Strawberry Girl, p.1Lois Lenski
written and illustrated by LOIS LENSKI
For two little Florida friends, Betty Anne King and Barbara Smith
Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski
CHAPTER I Callers
CHAPTER II Fences
CHAPTER III School
CHAPTER IV Hogses
CHAPTER V Overalls
CHAPTER VI The Storm
CHAPTER VII Cane Grinding
CHAPTER VIII Cattle
CHAPTER IX Strawberries
CHAPTER X Alligator
CHAPTER XI Spotted Calf
CHAPTER XII Grass Fire
CHAPTER XIII Brown Mule
CHAPTER XIV The Preacher
CHAPTER XV New Organ
A Biography of Lois Lenski
Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski
THE BIG EVENT OF THE 1940s was the award of the Newbery Medal to Strawberry Girl in 1946. No one was more astonished than I to receive it. Had it been given to my book Indian Captive, the Story of Mary Jemison, which I considered my major and most scholarly work, I would not have been surprised. I had envisioned a series of Regional books, for I knew there were many regions little known and neglected in children’s books. The series was barely started, and I had already daringly broken down a few unwritten taboos, I had written more plainly and realistically than other children’s authors, I had taken my material and my characters direct from real life instead of from the imagination, and my Regionals were not yet entirely accepted or approved. I was an innovator and a pioneer in a new direction, and I knew I had a long and difficult task ahead to earn the acceptance which I was not expecting so soon. But the award focused national attention on Strawberry Girl and the books to follow, so I was very grateful.
The convention of the American Library Association was held at Buffalo that year, and at various meetings and receptions, I received invitations from librarians to go to many parts of the country—Seattle, Utah, California, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota—to write about their region. Afterwards, the award brought much publicity, including requests for personal interviews and radio appearances, for personal appearances at libraries and schools, most of which I was unable to accept. Those that I did accept were strenuous and wearing, and I was glad when the flurry subsided, and I could retire to private life again.
An entire book could be written about my experiences in other regions during the 1950s—in San Angelo, Texas, for Texas Tomboy, in Perry, Oklahoma, for Boom Town Boy, in McLaughlin, South Dakota, for Prairie School, in Remsen, Iowa, for Corn Farm Boy, and other places. The list goes on and on, always a new environment and way of life to be studied, and always good people who shared the intimacy of their lives with me, each region more exciting and stimulating than the last, each region calling for one’s deepest powers of observation, understanding, and compassion.
As soon as I return from a region, I have a big job to do. I have to copy all the notes I have taken, classifying them under various headings, making them readily and quickly accessible. Then I make an outline for my story, listing the various incidents I wish to include under the different chapter headings. I write my text in longhand first, and often revise it in longhand, then revise again as I type it. (The subject has, of course, been approved by the editor in advance.) I send the typed manuscript in, to be read and approved, copyedited (improving or disapproving of my punctuation!) and sent to the printer to be set into type. If any changes are suggested by the editor, the manuscript or portions of it may be returned to me for this purpose. If any changes in format are contemplated, I am always consulted. For many years, with Lippincott, I worked directly with the head of the manufacturing department in planning all details of type and format. It was in this way that a beautiful format was devised for the Regionals.
While the manuscript is at the printers, while I am waiting for the galley proofs, having kept a carbon of the manuscript, I am working on the illustrations. For the Regionals, these are graphite pencil drawings on 3-ply Bristol board, and are reproduced by high-light halftone offset. The drawings for the Roundabouts are ink drawings, reproduced by letterpress.
When the galley proofs reach me, two sets are sent, one for me to read and correct, and to answer editorial or printers’ queries; the other set for me to cut up and paste into a blank dummy, allowing space on the proper page for each illustration, of which I usually make about fifty.
After I wrap up a large package containing original manuscript, the original illustrations, corrected galley proofs, and the printer’s dummy and ship it to the publishers, my work on a book is finished. The rest is up to the publisher. I see and hear nothing more until months later, when a book package arrives out of the blue, containing the first copy, hot off the press, for me to hold in my hands and marvel at. There is no other thrill so great for an author-illustrator as seeing the first copy of a book he has labored over and believed in and deeply loved.
From Journey Into Childhood by Lois Lenski © 1972 by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic for the Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Inc.
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. In the early 1900’s, the date of my story, Florida was still frontier country, with vast stretches of unexplored wilderness, woodland and swamp, and her towns were frontier towns thirty and forty years later than the same frontier period in the Middle West.
