This 1984 Newbery Award winner by Beverly Cleary was published in 1983 and re-released in mass-market paperback in 2000.
In Dear Mr. Henshaw, we are introduced to Leigh Botts, a sixth grader who has just transferred to a new school and is feeling more lost and alone than ever before. One of his few comforts is the books of Mr. Boyd Henshaw, Leigh’s favorite author since the second grade.
When Leigh’s teacher gives an assignment to write a letter to a hero, the boy picks Mr. Henshaw as his addressee. Leigh writes of things he wishes for: an easier time at school, more friends, and for his truck-driving father to come home.
When Mr. Henshaw replies with a postcard, Leigh feels he has finally found someone he can really connect with. Leigh and Henshaw begin a brief correspondence that leads to Leigh keeping a journal of his letters to Mr. Henshaw. As the book progresses, Leigh discovers within himself an emerging writer and decides to follow in Mr. Henshaw’s footsteps to become an author.
By the end of the book, although most of Leigh’s issues have not been resolved, he has become more able to deal with his adolescent feelings towards them. Although we never see any of Mr. Henshaw’s replies other than the first postcard, by reading Leigh’s letters to the author, we understand that Mr. Henshaw has helped to guide the boy through the difficult transition from childhood to adolescence.
The book is aimed at children around the same age as the lead character- 10 to 12- and doesn’t hesitate to step up the vocabulary level compared to other books aimed at that age group. It has its funny moments, sad moments, and heartwarming moments, but it doesn’t exactly follow the typical Beverly Cleary formula. It has some continuity digressions and character development issues. Nonetheless, it is an excellent book if you are not looking for the next Ramona series.
In addition to the Newbery Medal, this book has also received the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont), Garden State Children's Book Award (New Jersey), Nene Award (Hawaii), Sequoyah Children's Book Award (Oklahoma), Massachusetts Children's Book Award, the Christopher Award, ALA Notable Children’s Book and the Horn Book Fanfare.
Dear Mr. Henshaw