Dear Mr. Henshaw

dear-mr.-henshaw

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1984

Dear Mr. Henshaw

by Beverly Cleary

illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Age: 8+

Interests: being the new kid, school problems, divorced parents, single parent, loneliness, writing

William Morrow: 1983

Also by this author: The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ramona the Pest, Ramona and Her Father, Socks, and many more

Dear Mr. Henshaw,
My teacher read your book about the dog to our class. It was funny. We licked it.
Your freind,
Leigh Botts (boy)

So begins the epistolary friendship between Leigh Botts and his favourite author. Leigh writes to him about once a year (his spelling improving with each letter) until the sixth grade, when he sends him a list of questions for a school project. Mr. Henshaw responds with the answers but also a list of questions for him. Leigh is mad about having to do extra work, but his mom insists that he write back. As he answers Henshaw’s questions we learn more about Leigh and his problems. His Mom and truck-driver Dad have divorced, he really misses his Dad and his dog Bandit, he and his Mom have just moved and he doesn’t know anybody at his new school, and on top of that somebody keeps stealing food out of his lunchbox. At the end of the questions Leigh admits writing isn’t so hard after all, he even enjoys it. He thinks he might become a writer someday, and Henshaw encourages him to start a diary.

Through the diary entries and more letters to Mr. Henshaw, we see Leigh struggle and overcome his problems. He figures out how to rig his lunchbox with a burglar alarm, which doesn’t catch the culprit but turns him into a class celebrity and leads to a new friendship. He misses his Dad, but is also angry with him every time he lets Leigh down. By the end of the book, however, he accepts that his parents will never get back together and knows that, even when he forgets to call, his Dad does love him. He’s even grown mature enough to speculate that the kid who was stealing his lunch, whoever it was, is probably not a bad kid; maybe his lunches aren’t so good and he’s just hungry.

In Cleary’s usual casual and low-key style, this is a winning story about a kid going through a difficult time. The book is made up entirely of Leigh’s letters (we do not see Mr. Henshaw’s responses) and diary entries. His troubles are down-to-earth and believable, as are his reactions and actions. Leigh’s problems, while not overly dire or dramatic, loom large for him, and should resonate with kids everywhere. Lonely and insecure, he stays in the background and thinks nobody notices him. He calls himself the “mediumest” boy in his class. Slowly, however, he becomes friends with the school janitor, who is the first to suggest the alarm in his lunch. I particularly liked the section in which he figured out for himself how to rig his lunchbox, reading up about electricity in the school library. His invention wins him classroom fame and a new best friend. Leigh is keen to enter a youth writing contest, and Henshaw encourages him to enter a story about his dad instead of a monster story like all the other boys in his class. Seeing his story in print and winning an opportunity to have lunch with an author gives Leigh another big confidence boost.

The plot and reading level are a good fit for readers aged 8 or even younger. There are frequent illustrations, and the chapters are short, making this a lively and easy read, excellent for new or reluctant readers.

 

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.