Both Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider tell the story of a young boy, Leigh Botts, through a series of letters and journal entries. In Dear Mr. Henshaw, Leigh begins corresponding with his favorite author who encourages him to write and suggests taking up journaling. Through Leigh’s writing, we learn about his challenges growing up, including being a child of divorced parents. Leigh’s Dad is a semi driver who dedicates his life to his truck, but his life on the road ultimately causes the demise of his parent’s relationship. As someone who had not experienced divorced, identifying with that angle of character was challenging. But knowing that these days, my experience is the exception and not the norm, I recognize that his voice needs to be present for children to relate.
Strider, on the other hand, shows Leigh, a little older, reconnecting with his father who has been forced to take a more traditional job in the area. Leigh begins to take on more responsibility as he shares custody of a dog with his friend Barry. Through caring for Strider, Leigh learns how difficult it is to have joint custody which mirrors his own family life. He begins to identify more with the difficulties his parents had to endure and reaches out more to both of them.
It’s the year of Beverly Cleary! I will make it through the entire list, I promise.