Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Reading: Dear Mr. Henshaw

Courtesy of www.harpercollinschildren.com
Published in 1983 by Avon Camelot books, Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary is a timeless novel about a young boy named Leigh who finds solace in writing to his favorite author.  His parents have just divorced, and Leigh hasn't made any friends at school.  As if that's not bad enough, somebody keeps stealing the best things out of his lunchbox, and his father never calls when he says he will.  At first, Leigh writes to Mr. Henshaw as a fan and then later writes for a school project.  Eventually, he confides to Mr. Henshaw that he wants to grow up to be a famous author, and Mr. Henshaw offers him the best advice: Write.

Told in letters and diary entries, Dear Mr. Henshaw is a relatable read for older elementary students, as many children have divorced parents themselves or know of somebody whose parents are divorced.  It is not an easy adjustment for Leigh to make, and at times, he feels frustrated with both of his parents.  But he does find that writing in his diary, and writing in general, helps him to sort out his feelings.  Sometimes, he is angry and doesn't understand why his parents just can't get back together.  Sometimes, he is jealous.  Who is the little boy that he overhears talking to his father while on the phone, something about pizza?  How dare his father be irresponsible and lose his dog, Bandit, while stuck in the snowy Sierra Mountains!  By writing to Mr. Henshaw and by memorializing one of his favorite moments with his father and his eighteen-wheeler delivering grapes to a winery, Leigh is able to accept his parents' divorce and becomes a pretty good writer, too.  Later, he becomes more sympathetic for his mother, realizing that she works and studies hard just to pay the rent.  He is thankful that his father comes to visit and that his father truly does miss him; even if it does make him feel a little better, he still feels really sad.

And that's that; the book ends with Leigh feeling sad, the illustration making him appear even sadder than I had imagined from the words.  Awarded the Newbery Medal in 1984, Dear Mr. Henshaw is appealing to young readers for its subject matter and voice.  It is told from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy and is a very quick read. Besides connecting to readers and showing them that they are not alone, Leigh also shares the importance of working towards a goal (in his case, becoming a famous writer) and acknowledges that it cannot be obtained overnight but can come to fruition by taking steps at a time.  As a famous writer tells him, his writing will get better when he has more experiences.  Leigh is certainly poised to have meaningful experiences, as well, since his character shows initiative and intelligence.  To curtail any more students from stealing from his lunchbox, Leigh goes to the library to learn how to configure a lunchbox alarm.  After creating a workable alarm, he becomes a rather popular student at school, at least for a little while, and makes a solid friend named Barry, who actually appreciates Leigh's quiet home life away from pesky sisters.  Leigh Botts is a memorable character and, in my opinion, a well-rounded role model for the initiative, work ethic, and positivity that he displays!  

Even twenty years after its initial publication, Dear Mr. Henshaw remains in print for a new generation of students to read, enjoy, connect with, and learn from.  Perhaps many of these students have even been inspired to write to their favorite authors!  For a thorough list of Beverly Cleary's other relatable books, check out her interactive website. 


  1. My own children where forced to read this book at school and they both hated. Their main reason was it was "boring". However when I read it in my classroom a couple of years ago the kids really enjoyed it. My assumption is that my children had no experience with divorce so it was meaningless to them. Where most of my 5th grade students that year where products of divorce and they could relate to Leigh.

  2. Kaylee, I remember reading this book when I was in fourth grade! Your review was great and brought back some good reading memories for me! Although I do not have any experience with divorce, I enjoyed reading the book when I was young. I think that's because the subject intrigued me, I had no idea what that world was like, and wanted to connect with it.