Born: October 14, 1893
Ohio connection: Birth
Lois Lenski was born in Springfield, Ohio, and moved to nearby Anna, a small rural community of some 200, in 1899. Lenski fictionalized her childhood in her first two books, Skipping Village (1927) and A Little Girl of Nineteen Hundred (1928). Her mother was a former teacher, and her father was a Lutheran minister; and in their educated, religious household, books were an important part of life. The family library included classics, and Lenski and her brothers and sisters treasured the children’s books of the day. The family also subscribed to several magazines, and the Youth’s Companion was ordered especially for the children. In high school, Lenski had easy access to a public library and read voraciously. Dickens was a favorite, and his vivid portrayal of real people came to influence her own writing. After her graduation from Ohio State University, Lenski studied art at the Art Students’ League in New York and the Westminster School of Art in London. She began a career illustrating the books of other writers, including Kenneth Grahame, Veronica Hutchinson, Hugh Lofting, Maud Hart Lovelace, and many others. In 1921, she married Arthur S. Covey, a former teacher of hers who became well known as a mural painter. The Little Family, published when her son Stephen was four, was the start of the famous Mr. Small books. These books introduced a character and straightforward activities that had universal appeal and provided children with a secure, familiar world. In 1936, Lenski began a series of historical books for preteens. The meticulously researched titles include Phebe Fairchild: Her Book and Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, both Newbery Honor Books. From 1943 to 1968, Lenski researched and wrote 17 regional novels for the intermediate grades which took her to many lesser-known parts of the United States to see how the people lived, especially children. Strawberry Girl received the Newbery Medal in 1946. After nearly a half century of writing more than 90 books for children, Lenski penned her autobiography, Journey into Childhood, two years before her death on September 11, 1974, at the age of 80.
Newbery Honor Book, American Library Association (ALA), 1937, for Phebe Fairchild: Her Book; Newbery Honor Book, 1942, for Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison; Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Medal, 1944, for Bayou Suzette; John Newbery Medal, 1946, for Strawberry Girl; ALA Notable Book citation, for The Little Fire Engine; Child Study Association of America/Wel-Met Children's Book Award, 1947, for Judy's Journey; Litt.D., Wartburg College, 1959; L.H.D., University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1962; D.Litt., Capital University, 1966, and Southwestern College, 1968; Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association, 1969, for lifetime work in the field of children's literature; University of Southern Mississippi Special Children's Collection Medallion, 1969.