Pebble in a Pool

Books surrounded her life.  One room of the Brick House was crammed with them from floor to ceiling.  Some she knew by heart, like Grimm and Anderson, Aesop and La Fontaine.  She read any book she could put her hands on, racing along over the words to find out what happened next.  Sometimes a character cast a three-dimensional shadow from the page and acted like a living person;  then Dolly's whole being quickened. - Elizabeth Yates on Dorothy Canfield Fisher's early years

A book by a favorite writer about another favorite writer?  Yes, please!  Thanks to Robyn, a kindred spirit who thought I might appreciate this book.  She was right.  I loved it!  The book is Pebble in a Pool - The Widening Circles of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Life by Elizabeth Yates. (Later reprinted as The Lady from Vermont.  I like the first title much better.)

Dorothy (1879-1958) is the author of that homeschool favorite, Understood Betsy.  After reading this biography, it is easy to connect all the dots from her real life to the action of  Understood Betsy.  Her education and her later approach to education is a fascinating journey.  She was so impressed with Montessori and her methods that she wrote a book on it, The Montessori Mother.  (Alas, no mention of Miss Mason to be found...)

She was apparently constantly asked about spanking.  Here's how she handled the question:

"Tell me, Mrs. Fisher, would you or would you not spank a child who refused to obey?'
"I'll answer your question if you'll answer one of mine first."
"All right.  Ask it."
"How big is a house?"
The questioner looked puzzled.  "Which house?"
Like a tennis player deftly placing a ball, Dorothy replied, "Well then, which child?"

I cried when I read the story of her only son.  I won't spoil that one for you.

A few things were of particular interest to me.  First, she and her husband were very active in helping the child refugees  from Europe that had come to Vermont after WWII.  There were child refugees from Europe in Vermont after WWII?  Hmmm...I need to know more about this!  Second, I would very much like to find The Kingdom of Childhood, a list of stories Dorothy compiled for Woman's Day to read and tell to children.  Third, I hope to read her some of her adult fiction which I had not heard of previously - Her Son's Wife, The Deepening Stream, and Seasoned Timber.

Of course, there is plenty of advice and guidance for writers throughout.  When asked to compose a story on a particular subject, she replied, "Why, I couldn't write a story to order!  An article, yes, but not a story.  It would be like being asked to fall in love next Friday."

You might enjoy this read, too.

From joy to joy,


  1. LOOKS Wonderful! Now to find a copy!

  2. How appropriate!! My girls and I are in the last chapter of Understood Betsy. I will definitely look for this book about Canfield's life. We have so enjoyed Understood Betsy - laughing at the "question of a toilet" when Betsy was going to the fair; feeling her pain at having to leave the Putneys; and now her joy at possibly being able to stay.

    I feel so deprived that no one told me about Understood Betsy when I was a young girl.