Study Guide

Dear Mr. Henshaw Quotes

  • Family

    I'm not real big like my Dad. Mom says I take after her family. (10.4)

    Families are where we get the DNA that makes us look the way we do. The stuff our parents and grandparents pass down to us includes more than just looks, though. Leigh seems to have a personality more like Mom's, too. But in this sentence, we think Leigh is talking about more than that. Is he trying to console himself about just having Mom around?

    Since Dad and Bandit went away, my family is just Mom and me. (11.2)

    You could look at a dozen pictures of a dozen families, and they could all look different: a mom and dad, a mom and dad with a kid, a mom with lots of kids, a granddad with a kid. To Mr. Henshaw, Leigh defines his family as split right down the middle, and it's now just a mom and her boy. We don't know for sure, but it seems like Leigh never saw the divorce coming; at least, he doesn't say that. It must have felt like a sudden, terrible jolt.

    The truck is why my parents got divorced. (11.3)

    This is Leigh's simple explanation for the divorce. Of course, people don't get divorced over a truck. The truck just symbolizes the life on the road that Dad wants. It lets the reader know why Mom finally draws the line and decides to divorce Dad. When Dad bought the new truck, it showed her that he'd never give up his wandering lifestyle.

    When Mom and Dad got divorced and Mom got me, Dad took Bandit. (14.2)

    This is a pretty blunt statement, but it gets to the heart of the situation. Divorce is a very physical process. Someone goes this way, and others go that way. There are new living arrangements to make, and everyone has to figure out how everyday life will now look.

    Mom used to get mad at Dad for whooping it up, but she didn't mean throwing up. (15.5)

    In this sentence, Cleary mixes in some humor with the sadness. Mom means that he spent too much time partying at a truck stop outside of their town instead of spending time with his family.

    So I ask Mom if she thought he might come to see us for Christmas.

    She said, "We're divorced. Remember?"

    I remember all right. I remember all the time. (22.1-3)

    Now that Leigh's family isn't together, both he and Mom have to figure out how their new life will look. This is a big transition—bigger than moving, going to a new school, or having to make new friends. This is something that's constantly in the back of Leigh's mind.

    I wondered if she was thinking about last Christmas when we tried to make up songs about lonely lost shoes. (24.9)

    Last Christmas, they were together: Mom, Dad, Bandit, and Leigh. Last Christmas, they were a family. Leigh misses the laughter and singing, and longs for when his family wasn't apart. Holidays can be challenging times for families that aren't together.

    I sure wish Dad lived with us again. (26.2)

    After a family is pulled apart, for whatever reason, it takes time for everyone to deal with their feelings about it. People aren't affected in the same ways, but there's usually sadness and anger. Kids can feel helpless when there's a divorce. They didn't ask for it, but they experience the consequences of it. Unless their family was especially terrible or dangerous, most kids wish their parents were back together, at least at first.

    I was thinking if I had a father at home, maybe he could show me how to make a burglar alarm for my lunchbag. (28.14)

    It's those day-to-day things that make Leigh miss his dad so much. If Dad was around, maybe he could protect him against some of the bad stuff that's happening to him.

    I wish Bandit was here to keep me company. Bandit and I didn't get a divorce. They did. (35.1)

    Here's another example of how kids are seriously affected by a divorce that, in most cases, they didn't want and didn't see coming. He's lost his beloved pet, too, and that seems totally unfair to him. He sounds angry.

  • Identity

    I am just a plain boy. […] I am sort of medium. […] I guess you could call me the mediumest boy in the class. (10.3-4)

    Leigh starts out being a boy who doesn't stand out, even in his own mind, as the best or worst at anything. He describes himself as not anything special, not the smartest but not "stupid." It's important that the reader know this at the beginning because the story is about growing up and developing an identity. In the end, Leigh realizes he's got some special qualities after all.

    Mom says maybe I'm a loner, but I don't know. […] Maybe I'm just a boy nobody pays much attention to. (15.3)

    Who am I? It's a big question in most kids' minds. Leigh is not sure whether he is or isn't a loner by nature, but he's fairly confident that he's invisible. He doesn't know why.

