Lois Lenski
Author - Illustrator
1893-1974






This first section of information and Lois Lenski's picture were taken from the dust jacket of Judy's Journey, published in 1947. Her signature is from a book in my collection, I have seen several of her signatures and they all appear quite similar to this one.

Lois Lenski was born in Springfield, Ohio. She spent her childhood years in Ohio, graduated from Ohio State University in 1915, studied for four years at the Arts Students League in New York, and later studied abroad at the Westminster School of Art in London.

On her return to America, she wrote her first book, Skipping Village, in 1927. With this and the book that followed, A Little Girl of 1900, her career as an author-illustrator of children's books was firmly established. A number of short, humorous stories for younger children followed, and then the publication of Phebe Fairchild, Her Book started the author on a series of books depicting American child life of the past, with settings in Connecticut, Ohio, New Hampshire and New York.

The award to Lois Lenski of the 1946 Newbery Medal for Strawberry Girl represented not only appropriate recognition by the American Library Association of the outstanding children's book of the year, but focused national attention on Miss Lenski's important program of regional books for children. This program began with Bayou Suzette, a story of the Louisiana bayou country, for which Miss Lenski received the Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library Medal in 1944, was followed by Strawberry Girl, and in the fall of 1946 by Blue Ridge Billy, a story of life in the mountains of North Carolina. Judy's Journey is the latest in this series of books which are making a vital contribution to American literature for children.

For all her regional stories, Miss Lenski gathers her material first-hand in the localities which provide the setting for her stories, lives with the people, listens to their speech and stories - with her drawing pencil ever-active in making on-the-spot sketches, which later become the finished illustrations for her books.

This next section is the Foreword of THE LIFE I LIVE, Collected Poems dated December 1964:

This is the happiest of all my books. Into it has gone a lifetime of love and devotion to children.

Most of my poems have been spontaneous outpourings, only a few have been devious contrivings. They have sung themselves to me at odd times and in unexpected places - at the supermarket or the kitchen sink, in the garden while weeding or in bed at night, and during illnesses at home or in the hospital when I have been kept from my regular work.

My poems are the very essence, the fabric behind all my work for children. The themes in them are my life's blood. They are my legacy to the children I love.

Long ago, I wrote my very first book, Skipping Village, in rhyme. But at my editor's urging, I changed it to prose, keeping some of the original verses between the chapters. This early frustration of my natural inclination steered me away from poetry. But the urge, stifled and repressed so early in my creative life, was not killed out completely. It has been revived in recent years and has given me some of my happiest hours.

Through the 1930's and 1940's, when my historical books were being written, I wrote no poetry. During the writing of the early Regionals, 1943-1949, I made a special study of American folksongs, in which I had long been interested, as well as a study of local dialects, and quoted some of these songs in my books. When the fifth Regional, Cotton in my Sack, (published 1949) was in preparation, I discovered that the only cotton-picking songs were Negro in origin. The white cotton-picker had been too inarticulate to express himself in song, so I was inspired to write "Sun Up in the Mornin." This provided the necessary spark. It was the cotton child's need to have some one to speak for him that moved me to write poetry again.

From 1949 to 1952 and later, I wrote many verses for songs. Through Thomas Y. Crowell Company, I was fortunate to find a young composer, Clyde Robert Bulla, who interpreted the spirit of my songs beautifully in setting them to music.

Most of my poems were written in the 1950's and early 1960's. I was very ill in 1952 and for several years had to restrict all physical activities. Unable to work on books, I continued to write poetry in bed while resting, I was further stimulated by the fact that my songs were published. In 1952, Crowell published my book of hymns, We are they Children; in 1954 Walck published my Songs of Mr. Small; and in 1956 Edward B. Marks Company published my Songs of the City; all with music by Mr. Bulla. The first two of my Roundabout America books were published by Lippincott, also in 1952, and in these books I used poems between the chapters. After the initial popularity of the cotton song, I began to write songs for each of the succeeding Regionals. The Read-and-Sing books, in verse wih music, were published by Walck in 1958, '59 and '60.

Through all my poems run the same themes, concepts and values that rear again and again in my stories. It is of interest to note that my very first book, Skipping Village, was originally titled: A Child's Town. This theme - a child and his town, or a child and his environment - can be traced through all my books. It is obvious in two of my latest picture books, At Our House and I Went For a Walk, and is behind all of Mr. Small's activities. It runs through my historical books, which portray children and family life in early periods of our history, and it is the basic theme behind my Regional and Roundabout America books. Whether a short picture book, a scholarly historical study, or an interpretation of some phase of life in contemporary America, my books are essentially family stories, reflecting the child in his environment.

My deep interest in our American regions stimulated me to write songs to interpet the lives of my Regional children, songs such as these children might write themselves, were they articulate. Verses about these children and about many aspects of their lives have continually engrossed me, and in many ways, I feel that I have been better able to express the essence of their lives through the medium of verse than in my story-telling. Be that as it may, I have been happy to speak for these children in simple verse forms as in prose, and I believe my verses will appeal to young readers and bring my Regional children vividly to life. I have wanted them to illuminate the real environment - desert, woodland, mountain, city, river, cottonfields - where real children live; and to make it vivid and understandable to other children who have never been in these places at all. Many have been written for particular children, the image of whom has never left me. All the poems I have written were for love.

One of the verses in Skipping Village called "People" has stayed alive for nearly forty years and been reprinted too many times to count. Because of its simplicity, vitality and tenacity, I have had the courage to collect all my verses and songs into one volume. If I can help a few children to "sing the life I live" and others to better understand them, then I shall be happy indeed. It has been a pleasure to collect all my verses from many sources and from various periods in my creative life, and to note what a strong thread of "understanding others" runs through them all.

Lois Lenksi
December 1964.


PEOPLE from Skipping Village, 1927

Tall people,
short people,
Thin people, fat;
Lady so dainty
wearing a hat.
Straight people,
dumpy people,
Man dressed in brown,
Baby in a buggy-
These make a town.
Young people,
old people,
See them go past,
Walking and Skipping,
Running so fast.
Big people,
little people
Fill up the street,
With a smile say howdy
To all we meet.



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