Who was Lois Lenski?
Lois Lenski was a prolific author who lived from the end of the 19th-century long into the 20th. She was a Midwesterner, daughter of R.C.H. Lenski (a Lutheran minister whose commentaries were regularly mentioned from the pulpit by my non-Lutheran pastor), and a Newbery-award winner whose line drawings enhanced all of her books.
Why Lenski Matters to Me
Lenski’s work has made a deep impression on me. My mother read Puritan Adventure, Indian Captive, and Strawberry Girl aloud to us; I devoured many others on my own, including Judy’s Journey, Mama Hattie’s Girl, and Coal-Camp Boy.
I wrote my master’s thesis on Lenski’s strong female characters, comparing the wise and foolish women who influenced young girls as they were growing up. The worst characters always found some kind of redemption in the end.
By discoursing on the religious themes in Strawberry Girl with a library patron, I discovered a kindred spirit who became a roommate. My life would not be the same without Lenski.
Lenski wrote small-format picture books for her own little boys about ordinary people living in the iconic mid-20th century. Policeman Small, Cowboy Small, The Little Sailboat and The Little Fire Engine are still popular in my family. (We do joke about Fireman Small telling the family whose house was on fire to “Move right on in again!”). (Note: The Little Sailboat is on our Summer Reading Challenge extended list!)
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Regional and Historical Novels
I am partial to Lenski’s regional books. She invested a significant amount of time visiting children all over the country, listening to their personal experiences and writing vivid stories about them. She created strong characters with deep family relationships that readers could identify with, maintaining the distinct dialects and cultures of our nation from a child’s perspective.
Her historical fiction focuses on the early years of our country’s history. There aren’t many detail-rich middle-grade novels about this period, and Lenski’s books make great read-alouds or personal selections.
If you have not read Lenski’s books, this is a perfect time to start! I am excited that Purple House Press is reprinting Phebe Fairchild, Her Book, and Ocean-Born Mary. Both titles have been out of print and are formidably expensive, so this is an exciting opportunity to improve your home library.
Lenski’s regional collections are currently a bargain on Kindle, and the picture books for younger children make great home library builders or gifts. I highly recommend Strawberry Girl and Indian Captive, which are on Newbery lists. These two books are available very inexpensively used, otherwise you might order them through your local indie bookseller. You could also find them on Overdrive.
Tomorrow I hope to share some brief reviews of individual titles.
Have you read any Lenski books? Which are your favorites?
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