Friday, May 4, 2018

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary; illustrated by Louis Darling (1950)

The last time I read Henry Huggins was probably in fourth or fifth grade.  I know I’ve listened to some of the Ramona books (read by Stockard Channing) since then, but I don’t remember reading Henry Huggins.  If, indeed, I last read them in fifth grade, that was about 37 years ago.  I probably read Henry Huggins more than once (I re-read books and still do).  I’m amazed that after all these years, I remembered so much.  I didn’t remember all the kids names or every chapter, but some things  rushed back to me as I read it:  the green paint, the guppies.  The end, with its shades of King Solomon, I did remember, although reading it as an adult, something didn’t jibe with me.  The adult in me thought “Ribsy belongs to the other boy” and I felt sorry for him.  I think the kid reader of long ago cheered for Henry, and also that Henry’s friends  - even Scooter, even the girls - stood up for Henry, just like the kids in my neighborhood would have stood up for me.  They reminded me of us, 37 years ago, which is really how brilliant Beverly Cleary was:  she understood how kids thought, and damn squishy adult thoughts.

There are new illustrations for Henry Huggins that I hated.  I was reading this on my phone, and I actually went out and find a hard copy of Henry Huggins just so I could leaf through the old time photos and feel nostalgic.  Maybe kids needed new illustrations - but they were already old din 1979 when I read it, and someone they didn’t bother me then.  And I thought they looked out of date now.  That’s an adult talking again though; kids wont’ know any different and a childre’s novel is always more than just its pictures.

If Henry Huggins was in third grade in 1950, that means he was born about 1940 or 1941.  In 1950, the war had only been over for five years - even within Henry’s memory.  Yet the United States had moved on into the baby boom, and nothing even came up about the war in the book.  I thought that was interesting - and I wondered how true that was - five years later, was World War II already a fading memory?

Henry Huggins (Henry Huggins, #1)Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last time I read Henry Huggins was in elementary school - I’d say fourth or fifth grade. I loved (and still love) re-reading books, so I know I read it numerous times. I’m amazed at how much came back to me as I re-read it as a 48 year old adult: the Christmas pageant, the guppies, the nightcrawlers, the King Solomon ending. Beverly Cleary understood how kids think and act and feel about the world and each other. There is a scene in the last chapter when Beezus and Mary Jane are trying to be tight rope walkers, and Henry and Robert are watching them, and making fun of them for it, and I thought “That was us, back in 1979” all of the neighborhood kids; we would have been doing and saying those same things. That was 30 years after the book was written; here we are, nearly 70 years after the book was written, and I still think much of the book would resonate and read true. That was Beverly Cleary’s genius and why she is still in print: she understood what was going on in the minds of kids.


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