Have you had the experience of revisiting a place of your youth, feeling like a giant in your childhood kitchen perhaps? Or have you returned to a beloved book, and asked yourself, I liked this? Really?
For years I always responded, when asked, that my favorite book when very young was Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I recalled an engaging plot, endearing characters, and never questioned my choice. I also never re-read it. I stumbled across it the other day while playing with the Gutenberg Project (www.gutenberg.org) and wondered how it would compare with my warm and fuzzy memories.
Understood Betsy, published nearly one hundred years ago and still in our library’s print collection, has lost none of its charm. The author draws the reader into the story as if she were sitting by the fire telling the tale. Our heroine is frail, tiny, orphaned Elizabeth Ann raised in the city by two fussy, clucking female relatives whose life’s work is to protect Elizabeth Ann from, well, everything. When one of them falls ill, she is whisked off to a farm in the wilds of Vermont under the dubious care of hercountry cousins. Cousin Ann and Aunt Abigail are kind, but matter-of-fact and Elizabeth Ann is expected to perform tasks she never dreamt of – arranging her own hair, walking to school by herself, churning butter! In time she becomes Betsy, confident, capable, and understood.The term “empowering” is somewhat hackneyed these days, but apt in characterizing this old book.
I can see why I loved it and how it was important. Take a little stroll down memory lane. One resource is the Gutenberg Project, a digitalized library of full-text public domain books designed for use on almost any device. Hmmm . . . I’m thinking White Fang!
-Eileen, Reader’s Advisory Librarian