After the Seminole War, 1835–1842, Anglo-Saxons from the Carolinas, Georgia and West Florida drifted south and took up land in the lake region of Florida. Then began a bitter struggle with the environment. Their descendants, in the second and third generation, were, in 1900 and the following decade, just prior to the coming of the automobile, living in a frontier community, with all its crudities, brutalities and cruelties. The “Crackers” lived a primitive life, an endless battle went on—a conflict with nature, with wild life, and with their fellow men. Their life was replete with drama, and being people of character and dignity, they lived it, and still live it, with vigor.
Like their antecedents in the Carolina mountains, the Florida Crackers have preserved a flavorsome speech, rich in fine old English idiom—word, phrase and rhythm. Many old customs, folk songs and superstitions have been handed down along with Anglo-Saxon purity of type, shown in their unusual beauty of physical feature, and along with their staunch integrity of character.
Here then, in the Florida backwoods, a world exists, which few people, town residents or northern tourists, see, realize or even suspect. Many who see it fail sadly to understand it. Here is a real and authentic corner of the American scene, a segment of American life.
In this series of regional books for American children, I am trying to present vivid, sympathetic pictures of the real life of different kinds of Americans, against authentic backgrounds of diverse localities. We need to know our country better; to know and understand people different from ourselves; so that we can say: “This then is the way these people lived. Because I understand it, I admire and love them.” Is not this a rich heritage for our American children?
My material has been gathered personally from the Crackers themselves, and from other Floridians who know and understand them. I have visited in Cracker homes. I have made many sketches of people, animals, the natural surroundings, their homes—plans, furnishings and details. I have come to know, understand and respect many of these people, and to number them among my friends. All the characters in my book are imaginary, but practically all incidents used were told to me by people who had experienced them. Many were to
I have consulted the WPA Florida Guide Book; The History of Polk County; Florida in the Making by Stockbridge and Perry; Palmetto Country by Stetson Kennedy; Four Centuries of Florida Ranching and other volumes.
I wish to extend my thanks to many Florida friends, among them members of the Sorosis Club in Lakeland, for their generous help.
LAKELAND, FLORIDA—Winters of 1942–44 and 1943–44 GREENACRES, HARWINTON, CONNECTICUT—Summer and Fall of 1944
“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 spat across the porch floor onto the sandy yard. His voice was a lazy drawl. He closed his eyes again.
“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.
The sun shone with a brilliant glare. The white sand in the yard reflected the bright 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 was slow, soft and sweet. Her face, hands and bare legs were dirty. At her feet lay some sticks and broken twigs with which she had been playing.
Pa Slater did not open his eyes.
“Pa,” Essie went on in a more lively tone, “iffen that cow laps her tongue around the new leaves, she’ll twist the bark loose and pull it off. Do we not stop her, she might could eat up all them orange trees.”
The man spat, then resumed his dozing position. “I don’t reckon so,” he said slowly.
“Iffen she goes in that orange grove, them new folks will …”
The legs of the man’s chair came down on the porch floor with a thump. He opened his eyes. “What new folks?”
“Them new folks what moved in the ole Roddenberry house,” said Essie.
“New folks in that big ole house? Who tole you?” His staring gray eyes fixed themselves on the pale blue ones of his daughter.
“Jeff done tole me,” said Essie. Although she was only seven, she was not afraid of her father. “They been here most a month already. They come in a big wagon. They moved in while you was away, Pa. We watched ’em unload.”
“You did, eh?” growled Pa Slater. “You let ’em see you?”
“No.” Essie smiled knowingly. “We hid in the palmettos, Pa. We got us a tunnel to hide in.”
Her father grinned back at her. “Who be they?”
“Jeff says …”
Mrs. Slater, within, interrupted. “Name’s Boyer. The man’s a Caroliny feller.”
“Why ain’t you done tole me?”
“’Cause you been gone away for so long.”
“Got kids?” asked Slater.
“Regular strawberry family, jedgin’ from the size of it—six or seven young uns, I reckon.”
Mrs. Slater’s reply was followed by the clatter of dishes and the crying of the baby. A smaller girl, about five, came out and climbed up on her father’s lap.
“They got a gal …” began Essie. She looked at her father’s frowning face and paused. In her mind she carried a bright picture of the new Boyer girl whom she hoped to have for a friend. She did not want it spoiled.
“Pa, our cow’s done gone in their grove,” she said again. “I’ll go chase her out.” She started down the steps.
“You come right back here and set down, young un,” called Slater. “Let that cow go where she’s a mind to.” He tipped his chair back again lazily and closed his eyes.
“She might hurt them orange trees,” ventured Essie, “and make trouble for us, Pa.”
“Then they’ll know they got neighbors!” Pa spat, and a wide grin spread over his face.
“Trouble!” he added softly. “You mighty right, gal young un. That skinny little ole cow’s jest bound to make trouble!”
IT WAS A BRIGHT morning in early April. Birds were chirping and singing in the shady trees. A barelegged ten-year-old girl came out on the front porch. She watered the plants in the lard buckets there. She picked off a dead leaf or two.