    I wish someday Dad and Bandit would pull up in front in the rig. […] Then I'd climb in. […] I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then, sitting up there in the cab in front of a forty-foot reefer. (16.6)

    Leigh desperately wants to feel better about himself. As a "medium" kid, he feels overlooked and alone. If the kids at school saw him riding high with Dad, he might stand out a little, maybe even find a friend.

    Every time I try to think up a story, it turns out to be like something someone else has written, usually you. I want to do what you said in your tips and write like me, not like somebody else. (32.1)

    In the world of writing, this is called "voice," and Leigh is struggling to find his. He's smart enough to know when his work sounds like someone else's, so the next step is to figure out who he is, both in real life and as a writer. When we're forming an identity as we grow up, a big part of that is emulating people we admire, trying on different identities for size until we put it all together and find one that fits.

    If Dad loves all those things so much, why can't he love me? And maybe if I hadn't been born, Mom might still be riding with Dad. Maybe I'm to blame for everything. (34.4)

    Leigh is wrestling with some tough stuff right now. What is it about him that makes him unlovable to Dad? Did he get in the way of his mom's dreams? He eventually understands that his dad is like he is regardless of Leigh, and that Mom was ready for a change. But at this point, he's struggling to understand his place in life and in his family.

    "Well, kid—" he began.

    "My name is Leigh!" I almost yelled. "I'm not just some kid you met on the street." (38.16-17)

    Leigh's dad calling him "kid" has always upset him. It's like it's been bottled up inside and the top has popped off and Leigh finally expresses it. He wants his dad to see him for who he is—Leigh, his son, a boy he knows and loves.

    Then Mr. Fridley said, "I don't want to see a boy like you get into trouble, and that's where you're headed." (40.9)

    Generally, the way people act identifies them: a girl who swims all the time and wins medals gets known as a champion swimmer; the boy who drop kicks random lunches down the hall will be identified as a bully or a troublemaker. Mr. Fridley has been at the school a long time and understands kids and human nature. He knows Leigh is smart and capable, so when he sees him starting down the wrong path, he stops him. He doesn't want him to get a reputation as a bad kid.

    I began to feel like some sort of hero. Maybe I'm not so medium after all. (49.9)

    Leigh goes from zero to hero and figures out he's not so bad after all. The thing is, he doesn't make the jump all at once and the change doesn't happen because he goes searching for it. Instead, he's on a mission to protect his lunch, and in the process of solving one problem (being robbed), he ends up changing how he feels about himself. You can't just think your way into feeling good about yourself. When you succeed at something, understand something, or when when people treat you well—that's what gives you confidence.

    I'm not saying robbing lunchboxes is right. I am saying I'm glad I don't know who the thief was, because I have to go to school with him. (51.3)

    This says a lot about Leigh's character. Imagine what it'd be like if he knew—maybe he'd be angry and that would turn to a giant lump of bitterness sitting in the pit of his stomach. Maybe he'd want revenge and it would consume him and he'd be on his way to becoming a super villain. He doesn't want to be that guy. This helps him let go and continue being the nice kid we know he is.

    "I just got honorable mention," I said, but I was thinking, She called me an author. A real live author called me an author. (58.12)

    Having Mrs. Badger, a published author, identify him as an author helps him to believe that he really is one. That's a new identity, one that's really important to him.

  • Coming of Age

    I don't want to be a nuisance to you, but I wish you could tell me how. (19.2)

    A vital part of the coming of age story is the hero's mentor. The mentor is the older and wiser one (like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Gandalf) who teaches, guides, and advises the young one. Leigh's got two in this story: Mr. Fridley and Mr. Henshaw. Leigh's not afraid to ask for advice, which is a huge advantage for him. He's not a know-it-all.

    If I eat my lunch on the way to school, I get hungry in the afternoon. (21.2)

    Self-reflection is something that happens as people grow up. Leigh tries to solve his lunch-thief problem one way, realizes it's not working, and then has to figure out a different approach.

