Author Beverly Cleary was a champion of books written specifically for boys. As a children’s librarian, she often had trouble finding books that elementary-age boys were interested in. Her frustration prompted her to write a book called “Henry Huggins” in 1950. It featured an ordinary boy named Henry, who finds a stray dog and wants to keep him.
The book was so well received that Ms. Cleary wrote more books about Henry and his dog Ribsy. Boys – and girls – kept reading her books, and she kept writing more for them. Even today, you will find her books in school libraries and in classrooms. Her formula for success was in keeping it realistic. She wrote about things that most kids encounter, regardless of whether it is 1954 or 2021.
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.