Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Understood Betsy

Understood Betsy
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield

This book is a delight. I'm only sorry I did not read it myself as a young girl. I am definitely going to read it to the children, but will probably wait until the girls are a little bit older and ready to enjoy it.

Elizabeth Ann has been raised by aunts to be self-doubting, fearful and fretful. Her aunts love her, oh yes! But Aunt Frances has, perhaps unintentionally, convinced her she has all the same fears, misgivings and struggles she herself has. Elizabeth Ann has never thought for herself or done anything for herself.

Then, fatefully, her great-aunt becomes very ill and must go away. Elizabeth Ann is sent to live on a Vermont farm with Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail and Cousin Ann. There, she is given tasks, responsibilities and discovers there is much more to herself and the world than she ever imagined.

She begins to think:
It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she was in the third A grade at school, but that was the first time she had ever had a whole thought of her very own...Somebody had always been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so industriously that she had never found out a single thing for herself before.
She begins to discern her place in history:
To tell the honest truth, although she had passed a very good examination in the little book on American history they had studied in school, Elizabeth Ann had never to that moment had any notion that there ever had been really and truly any Declaration of Independence at all. It had been like the ounce, living exclusively inside her schoolbooks for little girls to be examined about. And now here Aunt Abigail, talking about a butter-pat, had brought it to life!
Her new school, a one-room schoolhouse, allows the teacher to address her education in a startling (and effective) way:
In the big brick schoolhouse nobody ever went into another grade except at the beginning of a new year, after you'd passed a lot of examinations. She had not known that anybody could do anything else. the idea that everybody took a year to a grade, no matter what! was so fixed in her mind that she felt as though the teacher had said: "How would you like to stop being nine years old and be twelve instead! And don't you think Molly would be better be eight instead of six?
Later:
The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a little glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be grown up.
I read Understood Betsy for free on my Kindle. The irony of this comment by Aunt Abigail was not lost on me.
Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out at the window!
After looking over my notes and highlights, I realized a great many of my quotes were also featured over at Afterthoughts. Brandy knows a good book when she reads one.

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