Dear Mr. Henshaw // by Beverly Cleary (1983)
Newbery Winner (1984)
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Epistolary
Rating: 5 Stars
Basic Plot: Leigh Botts loves the book Ways to Amuse a Dog so much that he decides to write the author: Mr. Henshaw. Through a series of letters (and later a diary), Leigh finds an outlet to work through his problems that range from a lunch-thief to his absentee dad.
This is probably my second read-through of this book. And while I knew the ending, I found this book just as interesting to read this second time around. (For some odd reason, I never read Beverly Cleary’s books when I was a kid. Yes, I saw them everywhere, but for some reason, I never picked them up. Not until I was an adult!)
I love a good epistolary novel… when it works. And this one works very nicely. My favourite letter is the first one, which reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Henshaw,
My teacher read your book about the dog to our class. It was funny. We licked it.
Leigh Botts (boy)
I love how Cleary is able to capture the voice of this boy, misspellings and all. Another section I really enjoyed was when Leigh gives Mr. Henshaw a list of questions, and Mr. Henshaw replies with a list of his own questions… which Leigh does NOT want to answer! But, of course, his mom makes him.
I like how it also deals with the hard topics in Leigh’s life, like the divorce of his parents. Now, I like a book where divorced parents get back together (Parent Trap, anybody?) And of course, that is Leigh’s own wish. While the ending of this book does present this as an option, it remains realistic. Most couples don’t get back together. As Leigh says in the final line: “I felt sad and a whole lot better at the same time.”
This book deserved every inch of its Newbery award. It’s wonderfully written, has a likable protagonist. And yes, I licked it very much. (P.S. Now I want to read Mr. Henshaw’s books, but for some reason, I can’t find them anywhere!)
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.
Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday…