Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by beloved children's author Beverly Cleary, is a series of letters from young Leigh Botts to author Boyd Henshaw.  It begins in 2nd grade when Leigh writes to his favorite author about his favorite book by the same.  Each year, he repeats the process when this assignment comes up - same author, same book.  Finally, in 5th grade, when Leigh sends a series of 10 questions his teacher wants them to ask an author, Mr. Henshaw has had enough and replies with 10 questions of his own.

In the midst of all this pen-palling, Leigh's parents get divorced and he and his mother move to a different town, leaving Leigh to make new friends at a new school.  His dad, a truck driver, is never around, and his beloved dog, Bandit, is on the road with Dad. To top it off, someone is stealing all the good stuff out of his lunch. 

To put it mildly, Leigh is struggling. He continues to reach out to Mr. Henshaw periodically, and bless the author's heart, he recognizes a child's cry for help and occasionally writes back with encouragement and suggestions. As Leigh follows his counsel, he begins to come to terms with his new life and chart a course for his future.

Beverly Cleary writes children well.  She knows how they think, act, and feel and she carefully crafts the relationships between them and the adults in their lives.  With their guidance, Leigh trudges through his life changes and begins to solve his own problems and accept responsibility for his own happiness.

Kids need to know that they have lots of company in the worlds of single parent families and being the new kid at school, and Cleary doesn't shy away from the strong emotions involved in divorce or schoolyard embarrassments. Instead, she uses them to show children that they are not alone. In Leigh, they find a friend and, if my classes over the years are any indication, they find comfort in knowing that their trials are not only survivable, but become stepping stones to new possibilities.

If this book hits the spot for you, check out the sequel, Strider.

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