Beverly Cleary is a legend in children’s literature. Two of my favorite books are Dear Mr. Henshaw and the sequel, Strider, that take you on the journey of young Leigh Botts in his acceptance to his parent’s divorce and the road to acceptance of himself. They are great books to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.
Beverly Cleary has always strived to write books “about kids like us”. Her books are beloved because they are so relatable to her readers. Leigh struggles with his parent’s separation and his father’s absence due to his job as a truck driver. In Dear Mr. Henshaw Leigh connects with a favorite author and develops a pen pal relationship that helps him work through his feelings and anxieties.
From the Book Jacket for Dear Mr. Henshaw:
Beverly Cleary’s timeless Newbery Medal-winning book explores difficult topics like divorce, insecurity, and bullying through the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy as he writes to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw.
After his parents separate, Leigh Botts moves to a new town with his mother. Struggling to make friends and deal with his anger toward his absent father, Leigh loses himself in a class assignment in which he must write to his favorite author. When Mr. Henshaw responds, the two form an unexpected friendship that will change Leigh’s life forever.
From the beloved author of the Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse series comes an epistolary novel about how to navigate and heal from life’s growing pains.
Leigh’s story of growth and acceptance continues in Strider when he takes in a stray dog (Strider) that helps him accept his place in the world, introduces him to a love for running, and gives him hope for the future.
From the Book Jacket for Strider:
Strider has a new habit. Whenever we stop, he places his paw on my foot. It isn’t an accident because he always does it. I like to think he doesn’t want to leave me.
Can a stray dog change the life of a teenage boy? It looks as if Strider can. He’s a dog that loves to run; because of Strider, Leigh Botts finds himself running — well enough to join the school track team. Strider changes Leigh on the inside, too, as he finally begins to accept his parents’ divorce and gets to know a redheaded girl he’s been admiring. With Strider’s help, Leigh finds that the future he once hated to be asked about now holds something he never expected: hope.
I offer complete novel studies to accompany Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider for use in the classroom or homeschool. Each unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.
Beverly Cleary does a masterful job of showing Leigh’s growth through her portrayal of his letter writing and narration which makes a wonderful example for point of view instruction. Many kids can relate to Leigh’s feelings of loneliness, insecurity, sadness over a divorce, missing a parent, trying to find their way and/or talent, and having a beloved pet that gives them unconditional love. The universal relatability is what makes Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider such wonderful novels to use in your classroom.
Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!
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