Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Real characters, hilarious situations
Cons: A bit dated, two chapters that tell their own story
The Bottom Line:
Many funny tales
Book can make all laugh out loud
No matter your age

"I Want Some P.T.A.!"

For some reason, I never quite got around to reading all of Beverly Cleary's books. I don't quite know why that is since I loved the ones I read. They all featured kids in ordinary but funny situations. Henry and Ribsy was the first I read and it's a great case in point.

Henry Huggins has just one thing on his mind, fishing. His father's annual salmon fishing trip is just a few weeks away, and this year, Henry wants to go.

Unfortunately, Henry's dog Ribsy has been acting up. When he eats a policeman's sandwich while Henry is arguing his case, Mr. Huggins makes a deal. If Henry can keep Ribsy out of trouble for a month, Henry can go fishing. Henry quickly makes the deal. But can he do it?

I laughed my way through this book the first time around, and I did it again this time. The events of the book are perfectly normal and logical, but also very funny.

It works so well because these characters are real. Even though the book is third person, it is limited third person. We get all the events solely from Henry's point of view. We know exactly what he is thinking and feeling every moment. And Henry is very believable. It's never clear exactly how old he is in this book, but it is obviously elementary school. He behaves just like any other kid would. His neighborhood friends are easily as believable. And the adults in this world are perfectly developed. We see them through a child's eyes, yet they often surprise Henry with their actions.

It's been years since I read the book, so I was surprised to find that plot was a little slower then I remembered it being. This is more a slice of life tale then a plot driven book. As a result, two of the chapters are really a self contained story that only superficially has to do with Ribsy and the fishing trip. They are still highly entertaining, however.

Then there's my all time favorite Beverly Cleary chapter, "Ramona and the P.T.A." Those familiar with Mrs. Cleary's work will recognize Ramona from her own books. But before she became the main character, she was the annoying little sister of Henry's friend Beezus. It's rather hard to describe just how funny this chapter is, but it involves bones, lunchboxes, a screaming pre-schooler, a jungle gym, and a school full of mothers convinced that Ribsy is tormenting Ramona. I laughed almost as hard this time around as I did when I originally read it.

The book is over 50 years old, and it shows. From the metal garbage can that the Huggins family uses to the presence of radio and absence of TV, this book presents a picture of life in the 50's. The story and characters are vivid enough I doubt this will be a problem for today's kids.

The book is extremely well written. The vocabulary is simple enough that kids in the 8-12 year old target age range should have no problem reading it. It flows so smoothly that it would make for a great read aloud book as well.

The book has gone though many different editions over the years, and as far as I know, all of them have included pictures. The edition I read had about half a dozen line drawings per chapter. They are simple but add to the book's humor.

The book may be dated, but the characters and humor still shine through. Today's kids should love Henry just as much as the original readers did and just as much as I did in the 80's. Henry and Ribsy is a classic for all generations to enjoy.

This review is part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, hosted by Shannon Messenger.  Visit her blog to find other participants.


  1. These still circulate well, and the students seem to appreciate the now "historical" aspects. A bit hit this year in my library has been Homer Price! Glad to have you in MMGM!

    1. I'm glad to hear they still circulate well. They really as so much fun.

      I remember reading Homer Price, although it's been years. I should try to reread it.

  2. I love Ribsy! The stories still ring true...

    1. Yes, the stories come from real characters, and I'm sure that's why they still ring true.

  3. I loved these books when I was little! I read all of them and couldn't get enough. I loved Ribsy and now I feel I need to reread them. I bet you are right and the dated aspects won't matter because of the characters and story. Thanks for the reminder about an old favorite. :)

    1. I really need to go back and read the others I've missed. They are such fun, timeless books.

  4. I love all these books. I didn't discover them as a kid, but I read all the Henry books to my own boys in the 1990s. They loved them too. Great choice for MMGM!

    1. It was the late 80's when I read them myself. Of course, I was the target age at the time....

  5. I loved these books as a kid and loved them all over again when I reread as an adult. My introduction to Cleary was my 4th grade teacher, who read several of the Henry Huggins books aloud to our class. IIRC, the Henry Huggins stories were among Cleary's first published books.

    Of course, when I first read the Henry Huggins books in the mid-1960s, they were near-contemporaneous--but I can't personally recall things like buying horsemeat from the butcher (well, I didn't have a dog, either) and a few other things were probably dated at the time that I can't remember. But those touches are great reminders of childhood and it sometimes seems odd to me that today's children would consider them as taking place in the "olden days". However, of course I felt that way about books written during my parents' childhood!

    1. The characters and themes are so great and timeless. I have a feeling these books will be loved for generations to come.

      Thanks for sharing your memories of these books.