The land was theirs, but so were its hardships. Ten-year-old Birdie Boyer can hardly wait to start picking strawberries. But her family has just moved to the Florida backwoods, and they haven't even begun their planting. Making the new farm prosper is not easy. There is heat to suffer through, and droughts, and cold snaps. And, perhaps most worrisome of all for the Boyers, there are rowdy neighbors, just itching to start a feud.
Original publication date
Miss Liddy hurried over. "The Crackers are coming," she explained."Just cowmen with their cattle! Hear how they crack their long, rawhide whips. They're driving a big herd to market at Tampa, to ship to Cuba most likely. Probably came from way up yonder by Jacksonville, buyin' up beef cattle all along the way." She paused. "Folks born in Florida or who have lived here a long time are called Crackers- after the cowmen."
"We're Crackers!" said Birdie proudly. "We was born in Marion County!"
This book reminded me strongly of the Little House books, both in content and in writing style. Characters speak in the vernacular, which may present a challenge for some readers. The ending seemed rather deus ex machina to me. Still, I would probably recommend this to readers of all ages who can't get enough frontier fiction.
I finally had an excuse to read Strawberry Girl last spring for an adolescent literature course assignment, wherein we had to read a Newbery Award winner and give a presentation. I hadn't thought about Lois Lenski in years, but browsing the list of titles, I was reminded by how often I had almost read Strawberry Girl as a kid, so I decided to finally do so. I really loved the book, though not as much as I like Indian Captive or another novel set on a Florida farm, Tangerine.
Just the other day, I was picking through my books to give some to a friend's kids and decided to read this one again. It was a quick read, and I managed it during my breaks over only two days, but I feel that I have a much different response to it than when I read it last year. I still like it, but I noticed a lot more that struck me as being very "1940s children's book".
The story can be summed up fairly simply: it's a slice of life sort of plot about two neighboring families in Polk County, Florida (as stated on page 75 in my copy) sometime between 1895 and 1902. The story begins with the Boyers moving into their new home, and it ends about a year later, with them having established a strawberry field and having received the profits from the first crop. The primary conflicts are between the Boyer family and the Slater family, who have lived in the same house for upwards of four generations and who are not very well pleased with the new way of farming that the Slaters have. Of course, at the end of the book, the Slaters have decided to give up their old ways and become more modern/civilized.
I have to admit that both times I've read this book, I got really sad around the end, when the Slaters decide to give up being cowmen and fence in their land, on account of the phosphorous company building fences anyway and destroying the land in order to get to the phosphorous. Even though this is about events a century ago, it's very much like what's going on more recently with the enormous growth in Florida, which is making the wild bits fewer and farther between. I grew up down here and my mom's family were Crackers just like the Boyers and Slaters, and I have such a love for the wild bits of Florida. It's just so dang beautiful, all the Spanish swords and live oaks and gators and armadillos and everything. So the end of the book, with the foreshadowing of the development of the state that was already in full-swing by the time Lois Lenski wrote about it in 1945, just makes my heart near to breaking.
Speaking of the development of Florida that goes on in the book, it's also the people who get civilized. I'm not sure that I'm so pleased with this aspect of the book, because it really plays up the stereotypes of Crackers. Not only do you get a really strong (and possibly off-putting, for some folks) written dialect whenever anyone speaks, but it's the family from up North who brings modernization and cleanliness and change (and even religion, for goodness sake) to the slow, lazy, ornery, and dirty folks from the South - even though the Northern family are poor farmers themselves, hailing from Marion County, Fla., via the Carolinas. One of the opening scenes has Birdie Boyer (the girl through whom the story is told) combing the Slater girls' hair - the Slater girls who had never seen a comb or mirror before in their lives! The final chapter has the schoolteacher correcting the children's speech even, which also bothered me, but then, I relished every use of "fixin" and "ary" and "studyin", because that's how my grandparents and their siblings talk, and though I grew up in a more urban area where the dialect has grown more like the standard US one, I find myself lapsing into those patterns when spending any time with my family.
So I'm not at all happy with the general movement of the story, with the whole colonialization thing, to use one of the words I learned from literary criticism classes. But I love the descriptions of the region, and I love reading the dialect (though many won't), and I love that this is a book about rural Florida. I can't say how many books I read as a kid that took place up North or out West, but I don't think I found hardly any that had the South for their settings, much less Florida. So even though I'm not well pleased with the theme of the plot itself, I love this book, and I think I'm not going to keep it for a while yet.
A note: the illustrations are more creepy than charming, looking through them again. Shoestring's face is so oddly drawn!
Personal reaction: I enjoyed this book very much, It was difficult at first because of the way they talked. But i did enjoy reading it.
Classroom Extension: I could ask the kids if they had nice neighbors and if they got along with them. Also, I could ask if the kids could do what the people did in this book.
Birdie and her family have moved to the Florida backwoods. They settle down in the Roddenburry house and start a strawberry farm. Their next door neighbor, Sam Slater, the father of 6 children always gets drunk and is always angry.
One of the most interesting things about this book is the information it provides about a place and time in American history. I also enjoyed watching how enemies became friendly neighbors, just by doing what was right.
1. Grow an indoor (small) strawberry garden for a science lesson.
2. Have the students talk about if any have became friends with an enemy and if so, how was the issues resolved.
Spoiler alert: I didn't enjoy the fact that the drunken Slater father was saved so quickly by the self-righteous, gluttonous preacher who ate all of the family's chicken, leaving none for the hungry children.
In Strawberry Girl, Lois Lensky painted a detailed picture of the lives of Floridians in the middle 1900’s. It is astonishing to realize that not so many years ago, people were still speaking so poorly and education level so low in so many areas of the United States. While the story accurately depicts the time, the dialect may cause many younger readers to stumble loosing much of the story. This is an excellent read-aloud and better for later elementary due to the feud and the dialect. The e-book contains an illustrated biography of Lenski and presents an old classic in a different format.
Received Galley from NetGalley.com
Personal Reaction: I enjoyed this book, it was a little hard to understand at first, probably because I'm not use to that kind of talk. But all in all I really enjoyed this book.
Classroom Extension Idea: 1. I could ask the kids if they could do all that the people in this book did. 2. I could ask the kids if they had nice neighbors and got along with them.
The level of animal neglect and abuse, the meaness, revenge, vindictive nature of the characters were a major turn off to me as an adult. I can't imagine why I loved it as a kid.