MMGM: Berries in the Scoop, by Lois Lenski
You probably know by now that I have a great love for Middle Grade books for the newest readers. Nowadays, even while the books you will find in this category are often of the highest calibre, it's a slim shelf. Some of my favorite early reader books are those I can only find in used book stores, library sales, and the shelves of friends with a taste for old books.
Today's book is one I found at a used book store, published originally during my parents' childhood: Berries in the Scoop, by Lois Lenski. It is part of her series of books for early readers, highlighting the lives and cultures of children around the United States of America, and it features a young girl of Portuguese descent, living with her family in Cape Cod. They make a good deal of their living harvesting cranberries--but while this feature of the setting plays a large role in the plot, it's hardly a boring window into the lives of immigrant workers. Instead, it shows a family that is real and loving and complicated and struggling and rich in what matters. A book that seems surprisingly current, surprisingly needed in today's world.
I only recently discovered Lois Lenski's books for early readers (like most of you, I was familiar with her Newbery-winning Strawberry Girl and some delightful picture books reprinted in Board Book form). For me, this was one of those good news/bad news cases. The good news: she is amazing at writing for very young readers in a way that is engaging, respectful, and sometimes even educational (without being obvious about it). The bad news: almost all her books are out of print. Some have recently been republished as e-books, but I'm not a fan of letting my kids read on electronic devices. And some--like the book I'm spotlighting today--you can't find in any form. At the moment, you can't even find it on eBay.
So why bother highlighting it? Well, let's consider this a public service announcement and a plea to publishers everywhere. We love new books, we really do. I blister inside every time a homeschooling mom friend tells me that she only buys books for her kids that were written before 1960. (Really?? Do you know what you're missing out on? And how do you expect publishers to print the kind of books you'd like now if buyers like you are only sticking to the used book sections?) One of the main reasons I need to keep building new bookshelves around here is that my friends and other authors I admire write awesome books and I want them to be readily available to my children.
But. Isn't there a way to marry a love of new books with a respect for the old ones? Isn't there a small publisher who can bring these books back to life? Wouldn't the fans of Strawberry Girl, still assigned in some schools, be happy to discover Lois Lenski's other stories? Wouldn't all the little girls who adore Betsy-Tacy be thrilled to get their hands on Maud Hart Lovelace's The Tune is in the Tree or The Trees Kneel at Christmas? Marguerite D'Angeli's gorgeous illustrations and simple stories would be just as loved by readers now as they were 100 years ago. And our early reader shelves could get a whole lot fatter and a whole lot richer.
Of course I'm curious: what are your favorite out-of-print books? (Even if they're fairly recent! There are a few books from the past decade that I fully expected to win loads of prizes--but when they didn't, they slipped off the bookstore shelves fairly quickly. And it made me cry a little. :/)
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews and recommendations, check out Greg's blog!