Walk into any library or bookstore these days, and you will find plenty of books that elementary-age boys will love. But back in the late 1940’s, when Beverly Cleary was a librarian, the pickings were slim. Children’s books tended to feature British boys living in palaces, living a totally different lifestyle than the average boy. Where were the books that were down-to-earth with characters who were realistic? Almost nowhere.
So Beverly Cleary decided to remedy that. She first tried to come up with a story about a little girl, but it just wasn’t turning out right. Then she switched to writing about a boy, using her interactions with elementary-age boys as a base for the character of Henry Huggins. Young Henry was every boy. He went to school, thought about ways to spend his allowance, and really wanted a pet.
Some of the details of the story are clearly dated. Henry has to use a pay-phone to call his mother. These days, we would have a hard time finding a pay phone, and most kids have never used one. But the desire of just about every boy is to have a pet of his own. As soon as Henry sees the scraggly stray dog on the street, he wants to keep him. The bus-driver will only allow dogs on the bus if they are contained in a box, so Henry gets a box from the local grocery-store. And that is the beginning of his adventures with Ribsy, the scrawny dog.
The story of Henry Higgins was so well-received by little boys that Beverly Cleary went on to write five more books about him. She also wrote stories about the Quimby sisters, Beezus and Ramona. In a break from reality stories, she wrote three books about a mouse named Ralph who lived in the wall of a hotel with his family, and could talk to humans. The book “The Mouse And The Motorcycle” was made into a movie. But the long list of books published by Ms. Cleary all started with “Henry Huggins”, which will undoubtedly be enjoyed by children for many more years.