Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
The Boyer family moves from the mountains of northern Florida to the state’s southern lakes area in the early 1900s. They raise cattle, tend an orange grove and plant a variety of crops — including strawberries. There are five children in the family. Ten-year-old Birdie (nicknamed “Strawberry Girl” by the end of the book) is the middle child. Birdie likes the organ music at church and dreams of playing the organ. She attends the community’s school with two of her siblings and becomes friends with 12-year-old Jefferson Davis Slater (also known as Shoestring) and his younger siblings.
When a bad storm damages one of their buildings, they sell strawberries and oranges to support themselves. The family’s biggest challenge is its closest neighbor, the Slater family. Accustomed to having open land for his cattle to roam, Sam Slater doesn’t keep them off the Boyer property or from trampling their fields and crops. Birdie’s father warns Sam to keep the animals off his property, but the Slater family ignores the warning.
First, Shoestring’s horse gets into the Boyer family’s strawberry fields, and then the Boyers find the Slaters’ cows in the orange grove. The Boyers build a fence, but the Slaters’ hogs still manage to get onto the Boyers’ property. Birdie’s father and Sam talk about the hogs, but Sam doesn’t say he will keep them off the Boyer property. When the Slaters’ hogs wander onto the Boyer property once again, Birdie’s father cuts off the tips of one of the hog’s ears. To retaliate, Sam has Shoestring leave a threatening note on the Boyers’ door. Birdie and Shoestring brainstorm together on how they can keep the hogs off the Boyer property so their fathers won’t fight.
On a trip to town, Birdie’s father buys barbed wire to build another fence. On that same trip, the Boyer family gives Shoestring, his mother and his younger siblings a ride home from town.
After the Boyers build the fence, the Slaters cut the wires so their cattle can roam again. The next time Birdie’s father goes to town, he and Sam get into a fistfight, and Birdie’s father once again warns Sam to keep his animals off the Boyers’ property. Birdie’s father builds the fence yet again, but the Slater family still tries to get their cattle past it. This time, the Boyer family is ready for them, and Birdie’s mother prevents the Slaters from cutting the fence.
When one of the Boyer cows has a heifer, the animal goes missing. Birdie discovers the heifer at the Slater house, and it has the Slater brand on it. When the Slaters’ hogs start getting on the Boyer property once again, Birdie’s father does more than notch one of the hog’s ears — he slaughters some of them. Two of the Slater girls bring over another threatening note from Sam. Soon after that, Birdie’s mother finds their mule dead in their field. Sam eventually sets a prairie fire in an attempt to force the Boyer family to leave. The prairie fire burns the schoolhouse, but the Boyer family is able to protect their house from the fire.
Even as the men quarrel, Birdie and her mother reach out to the Slater family and try to build a positive relationship with their neighbors. Shoestring’s mother sometimes blames the Boyer family for her family’s troubles. She is also bothered by the things the Boyers have that her family doesn’t have and wonders how the Boyer family will be able to do the farming they want to do. At the same time, she visits the Boyer family and asks for help when she needs it. Birdie and her mother are hospitable to Shoestring’s mother and the family when they stop by to visit. They also share food supplies with the Slaters and help nurse Shoestring’s mother and her children back to health when they are sick.
A traveling preacher finally brings peace and reconciliation to the men when Sam has what is described as a conversion experience at a meeting. Sam tells his family and the Boyers that he wants to be a better husband, father and neighbor. A new company has come to town, so Sam plans to work for it and sell some of the cattle. Birdie’s parents surprise her with a new organ for the family.
There is a community church in town, and the Boyers attend. The congregation sings hymns, accompanied by an organ. The Slater family also attends church. Birdie’s mother refers to the Lord as she cares for Shoestring’s mother and siblings when they are sick. A traveling preacher stops at the Slater house for food and lodging before he has his meetings. While he is at the house, the preacher prays twice with those there. Sam has a conversion experience and talks about being changed by the Spirit. The adults thank God for the change in Sam.
Birdie’s mother is hospitable to the Slaters when they come to visit. When Birdie’s parents see that Shoestring, his mother and younger siblings don’t have a ride home from town, they offer to take the Slaters home. Birdie’s mom gives Shoestring’s mother a hug, even though she is blaming the Boyer family for her situation. When the Slater family invites the Boyers over for a chicken pilau meal, Birdie’s mother initially hesitates because of everything Sam has done. She then changes her mind and attends the party.
When Shoestring asks the Boyer family for help because his mother and siblings are sick and his father is gone, Birdie and her mother immediately respond. When the traveling pastor stops at the Slater house requesting food and lodging while Sam is gone, Shoestring’s mother is hospitable. Birdie’s mother gets food from her own house to help with the meal since the Slaters’ pantry is low.
Birdie’s father wants to be kind toward his neighbors, but fiercely protects his family, land and livestock. Birdie’s mother chides her husband for the fighting between him and Sam and apologizes to Shoestring’s mother for her husband killing three of the Slaters’ hogs. Birdie’s parents are affectionate with their kids.
Shoestring’s mother is sometimes curt with the Boyer family. However, she also turns to them for comfort and accepts help when it is offered. Shoestring’s mother wants to help the Boyers put out the prairie fire when Birdie comes to them for help. She starts to go with Birdie, but her husband stops her.
Shoestring’s father gambles, drinks and gets drunk. He cuts the Boyers’ fence and poisons the Boyers’ mule in revenge. He starts the prairie fire and won’t help put it out when it gets close the Boyers’ house. He often leaves his family alone at home for days at a time. He doesn’t feed his animals but lets them wander to find their own food. He sometimes attends church. When Sam finds the Boyer family caring for his sick wife and kids, he is initially angry that they are in the house but later expresses his thanks to them for helping the family. After his conversion, Sam’s attitude and demeanor change. Taking care of his family becomes a priority for him. He wants to be at peace with his neighbors.
The preacher prays for the Slaters when Shoestring’s mother says they are sick, and then he prays again right before he leaves. He invites the mothers to bring their families to the meetings the next week. The preacher also yells at Shoestring when Shoestring comments on him eating all of their food and says the boy should be whipped.
When the schoolteacher attempts to use corporal punishment with Gus and Joe, the boys beat up the teacher, but no graphic details are included. There is a dogfight in town. Sam shoots off all of his chickens’ heads when he is drunk. Birdie’s father notches a hog’s ears as a warning to Sam. And while Sam and Birdie’s father threaten each other, have a fistfight and kill hogs and a mule, no graphic details are included. When Shoestring refuses to care for one of his family’s cows after Birdie and her father rescue the cow from a swamp, Birdie’s father whips Shoestring. Shoestring’s sisters are upset when Birdie’s father whips their brother. They hit Birdie and throw sticks at her.
Alcohol: At the cane-grinding event, part of the cane juice is saved to turn into beer. The Boyer and Slater families celebrate Sam’s conversion with strawberry wine.
Gay and gay abandonment: In this 1945 book, the word and phrase mean “happily excited” or “merry.” They are used in the context of parties and playing an instrument enthusiastically.
Negro: This term is used to describe some of the workers who help the lumbermen.
Biggety: People call the Boyers “biggety” when they think the family is acting superior.
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