    Dad should be phoning any day now. When I said that at supper […] Mom said for me not to get my hopes up, but I know Dad will remember this time. (27.4)

    At this point in the story, Leigh still has complete faith in Dad, even though he's been pretty unreliable about phoning. As the story progresses, he gets more realistic about Dad.

    Sometimes I lie awake listening to the gas station pinging, and I worry because something might happen to Mom. She is so little compared to most moms, and she works so hard. I don't think Dad is that much interested in me. (30.4)

    What deep and sad thoughts for a kid. Definitely not the way it should be in an ideal world, and definitely the kind of situation to make a kid grow up, maybe before he's supposed to.

    The worst part of all was I knew if Dad took someone to a pizza place for dinner, he wouldn't have phoned me at all, no matter what he said. He would have too much fun playing video games. (39.2)

    Leigh is moving past the point where he believes unequivocally that his dad will come through for him. Even though his dad says one thing, Leigh uses past experiences to figure out his dad's behavior patterns and predict future behavior. Not only is this very grown-up reasoning, but his rock-solid belief in his dad is crumbling.

    Now Mom went on. "I didn't think playing pinball machines in a tavern on Saturday night was fun anymore. Maybe I grew up and your father didn't." (39.13)

    This isn't Mom's or Dad's coming of age story, but what Mom says here gives some insight into Dad. He's an example of what happens when someone doesn't grow up: he shirks responsibilities, doesn't follow through on his promises, and values playing games over his wife and kid.

    "Go ahead and tell the principal," I said. "See if I care."

    "Maybe you don't," he said, "but I do. […] I don't want to see a boy like you get into trouble, and that's where you're headed." (40.6-7, 9)

    Mr. Fridley, Leigh's other mentor, calls it like he sees it. He genuinely cares about the kids and wants to see them succeed in every way. In this part of the story, he's helping Leigh learn to make mature decisions. Thinking about the future consequences of your actions is big-time mature.

    When I asked if I had to write and thank Dad, Mom gave me a funny look and said, "That's up to you." (43.7)

    Up to this point, Mom has told Leigh what to do: answer Mr. Henshaw's questions, clean the house, and don't hang out at the gas station. She's tried to explain things about his dad and mediate everything, but this time she doesn't. She stands back and doesn't tell Leigh what to do, instead giving him space to make his own decision about how to respond to his dad.

    Then Dad surprised me. He asked, "Do you ever miss your old Dad?"

    I had to think a minute. I missed him all right, but I couldn't seem to get the words out. My silence must have bothered him because he asked, "Are you still there?"

    "Sure, Dad, I miss you," I told him. It was true, but not as true as it had been a couple of months ago. I still wanted him to pull up in front of the house in his big rig, but now I knew I couldn't count on it. (52.7-9)

    This passage is jam packed with signs of Leigh's maturity. First, he's able to reflect on his own feeling of surprise. Then, he reflects on his behavior: he can't get the words out. Next, he's able to guess what Dad must be feeling—he's bothered that Leigh didn't answer him. Finally, we see that Leigh has given up his childish, wishful hoping; now, he's accepting the reality about Dad. And to top it off, he's writing this dialogue in his diary and including all the details and reflections. It adds up to a very interesting and emotional part of the story.

  • Literature and Writing

    Dear Mr. Henshaw, My teacher read your book about the dog to our class. It was funny. We licked it. Your friend, Leigh Botts (boy). (1.1)

    Even as a little boy, Leigh loves books so much he wants to write to the author. He can't spell, but he gets his main points across: he liked the book, and he's a boy. Right off the bat, Beverly Cleary is letting us know what this book is going to be about.

    When I grow up I want to be a famous book writer with a beard like you. (4.2)

    By fourth grade, Leigh knows he wants to be an author. Writing is his passion, and he's got someone to look up to and emulate, beard and all.

