Dear Mr. Henshaw is a classic middle grades chapter book that kids love today just as much as they did two decades ago when it first came out and became that year's Newbery Medal winner.
In the story, second-grader Leigh's favorite book is Ways to Amuse a Dog by Boyd Henshaw, so he writes to the author to let him know that he "licked" the book. This one letter becomes the first of many over the next few years, until the busy author suggests to Leigh that he keep a journal. Leigh wants to be a writer too, so follows Mr. Henshaw's advice, and the letters turn into a journal--with entries addressed to "Dear Mr. Pretend Henshaw", since Leigh feels better if he's writing to someone.
The format is clever, told through a combination of Leigh's letters to Mr. Henshaw and his journal entries to "Mr. Pretend Henshaw." This makes Dear Mr Henshaw a good choice for reading aloud to your class when trying to inspire students in either of these writing modes.
Cleary covers a number of different personal and family issues that many
students will be able to relate to. In his journal, Leigh writes about
his parents' divorce and how much he misses his dad. He also talks about
not having many friends at school and the problems he is having with
students stealing food from his lunch box. The voice feels authentic for
a boy his age, and children experiencing family break-up or loneliness
will certainly relate to this character and feel encouraged to watch
Leigh come to understand and accept his family situation and even make a
Level: Grade 3-6
Lexile Measure: 910L
DRA Level: 40
Guided Reading Level: Q
Read-Aloud vs. Individual Reading: For third graders, this book may need to be a read-aloud rather than for individual reading, as the reading level is the goal reading level for the END of third grade. Some will be able to read it independently, however. It will just depend on individual reading level. Fourth graders will likely be able to read this book on their own (especially as the year moves on), and the majority of fifth and sixth graders will have little problem on their own.
Besides just being a great
read that children has enjoyed for generations (including us as kids!),
this book is great to read aloud or have kids read when teaching letter
writing. It could even be a fun prelude to a writing project where kids
write their own favorite authors. (Hopefully some would even write
There are quiet a number of lesson/activity packets available for Dear Mr.Henshaw on the popular teacher website teacherspayteachers.com. We haven't personally used them with our classes since we teach the younger grades, but they all seem to have a lot of positive reviews. (If you aren't familiar with this site, it's full of lesson plans, activities, learning games, and other curriculum materials made by teachers. We LOVE the site!!).
To see these Dear Mr. Henshaw lesson / activity ideas, click the link or the pictures below.