bunch living in the country in the crudest fashion!

Lo and behold, through a set of circumstances, Betsy ends up being unceremoniously shipped off to the dreaded Putneys until her great aunt recovers from an illness. Betsy’s understandable distress is soon erased by the carefree, robust lifestyle on the Putney farm, where another set of spinster aunt, great aunt and great uncle take her into their home, lives and hearts.

Betsy learns to think for herself and push through her fears due to the wise and loving guidance of her new caregivers. Her great Aunt Abigail is a wonderful grandmotherly character who gives Betsy lots of space to find she can handle more than she ever thought. Betsy even learns to be a caregiver herself and discovers what it means to help others without expecting thanks in return.

Many months later when Aunt Frances comes to collect Betsy and take her back to the city, she is transformed from a timid, helpless, sickly little girl into a strong, healthy, courageous and responsible young lady. Betsy’s transformation even includes understanding that her Aunt Frances did the best she could in raising Betsy and even though her style of parenting was in fact hindering Betsy’s growth, it was motivated by a sincere love.


Betsy has a schoolmate whose stepfather is described as a ‘drinker’ who mistreats his young son. The stepfather even takes the boy’s new clothes and sells them so he can buy more whiskey. After hearing of this, an older classmate says he’d like to kill the ‘skunk’ of a stepfather. “Yes, he is a darned old skunk,” she (Betsy) said to herself, rejoicing in the bad word she did not know before. It took bad words to qualify what had happened.

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