    If I really want to be an author, I should follow the tips in your letter. I should read, look, listen, think, and write. (10.1)

    This is great advice for everyone who writes (which is all of us at one time or another). It's about being observant and thoughtful and then getting it all down on paper (or the computer). The last tip is the most important. Mr. H. isn't talking about just writing once, but about the practice of writing. Just like an Olympic skater doesn't wake up on the day of the games and expect to win without practicing a ton beforehand, a writer can't write one draft and expect it to be brilliant. That's why your English teachers are always bugging you to revise, revise, revise. Keep that in mind next time you're wishing that Smaug would kidnap all the English teachers until June.

    Well, I sure did a lot of writing, and you know what? Now that I think about it, it wasn't so bad. (17.2)

    How many times have we dreaded doing something and the idea of it just got worse and worse until it seemed as impossible as nailing Jell-O to a tree? Then we finally begin, and we find out it isn't as terrible as we'd built it up to be.

    Maybe I'll do what you said and pretend my diary is a letter to somebody. (20.1)

    A lot of books (i.e. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Tale of Peter Rabbit) were first told to a particular person before being written down or published for a wider audience. Imagine writing a letter to some random kid someone told you about versus writing a letter to your friend's kid brother. The first would probably be very vague and impersonal, the second specific and detailed. Maybe even fun, depending on how you felt about your friend's kid brother.

    One of the tips was listen. I guess you meant to listen and write down the way people talk, sort of like a play. (28.3)

    Good dialogue tells a lot about a person and makes a story more interesting for the reader. We can see Leigh's progress as a writer when his diary entries start containing dialogue. It makes that last scene with Mom and Dad even more dramatic because it's like we're right there with them.

    But then I got to thinking (you said authors should think) and decided a book doesn't have to be funny to be good, although it often helps. This book did not need to be funny. (30.1)

    Leigh is starting to get it. Humor is an awesome thing that can break the tension in a story, but sometimes seriousness is exactly what's needed. If a story about starving, orphaned bear cubs was funny, something would be pretty wrong about that. Leigh still enjoyed the story a lot, even though he almost cried.

    Yes, I will continue to write in my diary even if I do have to pretend I am writing to you. You know something? I think I feel better when I write in my diary. (31.1)

    Lots of Leigh's diary entries and letters are ways the author shows us what Mr. Henshaw has been telling Leigh. Cleary is able to do this without making it too awkward. We see Leigh restate some things from Mr. H.'s letters, and that's how we know what kind of writing tips he's been getting.

    A character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way. (45.1)

    Leigh is telling us another piece of advice from Mr. Henshaw: what's the point of a story if nothing really happens to the character? Like real life, no one stays the same in a good story, even if the changes are subtle.

    So I picked up Ways to Amuse a Dog and read it for the thousandth time. I read harder books now, but I still feel good when I read that book. (52.18)

    What is it about a good, familiar book that makes us go back to it again and again? Maybe it reminds us of happier times and makes us feel safe in its familiarity. Kind of like an old, beat-up stuffed animal that we're way too old for but that we still secretly take out from time to time. Full disclosure: Shmoop still loves Dear Mr. Henshaw even though we first read it in 19…oh, never mind.

    I can't say I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't won a prize, I was. […] Some kids were mad because they didn't win or even get something printed. They said they wouldn't ever try to write again which I think is pretty dumb. I have heard that real authors sometimes have their books turned down. I figure you win some, you lose some. (57.2-33)

    In this passage near the end of the book, Cleary is showing us some very mature thinking on Leigh's part. He can admit disappointment, but it doesn't ruin his life or dissuade him from writing. He puts things in perspective. Most people's successes come after lots of failure.

  • Perseverance

    The best thing about sixth grade in my new school is that if I hang in, I'll get out. (15.2)

    Well, that's not the best reason for doing something, but it is motivating, and sometimes the only reason we go forward when the situation stinks is so it'll be over.

    Thanks for the tip. I know you're busy. (20.2)

    Leigh certainly isn't shy about pursuing Mr. Henshaw. He's been writing to him for four years and asking him all the questions he doesn't ask anyone else. Here, he seems to know he might be bugging Mr. H.

    My teacher says my writing skills are improving. Maybe I really will be a famous author someday. (31.2)

    This not only shows Leigh's tenacity in sticking with writing even when he gets frustrated or stuck, but it also shows why he's persevering. Having a goal or motivation is key when things get tough.

