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Strawberry Girl

Strawberry Girl

Strawberry Girl

4/5 (35 ratings)
208 pages
2 hours
Dec 27, 2011


The Newbery Medal–winning childhood classic of life on a Florida farm—part of the Regional series from the author of the Mr. Small picture books.
 Birdie and her family are trying to build a farm in Florida. But it’s not easy with the heat, droughts, and cold snaps—and neighbors that don’t believe in fences. But Birdie won’t give up on her dream of strawberries, and her family won’t let those Slaters drive them from their home! This Newberry Medal–winning novel presents a realistic picture of life on the Florida frontier. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Lois Lenski including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.
Dec 27, 2011

About the author

Born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1893, Lois Lenski achieved acclaim as both an author and illustrator of children’s literature. For her Regional America series, Lenski traveled to each of the places that became a subject of one of her books. She did meticulous research and spoke with children and adults in the various regions to create stories depicting the lives of the inhabitants of those areas. Her novel of Florida farm life, Strawberry Girl, won the Newbery Award in 1946. She also received a Newbery Honor in 1942 for Indian Captive, a fictionalized account of the life of Mary Jemison. Lenski died in 1974.

Book Preview

Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski




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.

Can I borrow a cup o’ sugar, ma’am? inquired Mrs. Slater.

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.

Why, them scrubby little ole woods cows don’t give enough milk to bother with milkin’ ’em, laughed Mrs. Slater.

Where we come from, said Mrs. Boyer slowly, "we feed our cows."

Feed ’em! Mrs. Slater laughed a shrill laugh. With all the grass they is to eat? Where you folks come from anyway?

We come from Marion County last month, said Mrs. Boyer. We come there in a covered wagon from Caroliny ’bout ten year ago.

Silence fell. Mrs. Slater’s girls stared, tongue-tied, at the new girl.

What’s the matter with ’em, ma’am, they don’t talk? Birdie asked their mother.

Ain’t nothin’ the matter with ’em but meanness, snapped Mrs. Slater.

Birdie took the little girls by the hand and led them out to the back porch. Here, her little brother, aged two, was playing in the water in the basin on the wash-shelf. A comb hung by a string from the porch post.

What’s that? asked Essie, pointing.

What—this? Why, a comb! exclaimed Birdie. Lemme comb out your hair.

We ain’t got us a comb, but Ma uses a shucks brush sometimes, said Zephy.

The two little girls sat down on the top step. Birdie began to comb out their short, straggly hair. Combed smooth, it looked soft and pretty, curling up at the ends. In the bright sunshine, it shone like warm, glistening silver. Birdie brought the washbasin and washed their thin, pale faces. Their features were fine, their eyes blue as cornflowers.

What’s his name? asked Essie, pointing to the little brother.

Robert, but we call him Bunny, said Birdie. We all got us pet names. My big brother’s name’s Bihu, same as Pa, so we jest call him Buzz. My other brother’s Daniel Alexander or jest plain Dan. My big sister’s Dixie Lee Francine—we call her Dixie. My little sister’s Dovey Eudora—we call her Dovey or Dove—she’s asleep now. Me—I’m Berthenia Lou, but Pa calls me Birdie, ’cause he says I look like a little bird. Sometimes he calls me his little wren.

The lanky boy had ventured round the house and now stood staring.

"What’s your name?" asked Birdie.

Jefferson Davis Slater, he said gruffly.

Purty good name, said Birdie.

All but the Slater, said the boy, biting his lips.

Was he ashamed of his family? Birdie wondered. What they call you—Jeff?

Naw. Shoestring—’count of I’m so long and thin. Never couldn’t git no fat to my bones.

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What people think about Strawberry Girl

35 ratings / 21 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    When I was a kid, I loved Lois Lenski's Indian Captive so much that it got checked out of the library about every three or four trips - and we visited biweekly. I always wanted to read other books of hers, especially Strawberry Girl because it was about a girl growing up in Florida and I have always had a lot of pride in my Floridian heritage, but whenever I got to the shelf with the L's, I always ended up picking Indian Captive again.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!
  • (5/5)
    Birdie moves to Florida with her family to build a farm, battling weather and neighbors opposing fences. With work and neighborly effort, Birdie’s family finally makes the strawberry crop into profits and settles things with the neighbors. The book contains descriptions of poor choices between the neighbors and the parents, as well as the strong dialect of the day. 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
  • (1/5)
    I loved this book as a child in the late 60s, and then re-visited it in my early 50s and was so let down.

    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.
  • (4/5)
    This is such a pleasant book, although, I am afraid if teachers and parents don't prepare their children for the dialect used in here, kids would have a hard time reading it. However, I think the dialect Lenski uses really makes the characters unique, and I think it also adds to the conflicts experienced between the Boyers and Slaters. This story always teaches the lesson of perseverance, and we see the frustrations of all of the characters when things don't always go smoothly. I plan on reading the rest of Lenski's series once I finish my first challenge of all the Newberry Awards! However, this book ranks right up there as one of the best Newberry Award winners.
  • (4/5)
    One of the most interesting things about this book is the information it provides about a place and time in American history. The writing includes regional dialect and word usage that might prove difficult at first, but gives an essential flavor to the story. I also enjoyed watching how enemies became friendly neighbors, just by doing what was right.
  • (4/5)
    A classic that should be read by all ,this book provided a refreshing look back in time when right was right and wrong was wrong. Although today's children may need a little historical background before reading this book, it will provide a link to an important part of American history. It was very interesting to read of Lois Lenski's life as an illustrator and children's author.