HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0380709588
Winner of the 1984 John Newbery Medal
Synopsis: Leigh Botts is a HUGE fan of Boyd Henshaw. Ever since second grade, when his teacher read the class Ways to Amuse a Dog, Leigh has been writing letters to his favorite author. And now that he is in sixth grade, he gets to do a project on an author – asking them questions about their work, why they write, where they get their ideas, and how they became a writer. But the correspondence that is supposed to cheer Leigh up only makes him more angry and frustrated. Plus, he has to deal with the fact that his parents are divorced, he’s the new kid at school, and someone keeps taking all of the good food out of his lunch! Will he ever fit in? Will his favorite author actually be the inspiration he needs to become a writer himself?
Why I picked it up: I love Beverly Cleary and I have always been a huge fan of her Ramona books…but not enough to write to her.
Why I finished it: Being the new kid at a new school in a new town and dealing with your parent’s divorce can put any kid in a tough situation – there’s so many different emotions to sort through that can make it seem as if nothing will ever turn out right. I’ve been through a similar scenario, and if you can learn to roll with the punches, you can learn things about yourself that can make you into a stronger person. Leigh is struggling in more ways than one – missing his dad, worrying about catching the lunch thief, not being able to make friends – and even though the answers he receives in return from his favorite author seem rude and mean (we never actually get to see the other half of the correspondence), Leigh is learning things about himself and his life that are making a bigger impact on him than even he knows. Cleary’s first-person diary helps the reader get inside Leigh’s head and we share his victories and his stumbles right along with him. It makes one feel like they are reading letters from a friend, even if we don’t know what the other half of the conversation is. Zelinsky’s drawings add to the emotion of the story and add another dimension to Cleary’s writing. It’s a sweet, funny, and heartbreaking coming-of-age story that shows us that we have the power to believe in ourselves, even if we don’t know how.
Other related materials: Strider by Beverly Cleary; Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary; Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary; Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary; Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt; Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt, illustrated by Louise Yates; Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff; Pie by Sarah Weeks; Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Amy June Bates; Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson