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Authors: Lois Lenski

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Dick put his arms around her and cried out, “
Oh Mom, what would we do without our neighbors
?”

Then Mom sat down and told him the good news about Dad. He would have to stay in the hospital for a while for surgery, but the doctor was going to save his hand. His thumb and fingers were not lost after all. The worst thing was a deep cut from thumb to wrist, but it would heal in time. Wasn't that wonderful?

The neighbor women came bustling in. Mrs. Hass and Mrs. Heiter brought food in covered dishes and started fixing supper and making coffee for the men. Other women came with more food. The kitchen noises and the women's chatter were comforting sounds to hear.

Outside, searchlights were beaming all over the big eighty. The work was getting done and at night too! When the first ring crib was filled, two more were set up. Were they going to fill them all? At last the work stopped and the men came in for lunch and coffee. It was after midnight and they promised to come back on Monday to finish the job. Then the cars and trucks and corn pickers drove off and everything was quiet again.

After Raymond came in, Mom was starting to send the children to bed, when a knock came at the back door. There stood Ted Sanders, holding a dark object on his hand.

“Where's that boy that tames pets?” he asked.

“Here I am.” Dick jumped up.

At first he thought Ted was holding a raccoon. Ted had promised to get him one at corn-shelling time. Then he saw it was a large bird. Dick forgot about the raccoon in his surprise.

“It's a sparrow hawk and it's hurt, I think,” said Ted. “I was on my way home and I saw something sitting on a fence post. I was going to let it go, then I thought about you and brought it back. I saw your lights were still on—and I thought you might like to keep it.”

“I sure would,” said Dick. “I was just needing a new pet. Thank you, Ted.”

In the days that followed, Dick was happy to have the hawk to think about and fuss over. He fixed up the white pigeon's cage for it. He set mousetraps in the granary and caught mice to feed it. Every day he left the door of the cage open. The bird was fully feathered and should have been able to fly. It had a wingspread of nearly three feet. But it acted droopy and never tried to fly. Dick studied about it. Maybe it had internal trouble. Maybe it had a nail or a tack inside its body. Would it be wise to operate?

Dick's joints had swollen and he was back on crutches again. Every day he asked the hawk, “When are you going to fly?” He kept it for two weeks. At last a day came when he found the cage empty and the hawk gone. Dick looked around, but he saw no sign of conflict or trouble. The bird's hurt, whatever it was, had healed. The bird had used his wings and flown away. Dick leaned on his crutches and studied the sky. Where the bird went, the boy would never know.

Everybody was happy to see the ring cribs full of corn. Snow came but it was a light one and soon melted. There was still plenty of corn left in the field, corn that was too good to be wasted. The corn picker never picked clean, and many ears had fallen off due to dry weather. Every day after school, Mom and the children wrapped up in warm clothes and went out. Raymond left the wagon a few rows over. They gathered up the corn in piles. They took baskets, carried it to the wagon and dumped it.

Sometimes Dick went along, sat on the tractor seat and watched. Margy stayed with him, and Buster, too, when he was not off chasing rabbits. Dick and Margy had fun counting all the field mice and rabbits they saw. The field animals were glad for a good crop. They were storing away supplies for the oncoming winter. After the picking up was finished, the cattle were turned in to pick up the rest.

Thanksgiving time came, a day of rejoicing and real thanksgiving because Dad was home again, his arm and hand nearly healed. Mom bought a store duck in town and roasted it. She knew Dick could not bear to part with one of his geese just now. Thanksgiving brought Uncle Henry and Aunt Etta and their children out for the day. There were four big pumpkin pies to put the finishing touch to the meal.

Dad and Uncle Henry were friends again, and were making big plans for next year's crops. They talked about sealing the corn in the ring cribs to hold it for a better price. They talked about contouring and decided it had been worth while. Dad did not mention moving away and Uncle Henry seemed satisfied. Dick felt relieved that the farm lease would be renewed. After all, the farm was home.

In the afternoon Margy and Dick popped corn on the kitchen stove for the city cousins. Wilma cooked syrup and they all ate popcorn balls. Dick ate more than anybody else. Uncle Henry laughed and made jokes and everybody had a happy time.

A Biography of Lois Lenski

Lois Lenski was born in Springfield, Ohio, on October 14, 1893. The fourth of five children of a Lutheran minister and a schoolteacher, she was raised in the rural town of Anna, Ohio, west of Springfield, where her father was the pastor. Many of the children's books she wrote and illustrated take place in small, closely knit communities all over the country that are similar to Lenski's hometown.

