Lois Lenski

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.

Picture Books

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.

Reprinted by Purple House Press

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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Megan

Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader who loves nothing more than helping readers (and non-readers) find books which are not only a good fit for them, but also combine Truth and Story. She has never regretted reading all those fairy tales in childhood, even though she didn’t realize at the time how much they matter to real life. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia where she enjoys knitting, playing with words, and mountain views.

11 Comments

  1. annmarie on May 7, 2020 at 7:58 am

    Bayou Susette is my favorite. We read it aloud before a trip to NOLA, that included an afternoon in the swamps, so it was perfect. I’d love to own all her books.

    • Megan on May 7, 2020 at 5:46 pm

      I haven’t read that one! Some of her books are available in paperback now, or on kindle. I have read so many books about swamps but never visited, so that must have been pretty amazing.

  2. Katie on May 7, 2020 at 9:21 am

    I loved Strawberry Girl and read it aloud to my kids. I would love to read more of her books! Thanks!

    • Megan on May 7, 2020 at 5:47 pm

      Strawberry Girl is a wonderful gateway Lenski book. Let me know which one you read next!

  3. Nellie on May 7, 2020 at 10:08 am

    I love-love-loved Indian Captive and Strawberry Girl growing up! And I was just introduced to the Small family picture books once I had kids.

    • Megan on May 7, 2020 at 5:48 pm

      Excellent! I hope you can add more to your family reading repertoire.

  4. Julia Anderson on May 7, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Blue Ridge Billy was a favorite to read to my kids. We live in Virginia and love the mountains. We have all the “Small” picture books, and also get a kick out of Fireman Small’s instructions. I have never seen Ocean-Born Mary; need to order that one!

    • Megan on May 7, 2020 at 5:50 pm

      Hooray for Virginia and mountains! I’m here too. What part? Glad to know that we aren’t the only ones who love Fireman Small in spite of his lack of caution. Do check out Purple House Press for their Lenski historical reprints.

  5. The Warren & the World Vol 8, Issue 18 on May 9, 2020 at 3:00 am

    […] 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.Read more […]

  6. Donna Mitchell on May 9, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I read all of Lois Lenski’s books as a child and gave them to my children, where they were met with different reactions (one loved them, one read them with no comment, and one hated reading!). I wish modern kids would read them more!

    • Megan on May 9, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Isn’t it funny, Donna? Maybe it’s a difference in reader personality. I’m not sure my fantasy-loving boys would be as enthusiastic as I have been about them, but they offer a rich account of diversity in culture, even in our own United States. They’re so ordinary and unique at the same time.

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