Means, Florence Crannell
MEANS, Florence Crannell
Born 15 May 1891, Baldwinsville, New York; died 19 November 1980, Boulder, Colorado
Daughter of Phillip Wendell and Fannie Grout Crannell; married Carleton Bell Means, 1912; children Eleanor Hull
Florence Crannell Means' upbringing in the household of her Baptist theologian father, a man with "no racial consciousness," contributed to her ambition to sway young people to her own conviction that "folks are folks." From her mother's side of the family Means had heard the tales of the pioneering Grout grandparents, and this provided another subject for her pen. Means' first books recount the adventures of a Mexican-American teenager in Wisconsin and Minnesota during the 1870s. The second, A Candle in the Mist (1931), established Means as a writer of considerable talent. Although Means' work focused often on the problems of racial prejudice, she wrote books on religious tolerance, family relations, the handicapped, and migrant workers. Means' writing was encouraged by her husband, an attorney and businessman with whom she wrote The Silver Fleece (1950), one of many books dealing with Mexico. Their only child, Eleanor Hull, also writes.
Means lived for many years, in Boulder, Colorado. Failing eyesight curtailed both her traveling and writing after her last book, Smith Valley, was published in 1973.
A book that focused much attention on Means and won the Childhood Education Association award in 1945 is The Moved-Outers, her tale of a Japanese-American family evacuated from California during World War II. Earlier, Means had dealt sensitively with the problems of assimilation for Japanese in America in Rainbow Bridge (1934), and she brought the same understanding to the patient suffering of the fictional Ohara family.
Teresita of the Valley (1943) and The House under the Hill (1949) have Mexican-American heroines who in maturing come to value their culture and people, a frequent development with Means' characters.
In her books with black heroines, Means stressed their successes. Although struggles and heartbreaking insults are there, her characters overcome them. Beginning with Shuttered Windows (1938), Means gave her readers a number of ambitious, intelligent black girls whose "similarity to any witty white girl should do more to promote understanding between the two races than any amount of sermonizing," as Jane Cobb put it in her Atlantic review of Great Day in the Morning (1946).
Among Means' best books are those which deal with Native Americans. For years, Means "spent as much time as possible among the Hopi and Navajo" and her stories differentiate tribal customs in accurate detail. They are beautifully written, though they have been criticized as perhaps "too unhappy to sustain the interest of the young." In Tangled Waters (1936), a Navajo girl fights her family's prejudice against education. Our Cup Is Broken (1969), one of Means' last major books, is less upbeat than many of her stories. A young Hopi woman, hurt by society's taboo against interracial marriage, rejects the white world and returns to an unhappy life in her native village.
Means' books have been called alternately "too tragic" and "too pat." Her novels occasionally seem contrived in their solutions, but more often conflicts between character and situation are resolved realistically. Long before racial tolerance was a popular or even generally accepted subject for juvenile literature, Means was writing straightforward books about minority groups. Means' approach, however, is far from radical. Her minority characters are dedicated to American ideals.
Rafael and Consuelo (with H. Fullen, 1929). Children of the Great Spirit (with F. Riggs, 1932). Ranch and Ring, a Story of the Pioneer West (1932). Dusky Day (1933). A Bowlful of Stars (1934). Penny for Luck (1935). The Singing Wood (1937). Adella Mary in Old New Mexico (1939). Across the Fruited Plain (1940). At the End of Nowhere (1940). Children of the Promise (1941). Whispering Girl (1941). Shadow over Wide Ruin (1942). Peter of the Mesa (1944). Assorted Sisters (1947). Hetty of the Grande Deluxe (1951). Carvers' George (1952). Alicia (1953). The Rains Will Come (1954). Knock at the Door, Emmy (1956). Sagebrush Surgeon (1956). Reach for a Star (1957). Borrowed Brother (1958). Emmy and the Blue Door (1959). Sunlight on the Hopi Mesa: The Story of Abigail E. Johnson (1960). But I Am Sara (1961). That Girl Andy (1962). Tolliver (1963). It Takes All Kinds (1964). Us Maltbys (1966).
CA. Junior Book of Authors.
Atlantic (Dec. 1946). Best Sellers (15 Dec. 1963). Boston Transcript (28 Nov. 1931). Horn Book (March 1945, June 1946, June 1969). LJ (15 Nov. 1954). NY (8 Dec. 1945). NYT (9 Aug. 1953). NYTBR (2 Feb. 1964). SatR (13 Nov. 1954, 13 Sept. 1969).
—CELIA CATLETT ANDERSON