Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

This book is from Lois Lenski's Regional series, where she went to talk with/study kids in a certain part of the country and then wrote a book about them. This book is about the Florida backwoods. Written in the 1940's, this book won the Newbery award in 1946. I am a little on the fence about this book. It is about two familes, the Slaters and the Boyers and they bicker back and forth throughout the book. The Slater's have a drunk father and the Boyer's have a hardworking farmer father. I read this to the kids in bedtime installments a few weeks ago and they loved it, eagerly demanding the next few chapters. But I wasn't completely in love. It isn't saccharine as the cover might suggest, these are very interesting, flawed characters. There is some serious meanness and spitefulness in this book. Which is interesting. Not that I like mean books, but this is a much more accurate portrayal of the south than an white washed, kids bedtime version. But the storyline itself was a bit... well jagged at times. I have noticed that with several of Lois Lenski's other books. It was almost like she was trying to fit in a certain number of items and facts about the area and couldn't quite work them into the plot. So she just plugged them in anyway. Still, she won the Newbery for this, so clearly she knew what she was doing.

Also, all the characters have a hillbilly accent, which makes reading it a little difficult. I had to read slower to make sure I got in all the improper grammar use and southern hillbilly pronunciations that my mind automatically smooths out into normal grammar. But I guess it does add authenticity to the book.  

Birdie Boyer is the heroine of our book. 

The Boyer family moves into the old Rodenberry place, next door to the Sam Slater family. Here, Birdie is trying to spruce up the Slaters, a very poor, listless family. 

Birdie and Shoestring Slater strike up a friendship of sorts.

The Boyer's want to raise crops and the Slaters think they are ridiculous. Particularly Sam Slater who loves making trouble. Since Florida was free range at the time Slater lets his animals wander where they like, which was often the Boyer's painstakingly planted strawberry field.

The older Slater boys breaking up the school and beating up the teacher. I love the kids to the right, calmly leading the little kids out "If you would kindly step this way..."

Miss Dunnaway, who plays the organ at church and is Birdie's idol. 

After Bihu Boyer (Birdie's dad) fences in the strawberry field, Sam Slater tacks a warning note on the Boyer's porch warning of trouble if the fences (which block the quickest way to the lake) aren't taken down. 

Birdie rips it down before her father sees it and tells Shoestring his father is a coward for not coming and talking to her Dad.

The Boyer's, with hardwork and careful attention to what they spend can afford a few nice things. Meanwhile, the Slater family is buying the things they desperately need on credit, to be repaid that evening, when Sam Slater will pay the shopkeepers with the money he earned selling a steer.

Except he drank the money away. And Shoestring is forced to return all the merchandise to the shops. The Slater's, minus Sam, have to ask the Boyer's for a ride home. Poor Slaters. 

Florida summer heat

Since Sam Slater is unconcerned with most things except drink, Shoestring has plenty of time for catching animals, including big ole turtles.

The Boyer's have a cane grinding. Which seems a little similar to sugaring off parties of the north. The Slater's come and have a lovely time. Then on the way home, Sam Slater cuts all the brand new barb wire fence between each fence post. 

Bihu Boyer, puts new fence up. 

Working in the strawberry fields while Shoestring is out catching rattlesnakes. Birdie's mother solves the fence debacle by spreading flour over the strawberry plants when Sam Slater has his herd ready to trample the fences down on their way to water. Somehow, Sam Slater thinks the flour is poison. Not sure why. But it works. The Slaters take the long way around.

An alligator on the way to town.

Selling strawberries in town.

A grass fire comes too close to the Boyer's house and Birdie rushes to the Slater's for help. The Slater's aren't interested in helping because they helped set the fire. Mrs. Slater wants to help however. She is ordered back into the house for her pains. 

One night, while Sam Slater is off on a binge, Mrs. Slater takes ill and Shoestring comes to fetch Mrs. Boyer to help. Birdie goes with her and they end up staying for a week or two. 

Despite all that Sam Slater thinks up, Mrs. Boyer and Mrs. Slater become friends of sorts. Mrs. Boyer recognizes Mrs. Slater's hardship being married to Sam and does what she can to help. 

A traveling preacher visits while Mrs. Slater is sick in bed. 

Somehow, Sam Slater, while off on a binge finds religion. He is a reformed character. All is hunky-dory. Which is slightly suspect. I mean, it is too neat and tidy, just at the end of the book. It is almost like Lenski needed to resolve the conflict and this was the quickest way to do it. Sam Slater decides to sell his cattle herd and take a job at the phosphorous mines. So he will no longer be fighting with the Boyers. Ta-da! Slaters and Boyers, BFF's! 

Several people in the Amazon reviews of this book say that this book made them think more of the people who were poorer than they were and want to help them. Which is good. This book is actually a fairly good portrayal of poor folk of the time. But as the daughter of a social worker with 20 years experience, the Slater experience is incredibly rare. Alcoholics don't generally come to their senses in a short church service and quick cold turkey. But I guess there are a select few who do, so why couldn't Sam Slater?

Still, this is a good book, to learn about poor backwoods Florida Crackers (Crackers is used as a term of pride in this book. Like people calling themselves rednecks today, I guess.)  in this particular time period. 

(An interesting tidbit--Lenski says the term crackers apparently came from the large herds of cattle that were driven to market from the free range land of Florida and the drovers who cracked their whips over their back to keep them moving. Not sure if that is true or not.)

The lovely endpapers.


  1. The term "cracker" is not taken nicely in the South by whites. It's almost as bad as calling a black person a N--. Being from the North, I of course didn't have a clue. I remember one year at school there was a chili meal to raise money. There were a lot of leftover crackers and they were stored in my next-door-neighbor's classroom. I went in and said, "Can I get some crackers, Cracker Man?" The room went pretty still. I was still clueless why it went still, but had the wisdom to scuttle off with my box of crackers! haha

    1. Hahahah! I can only imagine the strained silence that was met with! :-) I was surprised that it was ever a term of pride. But hey! Times change!

  2. Oh this is awesome!!! Love your take on it! And yeah, I thought the same thing and was major LOL'ing - Oh so I guess the Bible will cure alcoholism lickety split, who knew? But um yeah, children's book so ok. We had such a great time with this story!!