Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the little red schoolhouse in our basement

I thought that over the years I had read every lovely classic children's book in existence. I read the standards of Oz, Little House, Anne of Green Gables, the Shoes trilogy, and all the Misty books as a child, even enjoying such oddities as Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, and The Gift from the Mikado. In college I took a kiddy lit course and found a few more good reads that hadn't been available in the basement of the Portsmouth Public Library. But the other day I found a undiscovered gem by Dorothy Canfield Fisher titled Understood Betsy, published in 1917.

This story is set around 1880-1890 by my best guess and is about a 9 year old orphan girl who at first lives with her emotionally smothering aunt and great aunt. When illness strikes the household, frail timid Elizabeth Ann must be sent away to stay with the Putney cousins in Vermont, whom Elizabeth Ann has always been warned about as "horrid." Instead, she finds a warm, loving home and becomes a more independent and happy child. The day she is sent off on her own to the school in town she begins to understand what learning for learning's sake is all about and the benefits of a small school with only a dozen pupils. When the teacher puts her in books that suit her aptitude, she feels dizzy,

"'Why-why,' said Elizabeth Ann, 'I don't know what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?'

The teacher laughed. 'You aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, aren't you? What difference does it make what grade you're in? And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication tables?'"

This is the beauty of homeschooling our children today, tailoring grade levels and subjects to our children's strengths and weaknesses. Our Mary is 9, the same age as Elizabeth Ann, and has the same academic talents by being a very strong reader and having an aversion to learning the times-tables. After we finish Farmer Boy this week we will certainly be reading aloud Understood Betsy, a beautiful story about expanding a child's heart and mind.


Jeanne said...

I read this book to my daughters a couple of years ago - it's wonderful! I think the author was influenced by the Montessori method. Glad you found it!

John Hitchcock said...

I enjoyed the Little House books when I was in High School, actually. Years later, I bought them for myself and to read to my daughter. "They" were in the process of expanding the books and completed the ones centering around Rose. I think they completed, or came close to completing, the ones centering around Caroline. The books centering around Martha, I think it was, didn't seem completed yet.

It was definitely enjoyable reading, following a Scots-girl and her female line all the way down to Rose.

And, of course, the Chronicles of Narnia series shoud be mandatory reading for your Will and Mary. :)

Shout out to Fierfox for linking to this blog. Katherine, salute your husband for me. And cudos for home schooling your children instead of letting their minds be poisoned. I did that for 3 years with 1 child on top of working full-time, and the energy output and occasional frustration was well worth it.

I told a story on my blog I titled Raise Up A Child which dealt with my own child-rearing experiences. And now, my daughter has greatly outclassed me. Home schooling is definitely worth the time and expense, and I bow to you for your dedication.

Amber said...

We read Understood Betsy recently and my daughter really enjoyed it (she just turned 9, and had some things in common w/the heroine -- distaste for math, love for kitties, etc.). I did too. It's such a nice feeling to find a book you feel good about -- like a diamond in the rough. I enjoyed the school part concerning the grade-levels, too, and agree that's one great thing about homeschooling.