Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Review: Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson (1958)

Henry Reed, the son of diplomats, is an American citizen, but he hasn't spent much time in the United States. This summer, however, he will be staying with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. Though Aunt Mabel and Uncle Al expect their nephew to be bored in their quiet neighborhood, Henry immediately starts to liven things up when he launches Henry Reed, Inc., his own research company. Together with Midge, a girl in the neighborhood, he begins gathering animals to sell, offering services to the locals, and in every spare moment trying to catch Midge's runaway rabbit, all while staying away from the grumpy man next door who would prefer never to see or hear from Henry.

This is a series I completely missed as a kid, and I think, had I read them, I would not have been a fan. While my adult sensibilities love to read about clever pranks told in Henry's facetious tone, my younger self would have preferred more traditionally "girly" stories. This is why I think this book is a perfect choice for a reader who wants a real "boy story." Henry's voice as he writes his adventures in his journal is strongly masculine, and his summer adventures involve dirt, animals, tinkering, and goofing around in ways that are very boyish. As Beverly Cleary does in Strider, Keith Robertson really gets inside the mind of a young teenage boy and creates a believable and likable character.

Some things - particularly Robert McCloskey's illustrations and the utter lack of modern technology - date the book to the 1950s, but there is a Penderwicksian feeling of timelessness that transcends the time period and keeps the story feeling fresh and relevant even today. If you want to encourage skeptical young readers to pick up this book despite its age, emphasize the format (a diary just like Greg Heffley's!) and the sense of humor (think Gary Paulsen's Kevin Spencer.) Once readers are hooked, be prepared to also share the sequels to Henry Reed, Inc.: Henry Reed's Journey (1963), Henry Reed's Babysitting Service (1966), Henry Reed's Big Show (1970), and Henry Reed's Think Tank (1986).

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