Study Guide

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw Summary

Leigh Botts is obsessed with a book by his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw, and decides to write to him about it. At first, he's just a second-grader who doesn't spell well, but he keeps writing every year until sixth grade. That's—count 'em—four years of letters. When Leigh's sixth-grade teacher gives the class an assignment to write to their favorite author and ask 10 questions, there's no doubt to whom Leigh is going to write.

When Mr. Henshaw himself finally writes back, our story really begins. Mr. Henshaw responds to Leigh's questions about him and asks Leigh 10 questions right back. As Leigh answers those questions, we gradually learn about his family problems and the loneliness he's facing in his new school.

Leigh lives with his mom in a seaside California town, where they'd moved to after his parents broke up. Mom got Leigh, and Dad got the dog, Bandit. Leigh misses his dad and Bandit in the worst way. His dad is a truck driver who hauls fruits and vegetables and doesn't always remember to call Leigh. Leigh is not feeling too good about himself; he thinks his dad isn't all that interested in him and concludes he must not be very lovable. He describes himself as the "mediumest" kid in school. He doesn't think anyone notices him, and he's too new at the school to have any friends yet. Plus, someone is stealing all the best stuff out of his lunch bag, and nothing he tries puts a stop to it.

Mr. Henshaw never writes to Leigh about his problems with his dad, but you can see he understands because he keeps regularly writing to Leigh. Mr. H. gives all kinds of advice about being a writer, which Leigh tries his best to follow. Leigh tells Mr. Henshaw more about his parents' divorce, and how his dad hardly ever visits or calls. Mr. H. encourages Leigh to keep a diary so he can write down his thoughts and feelings; he thinks that's a good way to learn to be a writer.

Leigh has a lot to get off his chest. He writes…and writes and writes. And as he does, we see his writing skills improve along with his ability to come to terms with his family situation.

Along with Mr. Henshaw, Leigh manages to find other adults who help him get through the tough times. He befriends Mr. Fridley, the school's custodian, who doles out good advice and suggests a burglar alarm to catch the thief that's been stealing stuff out of his lunch bag.

Leigh keeps hoping his dad will call (because he promises he will), but he gets disappointed over and over again. He's sad remembering all the good times they had before the family split up, and he has long talks with his mom about why she married his dad and why they got divorced. Mom is steady and hardworking; she's Leigh's emotional anchor. When Leigh accidentally finds out that his dad's hanging out with another woman and her son, Mom is there to comfort him. If that's not bad enough, his dad has also lost Bandit. Leigh is so angry and hurt inside that he almost turns into a destructive, go-to-the-principal type of kid. Thankfully, Mr. Fridley talks him back from the ledge. This crisis gives Leigh a more realistic outlook on the chances of his dad being the kind of father he really wants.

Leigh's school holds a writing competition, and Leigh writes an awesome descriptive essay about a day he went driving on the big rig with his dad.

The essay wins an honorable mention, but Leigh is bummed because he didn't win the big prize—lunch with a mysterious famous author. His only consolation is that the author isn't Mr. Henshaw. But the winning entry ends up being a plagiarized copy, and Leigh takes the winner's place. He meets the famous author and is really encouraged when she calls him an author. She loves that he wrote about something he knew so well rather than trying to imitate another writer. Score one for Leigh, and for Mr. Henshaw, who told him the same thing.

In the continuing saga of the lunch bag thief, Leigh figures out how to make a burglar alarm. This stops the thief and earns him the notice of his classmates. One of them, Barry, becomes the friend he's been wanting so much.

Leigh ends up with mad writing skills, a friend, and no more stolen lunches. It's not all smooth sailing, though, because he still doesn't have the thing he wants most: a great relationship with his dad. After Dad finds Bandit and shows up at Leigh's house asking to get back together with Mom, Leigh realizes that it's just not gonna happen—his dad is not the settling-down type and his mom is done trying. He seems to be able to accept that, and even gives Bandit back to Dad to keep him company on the road.

