One of these books is Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It's a children's book about 9-year-old Elizabeth Ann. Elizabeth Ann's parents died when she was very young and she was taken in by her wealthy city relatives, Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances, who cared for and loved her but also ensured that she led a very coddled and sheltered existence. Thus, Elizabeth Ann is scared of practically everything, is very shy, and often cries, just to ensure that she gets her aunts' full sympathy and attention.
But one day Aunt Harriet is taken ill by scarlet fever and Elizabeth Ann must be taken care of by someone else. She is sent to the dreaded "Putney cousins" in Vermont, and is terrified of what she will find there. She's heard often enough that her Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail and Aunt Ann are very backwards people who do horrible things like chores, and she has no idea what she will find in a life with them.
But Betsy finds, as you may expect, that life is very pleasant with her new-found relatives, who give her room to grow and learn and gain a great deal of self-confidence. Really, considering the number of books with this theme, one would think that all little city girls in the Victorian era wanted to up and move to a farm somewhere to live an idyllic, happy existence of churning butter, popping corn and eating frozen maple syrup. I thought that I would be immune to this sort of story and would end up rolling my eyes a lot, snorting with smugness and sighing with disbelief, but I DID NONE OF THOSE THINGS. I was, in fact, completely enamored and now am very interested in learning exactly how milk becomes butter. If I move to a quaint and lovely rural home in Vermont with a rosy-cheeked, smiling grandmother-like figure to show me the ropes, will I too gain a lot of gumption and become a self-sufficient young woman who can take charge of the apples and butter for every meal? I think it's possible.
I could take this opportunity to talk about how farm life in the late 19th century was probably not so idyllic, but I do not want to ruin the happy place in my mind wherein the butter churns perfectly, popcorn is made on the stove and never burns and everyone loves my homemade apple sauce. I thought this book was a lovely way to show a girl learning how to stand on her own two feet, and really bloom into (very young) adulthood by being given the opportunity to make her own decisions and learn from them. It's a light, sweet read reminiscent of Pollyanna, Heidi and all those types, and really makes me wish that we could all have a few years living the Little House in the Big Woods lifestyle. But alas, we cannot. So instead, I shall continue to download books that give me the opportunity to live vicariously through other people.