Thursday, January 25, 2007

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

I just finished reading Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski. It's a children's book, about pine woods Florida settlers at the turn of the century. The title character is Birdie Boyer, a girl who helps her family grow and sell strawberries. The Boyers live in the Roddenberrys' old house -- the Roddenberrys left Florida after the 1895-1896 freezes nearly killed all their orange trees. The Boyers are hard-working farmers who grow strawberries for northern markets. They nourish the soil, feed their livestock, and fence their land. Their children go to school and church. Providing contrast are the Slaters. Their cattle tromple the Boyer's strawberry patch, their children beat up the teacher, and in a drunken rage Mr. Slater shoots the heads off all their chickens. It's hard to say which family is more likeable.

Lenski wrote Strawberry Girl in 1945, several years after Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize. There are similarities between the two --- Cracker culture, battles between hard-working and lazy neighbors, farmers struggling against the elements... The Yearling is better, but Strawberry Girl is not bad. It was good enough to win Lenski a Newberry Medal in 1946. Strawberry Girl was the first in Lenski's regional series of children's books, each set in a different locale (for example, an Iowa corn farm and a West Virginia mining town).

Lenski packs a lot of information and morality into 150 pages, and I suspect this is a book that parents and teachers wish that children would want to read, rather than a book kids will sit down with on a summer day. However, the Central Florida Memory program has a nice 4th grade unit available online.

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