Despair.com and I are kindred souls; they understand my frustration at pseudo-inspirational media. We both hold the unpopular belief that people are mostly stupid with spurts of ingenuity and cleverness sporadically mixed in. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, winner of the 1946 Newbery Medal, and The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois, winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal, both describe the extreme idiocy and creativity of the human race.
Strawberry Girl is set in the Florida backwoods when the land was still uncultivated and alligators roamed the roads. The Boyer family moves into the neighborhood, bringing modern notions about agriculture and farming with them that disrupt the locals’ long-held beliefs. This clash of cultures causes a feud to erupt between the Boyers and their neighbors, the Slaters. The father of each family comes up with progressively more devious ways to show his superiority and power. Each cruel act brings them further from living in peace with their neighbors. Mr. Boyer may know everything about running a farm, but he has no idea how to resolve the constant battle between him and Mr. Slater. It takes the children and their wives to bring the families together and learn to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (180). In the face of his wife’s life threatening illness and of course, the redeeming guidance of a traveling preacher, Mr. Slater is determined to become a good father and neighbor, and finally, the feud ends.
While Strawberry Girl deals with innovations on earth, The 21 Balloons focuses on the progress of flight. Set in the 1880s, the novel describes the extraordinary adventure of Professor William Waterman Sherman, a balloonist who set out to travel across the globe, only to find himself stranded on the island of Krakatoa. While his plans for the balloon were meticulous and thoughtful, the entire conveyance is dropped into the Pacific by a seagull. Professor Sherman is lucky to be rescued by the inhabitants of Krakatoa, who take care of his every need. He discovers that the island is populated with people with “inventive interests” who spend their days inventing products to make life easier and more fun. Living on top of a live volcano can be troublesome, but the people of Krakatoa adapt to the constant shifting earth beneath their feet with grace. Unlike the Professor, they have an escape plan, a Giant Balloon Life Raft, which can hold all the families. When Krakatoa finally erupts, and all the families are deposited across Europe, the Professor is left with the Giant Balloon Life Raft (which has 21 balloons) to crash gradually into the ocean and then he awaits rescue. After this ordeal, he recounts his tales for the press and when they ask him what he will do now, instead of going to Disneyland, he replies that he wishes to resume his original plan: spending a year in a balloon. In light of his past adventures, this might not be the wisest decision, but for the chance of a year of freedom and flight, perhaps the stupid decision is the correct one. I wonder if there is a poster for that sentiment. I sorta hope so... there just better not be a kitten on it.