Title: Dear Mr. Henshaw (Newbery Medal Book)
Author: Beverly Cleary
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky
Publisher & Publication Date: Morrow Junior Books, 1983
Genre: Novel, Realistic fiction, Humorous
Grade Level: 4-6
Summary: This novel is about a boy named Leigh who is in the sixth grade. His favorite author is a man named Mr. Henshaw. He has liked his book Ways to Amuse a Dog since he was little. Leigh's parents get divorced and Leigh's mom gets custody of him because his father is a truck driver and is always on the road. He moves with his mom to a new neighborhood and becomes the new kid in school. He is given an assignment to write an author and ask about their life. He writes to Mr. Henshaw and actually gets a response. He continues to write him and then Mr. Henshaw tells him he should write in a journal. He starts writing in a journal to a pretend Mr. Henshaw. Later a story writing contest comes up. He wants to win the contest badly because the winner gets to have dinner with a famous author. He ends up writing a story about an adventure he had with his dad and doesn't win. He then finds out one of the winners plagiarized her poem and he gets to go have dinner with the author, who turns out to be a woman who writes about girls problems. He goes and has a good time and is glad he got to meet the woman. Throughout the story there is a lunch box thief and Leigh wants to catch whoever it is so badly that he makes his own lunch box alarm. It is a big hit and his lunch stops being stolen, but he never finds out who the thief was. During the story his dad loses the dog they all had before the divorce and tells Leigh, but at the end he comes to visit Leigh for the first time and brings the dog because he found him with another trucker.
Response: I loved this book. It made me cry and it made me laugh. I almost lost it when his dad lost Bandit. I am such an animal person. I also had a dog named Bandit and it made me think of him. The ending made me very happy though. He brought Bandit to see Leigh and he wanted to try to work things out with his mother, but she didn't want to. I thought this was a good ending even though it wasn't completely happy. That is the way life is, not everything ends with a "happily ever after."
The words in the story made it easy to read and the way the book was set-up made it even easier to read. It was in letter or journal form and I think that is one of the easiest forms to read. I think Beverly Cleary did a wonderful job capturing the life of a sixth grader. The underlying story of the lunch box thief was great. I loved how it wasn't the main focus of the story, but it was a good part of it!
Teaching Ideas: I would have my students read this novel and then have them write to their favorite author. The idea comes straight out of the book! While they are reading the book have them think about questions that want to ask and have due dates for the approval of the questions and a rough draft. This is to make sure all the letters are appropriate to mail out to the authors. Then once everything is in place have them address an envelope and hand them into you to be sent off! This will be an exciting and fun experience for you and the students!