Friday, November 7, 2014
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
Leigh ("Lee") Botts lives with his mother, who works for a catering business. They share a small apartment which they've just moved to after his parents' divorce (his father, a trucker, craved the open road too much to settle into a regular home life with a family). Leigh is adapting to a new school where he doesn't know anybody, but he's a generally quiet fellow so he has a hard time making friends.
As part of a school assignment, he writes a letter to his favorite author (the titular Mr. Henshaw) with a list of questions for a report. Mr. Henshaw replies with his own list of questions, to which Leigh grudgingly responds in parts while his television is broken. So the book is composed as a series of letters to this author (and later, to Leigh's journal). Mr. Henshaw occasionally writes back. We don't see his end of the correspondence so we only hear of it secondhand from Leigh's perspective. It's unclear to me whether Mr. Henshaw is somewhat hostile, or is a gigantic tease. Maybe both.
The book follow's Leigh from his first letter in the second grade, through sixth grade. We get to see him mature in his behavior and understanding as he figures out how to make friends in a new place, figure out who is stealing the best parts of his lunch, make peace with his parents' divorce, and come to terms with his fathers' inconsistency. It's got a lot of happy and sad parts, but in a way that is realistic and not heavy-handed, which makes it a wonderful children's book.