Our second Newbery Through the Decades selection for the 1940s was Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. We’ve read one other historical novel by Lois Lenski (The Puritan Adventure), which we enjoyed a couple years ago. I vaguely recall trying one other time to read Strawberry Girl when Miss M was younger, and the dialect turned me off before we even finished the first chapter. I’m glad we waited though, because some of the themes in Strawberry Girl are much better suited to a ten-year-old than a younger kid.
Strawberry Girl takes place in early 20th century Florida. The story follows the story of Birdie Boyer, whose family is settling into a new property. They come into conflict almost immediately with their neighbors, the Slaters. The Slaters are a rough sort of family pursuing an older way of making a living — raising free-range cattle. The Boyers, in contrast are a bit more refined, and want to follow more modern agricultural techniques by raising orange trees, planting strawberries, and fencing in their property. Conflicts arise as the old ways of cattle ranging across any field is thwarted by fencing. Interpersonal conflicts arise between the families as well. The book isn’t just about the conflict (though that is a main theme) — the reader also gets a picture of Florida pioneer life that is quite different from the midwestern and western pioneers we read about in many other pioneer stories.
Sam Slater, father of the Slater clan is an alcoholic, which leads to a certain degree of misery for his family and is the cause of some of the conflicts in the book. This ongoing theme of drinking leading to violent actions (or at least very unwise behavior) make this book a better choice in my mind for readers/listeners old enough to ponder on this without being overly disturbed.
Strawberry Girl does have a happy ending — almost unrealistically so. The crops do well, old enmities are forgotten as the Slaters embrace modern ways, and Mr. Slater even decides to embrace Jesus at a revival meeting and give up drinking. Miss M really liked how everything was wrapped up in a nice, happy way at the end of the book, but as an older reader it was hard for me to believe that everything could turn for the better so quickly. I suppose that is part of why it still falls into the children’s lit classification rather than a book for an even older audience.
Though I was worried that the “Florida Cracker” dialect (as the characters in the book even call themselves) would be difficult to manage, it wasn’t as difficult this time as I found it the first time around. I had the audio book on CD from the library “just in case” but I didn’t need it. 🙂 I found myself unconsciously correcting some of the non-standard grammar, but managed to mostly read it aloud as written.
Miss M gives this one “4 stars out of 5”, and I might rate it just a bit lower. It was enjoyable, but not a favorite. I did really enjoy the illustrations — Lois Lenski has a special place in my heart as she is the illustrator of one of my all-time favorite book series, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. 🙂 Miss M and I often commented how the characters in Strawberry Girl could be slightly less refined versions of Betsy, Tacy and company (who were set in about the same historical time period).