Title: Strawberry Girl
Author: Lois Lenski
Published: 2005 Harper Trophy (orig. 1945)
Read For: School--Aloud to my kiddos
My Rating: 4 stars
Strawberry Girl won the Newbery Award in 1946, beating Justin Morgan had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. While I really enjoyed learning about the beginnings of Morgan horses, I can understand why Lois Lenski's book won the gold. Even with it's somewhat unrealistic happy ending, Strawberry Girl does a great job depicting life in Florida at the turn of the last century--a time when Florida was still the backwoods frontier land characteristic to the west 30-40 years prior. The forward begins:
Few people realize how new Florida is, or that, aside from the early Indian and Spanish settlements, Florida has grown up in the course of a single man's lifetime.
Admittedly, one of the reasons that I enjoyed this book was that I love well written dialect. I love to read it aloud. It makes me happy. If dialogue written in dialect is not your thing, you may have a difficult time with this book, because it is simply filled with it (or should I say "plumb filled"?) I knew I was in for a treat from the first page:
"She's got our markin' brand on her, Pa. A big S inside a circle," said Essie.
The man, Sam Slater, looked up. "Shore 'nough, so she has."
"She's headin' right for them orange trees, Pa," said Essie.
"Them new leaves taste mighty good, I reckon," replied her father. "She's hungry, pore thing!"
A clatter of dishes sounded from within the house and a baby began to cry.
"You'd be pore, too, did you never git nothin' to eat," said the unseen Mrs. Slater.
There was no answer.
Most of the book is consumed with a feud between neighbors: the Slaters and the Boyers. The Boyers are new to the area, and Slaters aren't too happy about that. Despite the sweet illustrations throughout, and the fact that it was written over 60 years ago, the book is not the innocent story you might expect. There is drinking and gambling, fighting and arguing; there are hateful words and actions. None of this behavior is condoned, and it is mostly isolated to interactions with the Slater family. Although those interactions make up the majority of the book, you aren't left with a feeling of hopelessness. Rather the opposite--it's never too late to make a change for the better. Thumbs up from my kiddos. We found it to be engaging and fun.
(cross posted at Fingers & Prose)