Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Strawberry Girl 60th Anniversary Edition (Trophy Newbery)

Strawberry Girl 60th Anniversary Edition (Trophy Newbery)

Lois Lenski
Illustrator:   Lois Lenski 
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 1995   ISBN: 0064405850

When Birdie Boyer and her family move into the old Roddenberry House, they are full of hope for the future. They are going to plant a grove of orange trees and a field of strawberry plants, and they are going to make “a good livin’” off the land. When Mrs. Slater, the neighbor, comes to borrow a cup of sugar, she thinks that the Boyers are crazy to plant oranges and strawberries. In her opinion “nothin’ won’t grow here in Floridy,” and she thinks that the Boyers are being “biggety” because they have a cloth on their kitchen table, a comb to keep their hair neat, and because they feed their livestock. She leaves the Boyer home in a huff, and from then on the relationship between the two families goes steadily downhill.

The first real trouble they have is when the Slater cows, who roam where they wish, get into the orange grove and nibble away at the tender orange trees. The Boyers quickly set about building fences around their fields so that their crops are protected from the Slater cows. Jefferson Davis Slater (who is also called Shoestring) warns that “nothin’ riles Pa more’n a fence.” He is of the opinion that his father will get angry when he sees the fences that the Boyers have built.

It turns out that Shoestring is right. Mr. Slater is used to being able to let his cows and hogs go wherever they wish, and he is not happy when the Boyerr make it clear that Slater animals are not welcome on their land. When the Slater hogs get into the Boyer’s crops one too many times, Mr. Boyer sends a message to the Slaters that they better keep their hogs away. He cuts off the tips of the hogs ears.

Though the Boyers want to “live peaceable,” with the Slaters, the divide between the two families gets wider and wider, and Birdie begins to fear that the disagreement will end with Mr. Slater burning down their home.

This book won the Newbery Award in 1946, and though the world has changed a lot since then, the story still resonates with readers today. Lois Lenski gives her readers a picture of what it was like to live in the Florida backwoods at the turn of the century. The Florida “Crackers” had a hard time scrapping a living from the land. They were tough, resistant to change, and they often lived a very primitive existence.

Today the Florida described in this book no longer exists, but there are still places where change is looked upon with suspicion, and where people cling to what they know because the future scares them, just as the Slaters do in this story.