Dear Mr. Henshaw Summary

Beverly Cleary

Dear Mr. Henshaw

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Dear Mr. Henshaw Summary

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Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary tells the story of young Leigh Botts and his pen pal relationship with favorite author Boyd Henshaw. The book is told through a series of letters written by the two characters to each other, followed by Leigh’s diary. Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal in 1984 and was listed in a National Education Association poll as one of its’ “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.”

Second grader Leigh is an avid reader, so when the assignment comes to write a letter he chooses to write to favorite author Boyd Henshaw, writer of Ways to Amuse a Dog. To his surprise, Henshaw responds and they begin a correspondence. He continues to send letters to Henshaw over the next four years.

When Leigh is in sixth grade, he moves with his mother to a new school in a new town. His teacher assigns another letter, and Leigh again chooses Henshaw.  In his letter, Leigh tells Henshaw about the move, about his parents’ divorce, and about the frequent disappearance of the best parts of his packed lunches. Henshaw’s reply includes a list of questions for Leigh to answer about himself. Hesitant to answer the questions at first, Leigh is eventually convinced by his mother to respond to Henshaw with answers.

He begins by answering the first two: Who are you? and What do you look like? In the next letter, he answers the question ‘what is your family like?’ with descriptions of his father’s life as a truck driver and an assumption that the time away from home is why his parents separated. He later explains that his mother works part time for a catering company.

For the fourth question, ‘where do you live?,’ Leigh tells Henshaw that because of the divorce he lives with his mother in a small, dilapidated house. In his answer for the fifth question ‘do you have any pets,’ Leigh explains that his father took their dog Bandit with him to keep him company on the road. He admits that he misses them both.

The next day, Leigh answers questions six through ten. ‘Do you like school?’ Leigh is a little indifferent at the moment. ‘Who are your friends?’ Leigh doesn’t think he has any good friendships at school, but there is somebody taking food out of his lunches. ‘Who is your favorite teacher?’ Instead of a teacher, Leigh mentions janitor Mr. Fridley. ‘What bothers you?’ Leigh confesses he doesn’t want to live in an empty house or walk early to school. “What do you wish?’ He wishes that people would stop stealing the best parts of his lunch and that his dad and Bandit would come back.

Leigh then writes Henshaw an apology for his angry tone, confessing that his frustration was probably more directed at his father than Henshaw. The lunch issue is another contributing factor to his mood. Leigh decides to follow Henshaw’s advice and starts a diary. Henshaw explains that he should treat the diary as if it were a letter to someone. Leigh continues to write letters to Henshaw in his diary, starting the letters with ‘Dear Mr. Pretend Henshaw.’

In his diary, Leigh conveys his misgivings about the holidays without his father. On Christmas day, a trucker arrives with presents from his father that Leigh likes very much. He also receives a phone call from his father, who says that he has sent a support check. However, a later entry reveals that Leigh’s father was with another woman during a second phone conversation. This angers Leigh.

At school, the librarian convinces Leigh to submit a story to the Young Writers’ Yearbook. Leigh writes an account of his travels on his dad’s truck called “A Day on Dad’s Rig.” The first place winner of the contest is later discovered to have cheated, so Leigh wins the first place prize of lunch with author Angela Badger. Although not Henshaw, Badger is a worthy author to speak with and Leigh appreciates that she calls him an author.

By continuing to write to Henshaw in his diary, Leigh learns to accept that there are things in his life that he cannot change. His parents will not remarry, his food will not stop disappearing, and his father will not be dependable. Over time, he comes to realize that life is a balance of happiness and sadness, and that he will overcome the current sadness eventually.

Cleary’s epistolary novel Dear Mr. Henshaw is a departure from her usually light-hearted form, and some deem it her best. Everything the reader knows about Leigh is divulged through his letter entries, creating an almost autobiographical feeling for the short novel. The reader also gets to witness Leigh’s maturing into a young adult through his writing. There are misspellings and grammatical errors in his letters in the beginning of the novel, but these become fewer and farther between as the story progresses and Leigh becomes a more self-aware writer and person.