Sunday, December 11, 2011


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Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary, HarperCollins, 1950, 175 pp


The Luckiest Girl, Beverly Cleary's Young Adult novel from 1958, was one of my favorite books in my preteen years. After re-reading it a few months ago, I decided to read her middle grade books as research for the memoir I am writing. Henry Huggins was the first of these and the first book she published.

I don't remember reading it as a child but I very well may have because it is about a boy who got a dog. I wanted a dog so much when I was in third grade that I convinced my friend across the street to say that her dog was half mine.

Beverly Cleary's intention and genius was to write stories that kids in the 1950s could relate to. She had been a children's librarian and had spent countless hours talking to kids about what they liked to read. Finally she decided to write such books herself and started an entire trend.

Henry Huggins is a small town, middle-class third grader who feels his life is not very exciting. He rides a bus, by himself, to the center of town every Wednesday to go swimming at the YMCA. One day while waiting for the bus home, he finds a stray dog, names him Ribsy because the dog is so thin, manages to get Ribsy home and convince his parents to let him keep the dog.

The entire first chapter is full of excitement. The book goes on to relate Henry's life with Ribsy and other pets on Klickitat Street. I love that name! Every time I came to it I would say it out loud.

The atmosphere on Klickitat Street is a microcosm of 1950s American small town life. The kids play, roam the neighborhood, perform in school plays and enter their pets in a dog show. From the moment that Henry gets Ribsy his life is full of exciting problems and Henry turns out to be very good at solving problems.

The kids talk the way we talked in those days. "Hey, cut that out!" "Golly." "Gee whiz." " Beat it!" And even "Shut up!" to any friend who was teasing.

Lessons are learned but these kids already have a moral sense, so the lessons are practical, how-to-get-along-in-life type experiences illustrated by the story rather than relayed through the mouths of adults.

I think parents today could learn more about child rearing from Beverly Cleary than from any modern book on parenting. Maybe the kids could read her books on their iPhones.

(Henry Huggins is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in an indie bookstore nearest to you, click on the book cover image above.)

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