The story ends on a happy-but-not-happy note, with his dad leaving again and taking Bandit with him. We're not sure whether we like the very realistic ending or if what we really want is the happily-ever-after, where Leigh's parents get back together and everything's perfect. Beverly Cleary knew, though. Life's not perfect and that's how she wrote it.

  • Letters 1-5

    Letter 1: May 12

    • Leigh Botts (who's quick to point out he's a he, not a she) writes a letter to Mr. Henshaw, the author of a funny book about a dog.
    • Leigh's class "licked" the book.
    • We're guessing he meant "liked," but you never know with second-graders.

    Letter 2: December 3

    • Leigh writes Mr. Henshaw another letter. This one's much longer. Leigh is in third grade now.
    • He's read the book from last year for himself. It's called Ways to Amuse a Dog.
    • In the book, the boy's dad says he can't get a dog until he thinks up at least seven ways to amuse it.
    • Leigh has a black dog named Bandit.
    • If Mr. Henshaw writes back, Leigh gets to put the letter on the bulletin board.
    • He's learned how to spell "friend," but not "tutch."

    Letter 3: November 13

    • Leigh is in fourth grade now.
    • Apparently he still loves Mr. Henshaw's book because this year he made a diorama about it.
    • Leigh really wants Mr. Henshaw to write him a real letter (not a generic form letter).
    • His fave character from Ways to Amuse a Dog is Joe's dad, who wasn't upset when Joe (the boy in the book) played a lady singing and the dog howled along.

    Letter 4: December 2

    • Leigh is writing about his favorite book again.
    • He's thinking about how Joe let his dog go down the slide at the park and how grownups where Leigh lives would go ballistic if he did that.
    • We find out that Leigh lives in a mobile home park and the old people are crotchety.
    • On the back of the dog book is a pic of Mr. Henshaw.
    • Leigh writes that he wants to be an author when he grows up and have a beard like Mr. Henshaw.
    • He sends Mr. Henshaw his picture. No beard, but he makes sure Mr. H. knows that his hair is longer now than it was in the picture.

    Letter 5: October 2

    • Leigh is in fifth grade now and does a book report on Ways to Amuse a Dog.
    • He gets an A-minus because he doesn't stand on both feet when he gives the report.
    • We're thinking the teacher didn't like the flamingo effect.
  • Letters 6-10

    Letter 6: November 7

    • Mr. Henshaw finally writes back to Leigh.
    • He tells him to read a different one of his books for a change.
    • Leigh tries Moose on Toast. Apparently there are lots of ways to cook moose. Who knew?
    • In the book, the boy's dad shoots the moose, and Leigh's not so sure he should do that.
    • If Leigh's dad ever shoots a moose, Leigh plans to give the tough parts to his dog, Bandit.

    Letter 7: September 20

    • Leigh makes it to sixth grade and moves to a new town.
    • His new teacher wants the class to do an author study. Guess whom Leigh chooses?
    • He sends Mr. Henshaw 10 questions. This includes asking for writing tips because he really, really, really wants to "be a famous author and write books exactly like yours" (7.2).
    • He also respectfully requests a list of books that Mr. Henshaw has written, an autographed picture, and a bookmark. By Friday. But no pressure.

    Letter 8: November 15

    • Mr. Henshaw doesn't write back by the deadline. Surprised? Neither are we.
    • It all works out, though, because Leigh answers the questions using the info on the back of the book for his report. (Plus, he writes really big to fill up the page. We can totally relate.)
    • Mr. Henshaw's letter finally arrives, and Miss Martinez makes Leigh read it out loud.
    • We find out Mr. Henshaw's real name is Messing A. Round. He doesn't have kids because he doesn't have goats. His favorite animal is a "purple monster who ate children who sent authors long lists of questions for reports instead of learning to use the library" (8.2).
    • That last one was aimed at the teacher, which is why Miss Martinez doesn't laugh with the rest of the class when Leigh reads it.
    • Leigh thanks Mr. Henshaw for the writing tips and promises not to send anything he writes to him.
    • Mr. Henshaw also sends his own list of questions to be answered, which really cheeses off Leigh because, as he says, "I don't think it's fair to make me do more work when I already wrote a report" (8.4).
    • Anyway, Leigh is grateful that Mr. Henshaw answers him. Some of the other kids don't get answers from their authors. One kid gets a really long answer (and had to write a really long report), while 10 kids all write to the same author and fight about who gets to keep the original answer.
    • Leigh isn't going to answer any of the questions Mr. Henshaw asked.
    • In a P.S., Leigh asks if Mr. Henshaw was kidding when he wrote that the real reason he writes books is because it beats mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.

