Book: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
Genre: Contemporary (historical?) Realistic Fiction
Publication date: 1983 (reprint 2000)
Paperback: 134 pages
Other: Newbery Award Winner, 1984
Summary: Leigh Botts really, really likes the book Ways to Amuse a Dog by his favorite author Boyd Henshaw. So much so that he writes to Mr. Henshaw as part of a school book report project, but then continues to write to him long after the project is done. Through his letters, we follow his growth from second to sixth grade, as he describes to Mr. Henshaw how lonely it is to be a new kid in school whose lunch is always getting stolen and who “no one knows.” On top of it all, his mom and dad are separated and he misses life the way it used to be. When Mr. Henshaw finally writes a letter back, Leigh gets inspired to write, and soon he’s on his way to a new way of looking at the world.
To whom will it appeal? Dear Mr. Henshaw will appeal to children and tweens who like a slower paced book, divided evenly between humor and the more serious themes of divorce, loneliness and moving away from one’s home to a new unknown area.
Fifth grade and middle school kids who are bookish, and aspire to be writers will especially be drawn to this book, as it provides excellent writing advice and even models how to become a writer. It should be noted that, as the book was written in 1983, there are certain elements which will strike the tweens of today as being ‘historical’ and/or ‘old-fashioned.’ For example, there is a sense of isolation when Leigh yearns to be in better touch with his father, who is a trucker constantly on the move, and cannot be expected to call from the road. The lack of ubiquitous cell phones and internet will be a tipoff to kids that this book is set in a different era. While it may turn off the kids who are looking to see their lives reflected in their reading material, the themes of loneliness and learning how to make friends are universal and will appeal to the tween who is willing to explore a more thoughtful approach to solving problems.