    I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper. (39.1)

    Leigh has kept at his writing, despite grumbling about it in the beginning. He's gotten to the point where it's coming naturally and isn't such a struggle.

    "You know," said Mom, "whenever I watch the waves, I always feel that no matter how bad things seem, life will still go on." That was how I felt, too, only I wouldn't have known how to say it. (39.21)

    Aren't moms great? They can express things we don't have words for and make us feel all safe and good. Here, Mom's pointing out one of the ways she copes with life when it's difficult. The waves are always there and watching them gives Mom a big-picture perspective that gets her through the day-to-day hassles.

    I thought of Dad up in the mountains chaining up eight heavy wheels in the snow, and I thought of Mom squirting deviled crab into hundreds of little cream puff shells and making billions of tiny sandwiches for golfers to gulp and wondering if Catering by Katy would be able to pay her enough to make the rent. (40.12)

    Both parents have good work ethics and are role models for Leigh in persevering even when the going gets tough.

    The books didn't have directions for an alarm in a lunchbox, but I learned enough about batteries and switches and insulated wires, so I think I can figure it out. (46.4)

    Leigh knows nothing about electricity in the beginning, but the desire to keep his lunch safe motivates him to learn how to make an alarm. He's tried several things by this point: writing a fake name on his lunch bag, getting angry, and eating his lunch in the morning. Nothing worked, so he moves on to the next thing.

    I never did find out who the thief was, and now that I stop to think about it, I am glad. (51.2)

    The pilfered lunch problem bothers Leigh for most of the story, and he tries many different solutions. The important thing is that he keeps at the problem until it's solved. Sometimes, though, the solution isn't what is expected, as Leigh says here; he gives up wanting to know the identity of the thief. His perseverance solves two problems: no more stolen lunches and growing out of a childish wish for revenge.

    "How did you find Bandit?" I asked.

    "By asking every day over my CB," he said. "I finally got an answer from a trucker who said he picked up a dog in a snowstorm in the Sierra, a dog that was still riding with him. Last week we turned up in the same line at a weigh scale" (60.10-11)

    Maybe Dad has grown up a bit after all. He didn't give up looking for Bandit, and his persistence paid off.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Mom said we'd never get out of that mobile home when he had to make such big payments on that rig, and she'd never know where he was when he hauled cross-country. (11.3)

    Dad wants freedom to travel and is willing to do anything to get his truck. Mom wants the freedom of a permanent house and knowing where her husband is. They're on opposite sides of the freedom versus security question.

    We live in a little house, a really little house. […] Mom says at least it keeps the rain off, and it can't be hauled away on a flatbed truck. (13.3)

    Some people, like Dad, equate freedom with movement while for some, like Mom, freedom is being secure and stable. Mom believes you can't feel free until you know what your life is going to be like from day to day. It's not that one idea is right and one is wrong, it's just that they're different. When you're married, though, it's probably good to be on the same page about it.

    I asked Dad if I could ride with him sometime next summer when school is out, and he said he'd see. (26.1)

    Dad likes his freedom and doesn't do well with commitments. He wants to go where the wind blows, crossing back and forth across the country with Bandit and his truck. It's not that he can't take Leigh with him, it's that he doesn't want to commit to it. So he gives Leigh the dreaded "we'll see."

    "It's not really his truck he is in love with. He loves the feel of power when he is sitting high in his cab controlling a mighty machine. He loves the excitement of never knowing where this next trip will take him." (34.3)

    Dad finds it very confining to have a 9-to-5 job, a car, and to come home every evening to the same house. He's got a little cowboy in him.

    I felt so terrible about Bandit riding around with a strange trucker and Dad taking another boy out for pizza when I was all alone in the house with the mildewed bathroom when it was raining outside and I was hungry. (39.2)

    So Dad's got the freedom to go wherever with whomever, which is cool for Dad but which hurts our boy something fierce. It's not just the physical isolation of being stuck in the house with nothing to eat that's making Leigh feel terrible. It's Dad choosing not only to not be with Leigh but to give his attention to some other boy.