After graduating from high school in 1911, Lenski moved with her family to Columbus, where her father joined the faculty at Capital University. Because Capital did not yet allow women to enroll, she attended college at Ohio State University. Lenski took courses in education, planning to become a teacher like her mother, but also studied art, and was especially interested in drawing. In 1915, with a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate, she decided to pursue a career in art, and moved to New York City to take classes at the Art Students League of New York.

In an illustration class at the League, Lenski met a muralist named Arthur Covey. She assisted him in painting several murals, and also supported herself by taking on parttime jobs drawing fashion advertisements and lettering greeting cards. In October 1920, she left New York to continue her studies in Italy and London, where the publisher John Lane hired her to illustrate children's books. When she returned to New York in 1921, she married Covey and became stepmother to his two children, Margaret and Laird.

Early in her career, Lenski dedicated herself to book illustration. When a publisher suggested that she try writing her own stories, she drew upon the happy memories of her childhood. Her first authored book,
Skipping Village
(1927), is set in a town that closely resembles Anna at the start of the twentieth century.
A Little Girl of 1900
(1928) soon followed, also clearly based on Lenski's early life in rural Ohio.

In 1929, Lenski's son, Stephen, was born, and the family moved to a farmhouse called Greenacres in Harwinton, Connecticut, which they would call home for the next three decades. Lenski continued to illustrate other authors' books, including the original version of
The Little Engine That Could
(1930) by Watty Piper, and the popular Betsy-Tacy series (1940–55) by Maud Hart Lovelace. Lenski also wrote the Mr. Small series (1934–62), ten books based on Stephen's antics as a toddler.

The house at Greenacres had been built in 1790 and it became another source of inspiration, as Lenski liked to imagine the everyday lives of the people who had previously lived in her home. In
Phebe Fairchild, Her Book
(1936), for instance, a young girl is sent to live with her father's family on their farm in northwestern Connecticut in 1830‚ when Greenacres would have been forty years old. For its rich and detailed depiction of family life in rural New England, the book was awarded the Newbery Honor.

Other historical novels followed—including
A-Going to the Westward
(1937), set in central Ohio;
Bound Girl of Cobble Hill
(1938);
Ocean-Born Mary
(1939);
Blueberry Corners
(1940); and
Puritan Adventure
(1944)—all set in New England; and
Indian Captive
(1941), a carefully researched retelling of the true story of Mary Jemison, a Pennsylvania girl captured by a raiding Native American tribe, for which Lenski won a second Newbery Honor.

By 1941, Lenski's stepdaughter, Margaret, had married and started her own family, and Margaret's son, David, spent a great deal of time with his grandparents at the farm. Lenski's Davy series of seven picture books (1941–61) was largely based on David's visits to Connecticut as a child.

During this period, Lenski experienced bouts of illness, brought on by the harsh Connecticut winters. The family began to spend winters in Florida, where she “saw the real America for the first time,” as she wrote in her autobiography. Noting how few books described the daily life of children in different parts of the country, she began writing the Regional America series, starting with
Bayou Suzette
(1943). The seventeen books in this series depict children's lives in every region of the United States, from New England to the Pacific Northwest, in rural and urban settings. Lenski traveled to each region that she would later feature in her books, spending three to six weeks in each locale. She collected stories from children and adults in each area, documenting their dialect, learning about their way of life, and otherwise getting to know the people that would become the characters in her books. The second book in the series,
Strawberry Girl
, won the Newbery Medal in 1946. The Roundabout America series (1952–66), intended for younger readers, was based on the same theme of daily life all over the country. Lenski was unparalleled in the diversity of American lifestyles that she documented; the combination of research, interviews, and drawings that she utilized; and the empathy and honesty that she employed in recording people's lives.

Other popular series for children followed, including four books about the seasons—
Spring Is Here
(1945),
Now It's Fall
(1948),
I Like Winter
(1950), and
On a Summer Day
(1953)—and the seven Debbie books (1967–71), based on Lenski's experiences with her granddaughter. Lenski also published several volumes of songs and poetry, mostly for children.

In early 1960, Lenski's husband died, and she soon sold the farm in Connecticut to live in Florida year round. There she wrote her autobiography,
Journey Into Childhood
(1972). Lenski died on September 11, 1974, at her home in Florida. The Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, which she established to promote literacy and reading among at-risk children, continues her mission by providing grants to school and public libraries each year.

Lenski in 1897, at age four, when she lived in Springfield, Ohio. She was born there on October 14, 1893.

Lenski photographed at age seven or eight, when the family lived in Anna, Ohio. The family lived in Anna for twelve years. It was there that Lenski developed her love of country life and began drawing and painting.

BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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