24 November 2011

Strawberry Girl (Lois Lenski)

OK, so this one wasn't as good as I remembered. But I can tell why I liked it as a kid: I had a Little House on the Prairie-bred fascination with the everyday activities of pioneer life. Planting crops and tending animals and churning butter and goin' to town for penny candy!  The house I lived in between the ages of five and eight had a vacant lot next door; when the grass got really long, my little sister and I would run through it pretending to be Wilder children. (There are now I think three houses on that lot? With, like, NYC amounts of space between them.)

Anyway, Strawberry Girl is all about daily life on ten-year-old Birdie Boyer's family's farm in backwoods Florida, around the turn of the twentieth century. The book's long on logistics and kinda slim on story, though conflict with the Boyers' even poorer neighbors, the Slaters, propels what narrative there is. The Slaters don't feed their livestock (cows and hogs), just let them roam--and don't take kindly to Birdie's father fencing in his land to keep his crops from ruin. Mostly, though, Lenski seems concerned with simply recording this slice of rural history, the struggles, frolics, and vernacular of the Florida Crackers. (Yep. It's what they called themselves--apparently it comes from the crack of the whip used by the local cowboys.)

I hadn't known before that this is just one in a long series of books Lenski wrote about children's lives in various regions of the United States--some contemporary, others historical. It's an impressive, wide-ranging project, and deserves credit for often focusing on poor communities: coal miners, sharecroppers, migrant workers. She also gets ups for writing about African- and Chinese-American children. Unfortunately, I think the didactic purpose of the books, lost on its intended audience, makes it not an especially exciting read as an adult. Sometimes you can't go back.

Sunday finishes up Newbery November with Cynthia Kadohata's Kira-Kira.


  1. I don't know how I feel about Strawberry Girl, but I know why your blog is getting this award
    Pass it on!


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