Lois Lenski, Children’s Author

One of my favorite memories of our homeschool years was the year we studied regions of America. That’s when I discovered old and frayed hardcover editons of Lois Lenski’s regional fiction books in the Urbana Free Library. I guess the most famous of Lenski’s regional books is Strawberry Girl, which won the Newbery Medal in 1946. It is the story of a family of farm workers in Florida.

I actually had my first introduction to Lois Lenski when our first child John was just a baby. That’s when I found an old copy of The Little Airplane at a garage sale. Pilot Small is the hero of that story.

I love the Smalls. One of my favorite stories about the Smalls is Papa Small, published in 1951. Here’s where we learn about the everyday family life of Papa Small, Mama Small, and their children the small Smalls. We can learn a lot from the Small family. Mama Small rests in a rocking chair on the front porch while Papa Small cuts the grass; Papa Small rests in his easy chair while Mama Small gets dinner ready. All Smalls except Baby Small work together in the garden. Papa Small likes to help around the house: putting up pictures, making repairs under the sink, and helping get lunch on the table on Sundays. All of the Smalls drive to the grocery store in their little auto on Saturday to buy groceries, and they all go to church together on Sunday. Papa Small enjoys singing at church. Baby Small gets too loud and has to be taken out.

Lois Lenski was trained in both education and art. She wrote and illustrated dozens of her own books and illustrated many for other authors. When I wrote about A Day Off That Counts as School recently and recorded the video by the same title, I mentioned that someday I would like to see the Lois Lenski exhibit at the Clark County Library in Springfield, Ohio, the town of her birth. I didn’t know then that that dream was about to come true, but it did on Saturday.

Ray and I left home on Saturday morning to drive to Montreal for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the suburb of Boucherville this coming weekend. Along the way, we are visiting people very special to us. Before we arrived at our friend Olive’s house on Saturday night, we drove over to Springfield to see the Lenski exhibit, which is in the Lenski Children’s Center of the library.

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The Clark County Library has a small collection of Lenski books on a special shelf in the children’s library which are available for checkout. They also have this display case with copies of a few of her books, plus several of her original illustrations.

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Lois Lenski returned to Springfield, Ohio, on her sixtieth birthday on October 14, 1953, to dedicate the Lois Lenski Boys and Girls Room at Warder Public Library in her honor and to give books and original drawings for the library to display. The left page of the scrapbook below has photos of the library and the Boys and Girls room. The collection has since been moved to the Clark County Library.

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Photos taken through glass show reflections of all sorts of things in the room, but I still think you will enjoy seeing some of the items on display, including this book cover.

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A Small Book About Mr. Small was published in honor of Mr. Small’s 25th birthday in 1957.

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This illustration shows the style of Lenski’s regional fiction illustrations. This one is from Judy’s Journey, which is about migrant farm workers.

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Like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, some of Lois Lenski’s books have been published in other languages.

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This was my first introduction to Lenski’s three-dimensional illustrations.

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These are a couple of my personal favorites of the original illustrations.

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I still enjoy reading Lenski books. I have enjoyed Phebe Fairchild: Her Book and Flood Friday in the last few months. I found both of them at the Books Bloom booth at a homeschool convention this year.

Lois Lenski believed that children should learn about the reality of the lives other children lived, so that they would learn to love and understand them. Therefore she sometimes told about difficult situations such as the drunken father in Strawberry Girl, for example. Because of this, you might want to pre-read the books before you give them to your children or perhaps read them aloud and discuss things as you go.

I only recently learned about Lenski’s 1972 autobiography. I can’t justify the price online which is from about $80 to $120, but I was excited actually to see and look inside a copy at the library on Saturday!

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Lenski dedicated the book in this way: “To my beloved grandchildren.” On the back of the dedication page were these words:

Blessed Lord of Word and World,
Who givest us our days,
May daily work my worship be,
My daily joy my praise.

Reading Lenski’s books have left me curious about her faith. I have learned that she purposely wrote her regional fiction to help children understand and appreciate children who lived and talked differently from the children around them. She wrote:

“As Christian parents, teachers and leaders, it is our duty to teach our children, by word and example, that we love God only to the extent that we love our neighbor, whether that neighbor is next door, across the street, across the country or across the world.”*

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’
This is the great and foremost commandment.
The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40

*Springfield’s Children’s Book Author — Lois Lenski,” by Tom Stafford. Springfield News Sun. February 6, 2016.

Note: A kind reader pointed out that I probably meant that Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1957, not 1857. Oops! Of course, she is right!

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