Beverly Cleary was an author I remember reading while I was growing up. Do you remember The Mouse and the Motorcycle? How about the many stories she wrote about her character, Ramona Quimby? Did you know that Ramona’s character was born in an earlier series that Cleary wrote about another one of her characters, Henry Huggins? Henry’s friend, Beezus was Ramona’s older sister. When Cleary stopped the Henry Huggins series in 1968, she turned the focus of her writing to the two sisters.
The first book in the series, Ramona the Pest, Ramona is just entering kindergarten. This book, like the remaining books in the series, it is written from Ramona’s point of view. Having the stories written from the child characters’ point of view is a method used to make the story more relatable to the audience it has been written for. Many middle grade authors do this because having a peer tell the story makes it easier for them to relate to it. Same story told from an adult point of view, may not be received as well.
Through reading this book, I learned about the epistolary style of writing. It is a style based on having the story be told in the form of letters, diary entries or newspaper clippings. This book is written in that style. It adds an intimacy to the story that writing in a more traditional style may not be able to portray.
Selma’s Book Review
Dear Mr. Henshaw
Type of Book
Middle Grade Fiction
Newberry Award Winning book in 1984. In a 2007 online poll Dear Mr. Henshaw was named Teachers Top 100 books for children.
Summary of the story
Leigh Botts, our sixth grade main character, is writing letters to the author of his favorite book, Ways to Amuse a Dog. He starts by writing letters to ask the author, Boyd Henshaw, questions about his book and being an author. After a while his letters become a sharing of Leigh’s day to day feelings with Mr. Henshaw about his parents divorce and being the new kid at school. The author suggests that he put all of this writing into a journal instead of sending him so many letters.
Reactions to the book
I enjoyed the story. Cleary did a great job of making Leigh’s character very relatable to the reader. By writing with an epistolary style, the reader gets a very intimate view of the character’s thoughts and feeling without interference from the author telling his story.
The writing style confused me in the beginning. I kept reading thinking it was going to change to a more traditional story format, which became my own distraction. When I realized that it wasn’t, I enjoyed the story more.
Leigh came across as a pretty mature kid in how he dealt with Mr. Henshaw’s responses, or sometimes lack of. It may have frustrated him a bit, but it didn’t stop him from writing. His need for someone to listen to him kept him wanting to write more.
I believe this story is very relatable for a middle grade reader. The issues that Leigh faces would be typical for kids his age. Not only with what goes on at school, but also with the thoughts that he is having about his parents’ divorce and how much he misses his Dad. I would definitely recommend the book.