fiction favorites…Henry and Ribsy

Henry and Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Louis Darling

One warm Saturday morning in August, Henry Huggins and his mother and father were eating breakfast in their square white house on Klickitat Street.  Henry’s dog Ribsy sat close to Henry’s chair, hoping for a handout.  While Mr. and Mrs. Huggins listened to the nine o’clock news on the radio, Henry tried to think of something interesting he could do that day.  Of course he could play ball with Scooter or ride his bicycle over to Robert’s house and work on the model railroad, but those were things he could do every day.  Today he wanted to do something different, something he had never done before.

Small-town Oregon, 1954.  Where life for young boys is not a string of soccer leagues, robotics clubs, karate camps, and a dozen other activities organized by adults.  Time stretches out for Henry to fill with his own plans; neighborhood boys are a mixture of friends and enemies for Henry to manage by himself; odious chores, minor disasters, and a heady helping of adventure are all firmly in the hands of Henry, for better or worse.

And Henry winsomely wins our affection as we watch him bumble his way through this unpolished life.  This is a hero we can relate to, for Henry has a little of the Charlie Brown in him, frequently finding himself in an “Ah, rats!” situation.  Yet Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children’s authors ever, allows him to triumph just enough, to see the sunny side of his troubles just in time, and finally to savor a happy ending just Henry’s size.  We chuckle, we groan, we shake our heads at that aggravating Scooter McCarthy and pesky Ramona, but in the end we are left with great big smiles on our faces.

I remember tearing through loads of Henry and Ramona books in my small Minnesota town in the 60s.  It was so very believable.  Today’s children will need a bit of interpretation, perhaps, of wienies and Taylor-tots and why Ramona would hold her pretend camera against her stomach to take a picture, yet the delightful, down-to-earth, peanut-butter-and-jelly feel of these chapters is as transporting as ever.  From such mundane topics as taking out the garbage, getting a hair-cut, losing teeth, and going fishing, Cleary has written an enormously popular read-aloud or a perfect choice for strong, early readers, ages 7 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link:  Henry and Ribsy