We’re reading this to my 4th and 5th grade Florida history co-op class and they seem to be enjoying it a great deal. Readers may recall that last semester we read The Lion’s Paw, another Florida classic children’s novel built on the life and topography of 1940’s Florida.
Strawberry Girl is probably one of the least childlike children’s book I have ever read (by post modern standards), but it’s a good book and not too heavy for children to read and enjoy.
Lois Lenski put a lot of time and research into the lives and culture of what are known as Florida Crackers. That is, native Floridians whose roots go much deeper than World War II. As described by Florida Backroads Travel:
He or she is from a family that was here long before the huge population explosions in Florida after World War Two. He or she is almost always Caucasian.
They and their ancestors lived in Florida and prospered before the days of cars, highways, mosquito control, air conditioning, medicare, social security and government welfare.
It is with this backdrop that Lois Lenski wrote Strawberry Girl, a tale of two Central Florida families whose heads bump heads. The new family in town, the Boyers, are farmers while the Slaters, who had lived on the neighboring property for generations, were cattlemen.
Before the Florida legislature passed a fencing law in 1949, cattlemen let their cows and other livestock roam pastures unhindered to graze wherever they desired. Florida was very active cattle country at the turn of the century and is still a big cattle raising state. These free roaming cattle often proved to be quite a nuisance to adjacent homesteaders whose income was derived primarily from agriculture.
When the Boyers, wearied by the Slaters cows and hogs trampling their strawberries and eating their other crops, decide to build a fence around their property, a feud breaks out between the two families. Since the Slaters found the Boyers’ “biggety’ ways distasteful from the very beginning, it was a long simmering fight which boils over when Bihu Boyer puts a sound whipping on Sam Slater after Slater poisons his mule. Things escalate even further after that, until Lenski wraps up the book with a neat and tidy religious conversion at the end leaving the reader to surmise that afterwards, the families will live side by side in peace.
One of the first hurdles to get over when reading books set in the old South, is the dialect. I mentioned this when I reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was written in black dialect not long after Reconstruction. Even though this particular book explores Cracker culture which is white, it was still poorer people speaking in a Southern dialect, which takes some getting used to. However, it is well worth getting over that hurdle:
“Thar goes our cow, Pa!” said the little girl.“Shore ‘nough, that do look like one of our cows, now don’t it?”The man tipped his slat-backed chair against the wall of the house. He spatacross the porch floor onto the sandy yard. His voice was a lazy drawl. He closed hiseyes again.“She 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.The sun shone with a brilliant glare. The white sand in the yard reflected thebright light and made the shade on the porch seem dark and cool.“She might could go right in and eat ’em, Pa,” said the little girl. Her voice wasslow, soft and sweet. Her face, hands and bare legs were dirty. At her feet lay somesticks and broken twigs with which she had been playing.Pa Slater did not open his eyes.
Grade level: 4th-6th
Content advisory: Violence, though mostly alluded to. Discussions of alcoholism, and killing of animals in retaliation. See full parental review of content at Plugged In.