I’m participating this year in Amy’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge. March was the 1940’s with lots of good books to choose from, many that we’ve already read as a family or that I read as a kid (My Father’s Dragon, Seabird, Misty of Chincoteague, The Hundred Dresses, These Happy Golden Years, Rufus M., The Middle Moffat, Little Town on the Prairie, and The Long Winter).
I was tempted at first to re-read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I’m not sure why but it was a favorite of mine as a girl. I remember it being very sad but that I liked to read it over and over, and kind of wallow in the sadness. I may still re-read it. I’m curious if I’ll experience it the same way as an adult. However, for the challenge I wanted to read something new so I chose Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl. I had previously known Lenski mainly from her illustrations of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and I was curious to read something authored by her as well.
Strawberry Girl is one in a series of books Lenski wrote about children in different regional areas of the US. It takes place in backwoods Florida in the early 1900s. Birdie Boyer’s family are newcomers to the area and almost immediately are off on the wrong foot with their neighbor’s the Slaters. The Slaters see the Boyers as being “uppity” and having all kinds of strange ideas like feeding their livestock (instead of letting them run wild through the pine woods). Lenski does a great job of portraying life realistically for these pioneer families. The Boyers are slightly better off than the Slaters but are still obviously very poor. Unusually for children’s literature, the feud between the neighbors is ugly and long. There is also a lot that is familiar to anyone who has read Caddie Woodlawn or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. (Did every pioneer school have an episode where two big boys try and beat up the young teacher?)
Overall, I liked the book. I think it would be a difficult read-aloud because of the backwoods dialect that the characters use. It also might be a difficult book for younger kids to read for the same reason. But it gives an overall realistic picture of life in one area of the country around the early 1900s. I did find the ending to be a bit forced. (Spoiler: There is a religious conversion of one character.) The feud is a little too neatly and quickly resolved to ring true. That one false note stands out only because the rest of the book seems so believable.
For more Newbery reviews from the 1940s, stop by Hope is the Word. And why not join in? May is the 1950s….there are sure to be lots of great books to choose from.