I've been thinking about the books I loved as a child, when I regularly checked out the full limit of five books at a time from the Floral Park (NY) Public Library. Perhaps the reason I've felt these memories stirring is that I've been poring over old elementary school class photos posted by a fellow Floral Parker on Facebook. Guess I've always been an enthusiastic reader. When Mom and Dad first started giving me an allowance, I saved up four weeks worth to buy a Bobbsey Twins book! I also loved attending the Public Library's used book sales and filling up a grocery sack with unbelievable bargains. And here I am so many decades later, getting ready to volunteer a the Friends of the West University Library book sale this weekend.
For purposes of this post, I decided to indulge in a bit of research about three of my favorite children's authors: Lois Lenski, Louisa May Alcott and Maud Hart Lovelace.
Lois Lenski (1893 - 1974) began as a book illustrator but blossomed into a prodigious author who still did her own illustrations, which I remember with great fondness. Growing up in Ohio, Lenski later lived in New York and Connecticut. During the 1940s, for health reasons, she and her husband began wintering in the South. That is when she began producing her series of books about the lives of children in different regions of America, among them Bayou Suzette, Strawberry Girl (which won the 1946 Newbery Award), Cotton in my Sack, etc. I couldn't get enough of this series and read the books over and over. I knew of no other books quite like them. Striking in their realism, they put me into the shoes of then-contemporary children whose lives were so different than mine, migrant workers, houseboat dwellers, cotton pickers, etc. Children even wrote to Lenski and asked that she come visit and write about their lives. She also created many wonderful picture books most of us baby boomers can't help but remember: The Little Auto, Cowboy Small, We Live in the South, We Live in the North, etc. Unsentimental, innovative, prolific and dedicated, Lois Lenski gave the world her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood, in 1972, a book I hope to someday read.
I hardly feel qualified to write about Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888), except to say I must have read Little Women more times over than any other book from my childhood. I identified with the character of Jo, always a "scribbler", and remember how delighted I was to discover that her story was continued in Good Wives, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. During Alcott's childhood in Massachusetts, she was educated not only by her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, but by many of his learned friends, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Alcott was also a nurse during the Civil War, an abolitionist and suffragette. I've long wanted to visit Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Alcott wrote Little Women. She also wrote Gothic "blood and thunder" thrillers under the pseudonym of A. M. Barnard.
Maud Hart Lovelace (1892 - 1980) grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, a place she would later fictionalize as Deep Valley in her beloved Betsy-Tacy series (illustrated by none other than Lois Lenski). Very much based on her childhood, they took the main character of Betsy from age five to her wedding days. Tacy and Tib, her adventurous sidekicks were fictional versions of her real life best friends. How I loved immersing myself in their lives, replete with happy endings and the sustaining power of friendship. Researching the books today, I realized the series had a definite feminist undercurrent, for the girls had independent dreams and aspirations far beyond the expectations for girls of that time. Her popularity continues today, especially through the efforts of the Betsy-Tacy Society.