Lois Lenski’s American Regional books have been likened to the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes, the similar settings are hugely important to the story, but Lenski’s style is far different than Wilder’s, and I like them both. I found Strawberry Girl particularly interesting because it covers a place and time I’m unfamiliar with, Florida at the turn of the twentieth century.
Birdie Boyer’s father has purchased a long-abandoned farm in central Florida. Proud of their Cracker heritage (the Scotch-Irish pioneers who populated the Appalachian Mountains), ten-year-old Birdie works hard helping her family plant an orchard and strawberry field. However, the antagonists, a squatter family who have lived on the nearby land for generations, are determined to stop the Boyers from building fences. The Slaters own cattle and are used to allowing their cows to roam wild. You can see how conflict is going to build.
Once Birdie cools down from the latest Slater outrage, she and her mother still offer kindness to their neighbors, especially as they realize that wife and children suffer under the irresponsibility of the father. Today’s reader will find the ending improbable. Without giving away the plot, I’ll just tell you that Lenski uses the ideal to teach children virtues to strive for.
- Strawberry Girl offers a great history lesson about Florida and its culture.
- The language is simple and straightforward, even as Lenski uses southern terms that might be unfamiliar to her readers. Third-graders should be able to understand most of it.
- Many readers won’t care for what I’ve noted as pros. They don’t want a history lesson, and they don’t want to struggle with new vocabulary. I guess that’s more of a criticism of the reader than the book!
- Having been written over sixty years ago, the book is narrated rather than the deep POV most of us are now accustomed to. But the narration is excellent, which is why it won the Newbery Medal in 1945.
- If Effie Slater wanted to be friends with Birdie, why was Effie so hateful toward her neighbor sometimes?
- Who was able to better solve problems between the Boyers and the Slaters, Mr. Boyer or Mrs. Boyer? Give an example.
- What was Birdie’s surprise gift after all her work growing the strawberries?
Another very worthwhile vintage read!