“Ma!” she called. “The pink geranium’s a-bloomin’. Come see it. Hit shore is purty!”
Mrs. Boyer came out, drying her hands on her apron.
“Come down here, Ma, and look,” begged the girl.
The woman came down the steps and stood at her side. The girl’s brown hair was braided in two braids, looped up. Her eyes were big in her pointed face. She looked much like her mother.
“Ain’t them right purty, Ma? I jest got to come out first thing in the mornin’ and look at ’em.”
“Purty, yes!” agreed her mother. “But lookin’ at posies don’t git the work done.” She hurried back up the steps.
“Did I get some blue paint and paint the lard buckets, Ma, they’d look a sight purtier, wouldn’t they?”
“Blue lard buckets!” laughed the woman. “Never heard of sich as that!” She disappeared in the house.
The girl took up a long broom made of brush—branches from a tree—and swept the yard clean. Its hard smooth surface felt good to her feet. Then she knelt in the path and began to set a row of bricks at an angle, to make a neat border. “I’ll plant my amaryllis bulbs in the flower bed right here,” she said to herself.
She stood up, her arms akimbo.
“Land sakes, somebody’s comin’!” she called. “Ma! Callers!”
“Law me!” cried Mrs. Boyer, peeping out. “The Slaters! And my breakfast dishes not done.”
The girl stared at the little procession.
Mrs. Slater, tall, thin and angular, carrying her baby like a sack of potatoes on her hip, was followed by the two little girls, Essie and Zephy. Some distance behind, as if curious yet half-unwilling to be one of the party, came a lanky twelve-year-old boy wearing a broad-brimmed black felt hat. The woman and children plowed the loose, dry sand with their bare feet. With each step forward, they seemed to slip a trifle backward, so their progress was slow. Bushy scrub oaks and a thicket of palmetto grew on the far side of the rough path, while a forest of tall pines rose in the distance.
The old Roddenberry house was not old enough to deserve to be called old. It had been built in the 1880’s, the earliest type of Florida pioneer home. Deserted by the Roddenberrys after the Big Freeze of 1895, it had stood empty for some years, but showed few signs of neglect. The sturdy pine and cypress wood which had gone into its making were equal to many more years of Florida sun, rain, wind and heat.
The house was a simple one, but by backwoods standards a mansion. It was a double-pen plank house, with an open hall or breezeway in the middle. On one side was a bedroom, on the other the kitchen. Behind were two small shed rooms used for sleeping quarters. Wide porches spread across front and back.
The Slaters approached the picket fence timidly, staring with all eyes. Mrs. Slater opened the gate.
The girl in the path spoke first.
“Hey!” came the feeble response.
The girl tipped her head and smiled. “My name’s Birdie Boyer,” she said. “Come in and see Ma.”
She led the way onto the front porch and across the breezeway. The boy did not come in.
“Shore can!” said Mrs. Boyer heartily. “Ary time you need somethin’, you call on me and welcome. That’s what neighbors is for. Mighty nice to be near enough for neighborin’.”
They sat down stiffly. An awkward silence fell.
“We had sich a heap o’ work to do, to git this ole place fixed up,” began Mrs. Boyer. “We ain’t what you might call settled yet. Them Roddenberrys …”
“They got froze out in the Big Freeze,” said Mrs. Slater. “They went back to wherever it was they come from. All their orange trees got bit back to the ground by the frost. Ain’t no use messin’ with oranges here. Hit’s too cold in the wintertime.”
“But the trees were seedlings,” said Mrs. Boyer, “and they’ve come up again from the roots. When we git ’em pruned good and the moss cleaned out, they’ll make us a fine grove.”
“I got me a orange tree,” said Birdie, “’bout so high.” She raised her hand to a height of about three feet. “I planted a bunch of seeds from an orange once. This seedling was the strongest—it come from the king seed. We brung it along with us and I planted it where the water drips from the pump. Soon I’ll be pickin’ my own oranges!”
“Yes, soon we’ll be pickin’ oranges to sell,” added her mother.
“To sell?” asked Mrs. Slater in surprise.
“Yes, ma’am. We’re studyin’ to sell oranges and strawberries and sweet ’taters and sich and make us a good livin’.”
“Sell things? Messin’ with things to sell?” said Mrs. Slater. “Then you’ll purely starve to death. Why, nothin’ won’t grow here in Floridy. The only way we-uns can git us a livin’ is messin’ with cows and sellin’ ’em for beef.”
“We’re studyin’ to always have us a few cows too, and cowpen the land. We git real benefit from our cattle, usin’ ’em for beef and fertilizer, and for milk and butter too,” said Mrs. Boyer.
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