Written By: Beverly Cleary
Illustrated By: Paul O. Zelinsky
Life is tough for Leigh Botts as he struggles to deal with the divorce of his parents, the feeling of being abandoned by his father, and the everyday difficulties that go along with being in the sixth grade.
Beverly Cleary, author of Dear Mr. Henshaw, writes the full story in the form of letters. What is interesting; however, is that the letters are only written from the perspective of the protagonist, Leigh. Readers can only assume how author Mr. Henshaw responds to Leigh’s letters, as sometimes Leigh leaves little hints in his next letter. For example, on page 35, Leigh writes to Mr. Henshaw, “I’ve been thinking about what you said on your postcard about keeping a diary. Maybe I’ll try it.” We know from this that Henshaw has obviously suggested to Leigh that he begin a diary to write down some of his feelings—we can assume that the diary is meant to be therapeutic for Leigh.
Cleary strongly develops Leigh as a character that many children can relate to. Unfortunately, many children will either indirectly or directly experience divorce and feelings of abandonment. The book can help young readers to cope and to understand that they are not alone—there is always someone to talk to—even if it is in the form of a diary. The book can provide insight for those who are indirectly affected by divorce. Leigh is an only child and cannot help but feel like he is to blame for his parents getting divorced. Through his conversations with his mother and Mr. Henshaw, Leigh begins to realize that things are not his fault. Many children can also relate to the social challenges associated with starting middle school. This story can either help children to develop empathy for those they may be picking on, or comfort that it will end—for those who are being picked on.
What is best about the book is the fact that the issues and topics presented in the book are truly timeless. This story was published twenty-eight years ago in 1983. Unfortunately, the issues that are presented in this story are still issues of today and are still relatable. Cleary kept a neutral setting and did not include anything that would cause the book to be outdated.
Although there are not too many illustrations throughout the book, illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky did include pencil illustrations, which help readers to visualize the book. The very first illustration on the title page is a collage of all of the major events that will occur throughout the story. As readers read through the story, connections can be made and brought back to the beginning of the book.
There are some things in life that we cannot change and we can always look to a book to help us get through difficult times. For some, reading may be therapeutic. For others, writing may do the trick. In Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary shows us that both have the power to help us develop and grow.