Childrens Books

Book Review – Strawberry Girl

Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl is one of the classic Newbery Medal winners. Rewarded with the medal in 1946, it speaks of a time more familiar and current than today. Today, this rich novel opens the window to an era that few remember. It is one of many books Lenski has written with a focus on regional histories allowing young readers to get a glimpse of how American children lived in the early 20th century.

strawberry girl is an interesting read. At first glance, the title and cover photo of a young girl carrying a fruit basket may mislead the reader into thinking that this is a cute little story about a young girl who loves the strawberries. Conversely, the story is more about clashes and tribulations between farmers and herders, and how they resolved violent disputes, than about picking strawberries.

Strawberry Girl represents two families, the Boyers and the Slaters. The Boyers’ move from North Carolina to Florida to grow strawberries, sweet potatoes and harvest oranges. The Slaters are cattle ranchers and have long lived in central Florida. They don’t believe in putting up fences and they let their cattle roam all over the county even if it means destroying their neighbors’ crops. The two families argue throughout the book. The Slater family thinks the Boyers are “ruthlessness” because of the Boyer’s successful farming ventures. The Slaters’ routine is to sit and do nothing to improve their lifestyle.

This way of thinking creates hostile actions and feelings between the two families. The violence and drunkenness escalate throughout the story. This book can cross the line with many adults when the neighbors start killing each other’s animals in addition to the school teacher who gets beat up by the Slater boys. This incident forced the school to close for weeks. Certainly, a small discussion with young children can be desirable to explain why these incidents occurred.

Additionally, Lenski writes in a Florida outback dialect typical of the period, which might be too difficult for third and fourth graders to read. I think this story should be read aloud to get the full effect of what the southern dialogue sounded like. For example, talk like

“Ha-ha! No dog! It’s a raccoon. and “I’m going to bother you again, I’m waiting for you.”

However, I don’t believe this book won the Newbery Award for its depiction of aggression. Times were tough in the early 1900s and conflict resolution then is not typical of today. Strawberry Girl explains the daily activities of the Boyer family. A young reader can learn exactly how to grind sugar cane and shoot it for fun later. The book also explains details of Florida weather in spring and summer. In addition, it explains in detail how to raise strawberries in sandy soil. Part of the charm of this mid-level novel is in describing how Florida’s old pioneers did it.

Strawberry Girl is a very well written novel about hard times. It accurately describes a true-to-life pioneering adventure.

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