Sunday, March 8, 2015

Relatable and Readable

Dear Mr. Henshaw

By Beverly Cleary
HarperCollins Publishers
New York, 2000

Reviewed by Laura Harting

Illustration by Paul O. Zelinsky
Despite the fact the first edition of this book dates back to 1983 and kids do not write letters much any more, I have to give this book a high rating.  It is extremely well written.

Illustrated to appeal to a child in late elementary or early middle school, this book of fiction tells the story of a young boy whose father and mother separate and divorce. Leigh has a school assignment to write to an author and ask three questions. He chooses to write to Boyd Henshaw, the author of his favorite book, a dog training guide he has read many times. The author responds and then asks him several questions in return. Much to Leigh’s dismay his mother limits his access to TV until he answers all of the questions the author has asked.  After several letters, Leigh finds writing to be something that is not so bad and takes Henshaw’s suggestion to write in a journal. Leigh’s journal entries describe his life, home situation, feelings, and thoughts about many things, especially his parents' divorce.

Despite the age of this book, I think children today will find it relatable and readable.


Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her office in Paoli, Pennsylvania.


  1. I love the idea of the letter-writing assignment that leads to more writing and journaling. What a wonderful outlet for difficult feelings.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Yes, it is certainly true that writing letters and journaling can be wonderful outlets for difficult feelings. One of the best grief recovery books, "Understanding Your Grief" by Alan Wolfelt, includes a companion volume with lots of space for writing out longhand answers to a wide variety of thought-provoking questions. It was originally meant for a person who is grieving the loss of a loved one due to death, but it could possibly be adapted to grieving the losses related to parental divorce.

  3. This is a priceless book. The idea that reading it may inspire writing, in and of itself a powerful too, is wonderful. I hope many of your readers choose to pick up this book so they might benefit from the opportunity to learn from its story but also to be inspired to write, for whatever reason, and to enjoy the power of expressing oneself through the written word.

  4. Thank you for your comment. The idea for this review came from a recent movie, "Stuck in Love," in which one of the characters (a young writer) mentions "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by name as one of his favorite books. The movie was released in 2012, but Beverly Cleary's book was first published in 1983, which gives us some idea of its important place in our popular culture.

    I would like to echo your thoughts on the power of writing, in particular, the power of writing to heal both writer and reader. One of my favorite books is "When a Man Faces Grief" by Golden and Miller. This short (32 pages) guide is written like a 12-step manual for grieving men. Step 9 is "Tell Your Story." By telling the tale of a loss, we make it more real, we gain perspective, we gain witnesses, we gain power, and we can help others. Which raises the question: Why keep silent any longer?