Thanks to Pamela Paul I know that Beverly Cleary turned 95 years old today. She was born in 1916, the same year as my grandmother. Which makes me happy--growing up, Cleary was my grandmother of the written word. I liked Judy Blume too, but Cleary was my favorite children's novelist.
Like anyone else I enjoyed reading about Ramona, Beezus, and Henry Huggins. But my favorite Cleary novel is Dear Mr. Henshaw, which won the Newbery Medal for best children's book of 1984.
I was seven then, the same age as main character Leigh Botts. Leigh is sad and confused by his parent's divorce; I was too, as my folks had divorced the year before. In this troubled state Leigh begins a correspondence with well-known children's author Boyd Henshaw, first as a class assignment and eventually because he wants to. Through his correspondence with Mr. Henshaw we learn about Leigh's feelings and anxieties. Most poignantly, Leigh must come to terms with the fact that his father is not as reliable as he should be although he means well. This is exactly what I was struggling with at the time.
Kids at that age have a hard time understanding that their parents are fallible. As a kid I knew what Leigh was going through; when I re-read the book 20 years later I realized that there were some things Leigh was just too young to understand.
Leigh is a sensitive boy, better on the page than in spoken speech. To this day I best express myself in writing, so there's a little bit of Leigh Botts in me yet.
Happy birthday Beverly Cleary.