    "Things weren't too happy at home with your grandfather drinking and all, so your Dad and I ran off to Las Vegas and got married. I enjoyed riding with him until you came along, and—well, by that time I had had enough of highways and truck stops. I stayed home with you, and he was gone most of the time." (39.11)

    Mom found her ticket out of a bad family situation by running off to get married. In trying to escape from one kind of stuck-ness (we just made that word up), she ended up in another: married to a man who didn't want to grow up.

    I remembered, too, how Mom and I were alone a lot and how I hated living in that mobile home. About the only places we ever went were the laundromat and the library. (39.12)

    You can see how confined Leigh felt living in the mobile home. They probably were broke and couldn't afford to go anywhere.

    "Maybe Bandit is just a bum," said Mom. [...] "Remember how he jumped into your father's cab in the first place? Maybe he was ready to move on to another truck." (39.16)

    It seems that Bandit is more like Dad than any other character: both are nomads always on the move. Mom uses this fact to reassure Leigh that Bandit probably found a new home.

    Barry saw the sign on my door that said KEEP OUT MOM THAT MEANS YOU. He asked if my Mom really stays out of my room. I said, "Sure, if I keep things picked up." Mom is not a snoop. (55.5)

    Though Mom keeps an eye on him and doesn't want him hanging out at the gas station, she's good about giving Leigh his own space and trusting him. He has a lot of freedom when he's home on his own, but sometimes it feels more like loneliness to him.

    "Dad, you keep Bandit. You need him more than I do." Dad hesitated until I said, "Please take him. I don't have any way to amuse him." (60.42)

    This is really an awesome sacrifice on Leigh's part. He really misses Bandit but lets him go because it'll be better for Dad to have him. Leigh also knows it'll be better for Bandit to have the freedom of traveling with Dad rather than be stuck in his and Mom's little house.

  • Isolation

    The house is so lonely in the morning when she is gone that I can't stand it. (16.3)

    This is another one of those strong, blunt statements that lets us know that Cleary isn't about to sugarcoat anything. It's the loneliness in the mornings that propels Leigh to leave early. And being early to school results in a close relationship with Mr. Fridley, which turns out to be a very important thing for Leigh. That's a careful piece of plot construction by Beverly Cleary. Everything's in there for a reason.

    I even sort of miss writing now that I've finished your questions. I get lonesome. (17.2)

    It's interesting how close Leigh feels to Mr. Henshaw when they've never met face to face. The letter-writing connects Leigh to someone besides Mom. You can see that Leigh uses writing to deal with his loneliness. It fills up the time and lets him think about things and communicate with his role model.

    It was nice to have somebody notice me. (18.5)

    One of the downsides to moving and starting a new school is not knowing anyone, especially for someone who's reserved like Leigh. When someone actually sees him and pays attention, it feels really good. If you've ever been that new kid, you know how much difference it can make if even one person shows some interest in you. Be that person, Shmoopers.

    Now I know Mr. Fridley isn't the only one who notices me. (29.2)

    When the librarian gives Leigh a book by Mr. Henshaw, he knows that she's been paying attention. It makes him feel like someone who's worth being noticed.

    Maybe I can't think of a story because I am waiting for Dad to call. I get so lonesome when I am alone at night when Mom is at her nursing class. (32.1)

    Leigh's not just isolated because he's stuck in the house alone. Dad's neglect of Leigh adds to his loneliness.

    "Who wants to be friends with someone who scowls all the time?" asked Mr. Fridley. "So you've got problems. Well, so has everyone else, if you take the trouble to notice." (40.11)

    Mr. Fridley is combining two classics here: to have a friend you have to be a friend and it's not all about you. Pretty good advice if you ask us.

    Barry asked me to come home with him to see if I could help him rig up a burglar alarm for his room because he has a bunch of little sisters and stepsisters who get into his stuff. (50.1)

    Barry's house is the opposite of Leigh's, filled with annoying little sisters and lots of commotion. He loves hanging out just with Leigh at Leigh's house. Guess it's all relative, if you'll excuse the pun.

    "Too many lonely days and nights not knowing where you were, too much waiting for phone calls you forgot to make because you were whooping it up at some truck stop," said Mom. (50.36)

    Leigh's not the only one in the family who's felt isolated and lonely.

    That made me happy. It helps to have a friend. (55.3)

    There's this reality TV series called Alone where they leave 10 big, strong people alone in the Canadian wilderness, one by one. There are bears, and the people are really hungry, but what often makes them go home is being totally isolated from people. People weren't made to live alone, and when Leigh finally finds a friend to ease the loneliness, we cheer for him.

    "I think about you a lot on the long hauls," said Dad. "Especially at night." (60.25)

    Dad gets lonely, too. Isolation can be the flip side of freedom.

  • Desires

    I wish somebody would ask me over sometime. (15.4)

    Leigh really wants a friend. One of the downsides of moving is being the new kid, which is what happens to him in sixth grade. On the outside, he's kind of a loner and quiet, but inside he just wants to be noticed and have friends.

    I am bothered when my Dad telephones me and finishes by saying, "Well, keep your nose clean, kid." Why can't he say he misses me, and why can't he call me Leigh? I am bothered when he doesn't phone at all which is most of the time. (16.5)

    Leigh wants a close relationship with his dad. We're not talking physically close (though Leigh really wants to see him, too), but emotionally close. By calling Leigh "kid," his dad is creating distance between them. Leigh wants to be special to him, not just "kid," which he could call anybody.

    I had to laugh at that, but I still wanted my cheesecake. (27.3)

    Keeping his lunch safe is a major wish of Leigh's throughout the story, not just because he's hungry but because the thief takes the good stuff. This leads to anger, thoughts of revenge, and making a creative lunchbox alarm that gets a lot of attention at school. But it all starts with a desire.

    I wish someday he would have to drive a load of something to Wyoming and would take me along so I could get to meet you. (31.3)

    Which is the stronger wish here—meeting Mr. Henshaw or driving with Dad? We don't know about you, but by the end of the book, we were dying to meet Mr. Henshaw.

    I wish I had a grandfather like Mr. Fridley. He is so nice, sort of baggy and comfortable. (32.6)

    With Dad on the road so much and little hope of seeing him now that his parents are divorced, Leigh really wants family. Mr. Fridley is a father figure in Leigh's life, a nice guy who gives advice and steers Leigh in good directions.

    "Your dad has many good qualities. We just married too young, and he loves the excitement of life on the road, and I don't." (39.14)

    We all have desires and things we're passionate about that make us who we are. Leigh's mom and dad are two good people who want very different things, and that's what eventually pulls them apart.

    "That's his way of trying to say he really is sorry about Bandit. He's just not very good at expressing feelings." (43.4)

    It's a good thing Mom can interpret what Dad's saying or Leigh wouldn't know it. Dad wants to communicate with his son; he's just not very good at it.

    "Have you found another dog to take Bandit's place?" I think what I really meant was, Have you found another boy to take my place? (52.5)

    A lot of times we think of desires as positive things—you want an Xbox One or tickets to a concert or quality time with a friend. But sometimes desires are to avoid negative things; you don't want to get hurt, or you don't want to feel left out. Leigh doesn't want to be forgotten or replaced.

    I really would like to meet a Famous Author. (54.1)

    After going through several story ideas and scrapping them all, Leigh's got 24 hours to come up with something. It's the desire to meet an author that gives him the motivation he needs to press through and finish.

    Finally Dad said, "I miss you, Bonnie. [...] Is there any chance—"

    "No," said Mom in a sad, soft voice. "There isn't a chance. [...] Too many broken promises." (60.26, 33-34, 36)

    If this were a movie, the music would be softly swelling and someone would be almost crying. Seems like Dad has finally figured out what he wants; he misses Mom and wants to come home. Mom, however, has also figured out what she wants, and it's not Dad. Not anymore. This is a great example of desires conflicting when the timing is wrong.