    Letter 9: November 16

    • Oops. Mom finds Mr. Henshaw's list of questions for Leigh and says that Mr. Henshaw spent time answering Leigh's questions so Leigh needs to get with the program and do the same.
    • Leigh says maybe he will and maybe he won't.
    • He also says maybe he'll stop reading Mr. Henshaw's books.
    • Leigh says his dad would tell Mr. Henshaw to go climb a tree for making Leigh answer all these questions.
    • And Leigh thought old people were grumpy?

    Letter 10: November 20

    • Mom keeps telling Leigh to do what Mr. Henshaw says if he wants to be a writer: sit down and write.
    • Leigh starts with question #1: who are you?
    • His full name is Leigh Marcus Botts, but he doesn't like Leigh because people either butcher the pronunciation or think he's a girl.
    • His parents are Bill and Bonnie Botts.
    • He's not super smart, but he's not a dummy, either. He's not a soccer fan like everyone else.
    • Question #2: what do you look like?
    • Leigh describes himself, even though he's already sent Mr. Henshaw a pic.
    • He's medium looking and medium built—"the mediumest boy in class" (10.5).
    • Though he used to be called Leigh the Flea, he's grown since second grade.
  • Letters 11-15

    Letter 11: November 22

    • Mom won't fix the TV, so Leigh decides to answer another of Mr. Henshaw's questions.
    • Question #3: what is your family like?
    • Leigh's family used to live in a mobile home in Bakersfield, California, but his parents got divorced and Dad and Bandit (the dog) now live in a trailer.
    • Dad drives a big truck for work.
    • He used to drive for someone else but dreamed of owning his own truck until he went out and bought one.
    • The truck is why Leigh's parents got divorced: his mom said she never knew where Dad was, and he spent so much money on the truck that they'd never get out of the mobile home.
    • Dad's rig is spectacular, has a bunk in it and 10 wheels, and can haul anything. Leigh definitely knows a lot about big trucks.

    Letter 12: November 23

    • Leigh leaves off the "dear" in this letter's greeting since Mr. Henshaw is "the reason I'm stuck with all this work" (12.1).
    • This letter finishes answering question #3 by describing Bonnie Botts, Leigh's mom.
    • She works part-time for Catering by Katy. Katy is someone she grew up with in Taft, California.
    • Mom and Katy make all kinds of goodies for weddings and parties, things like cheesecakes and apple strudel.
    • Leigh loves his mom's cooking but wishes she'd cook more at home. At least Katy sends stuff home with Mom to put in Leigh's lunches.
    • His mom is also studying to be a LVN (licensed vocational nurse) at the community college.
    • Leigh signs the letter with "your ex-friend."
    • He's still answering these letters under protest.

    Letter 13: November 24

    • Question #4: where do you live?
    • Mom and Leigh moved after the divorce from Bakersfield to Pacific Grove, which is close to the coast and the sugar refinery Dad used to haul sugar beets for.
    • There are lots of ocean breezes (which his mom loves), fog, and golf courses, but no crops.
    • Leigh and his mom live in a really tiny house that used to be a summer cottage. It's cheap and falling apart, but his mom is glad it can't be hauled away like a mobile home.
    • Leigh has his own room, but his mom sleeps on the couch.
    • Next door is a gas station that goes "ping ping" like a video game when a car drives in.
    • There are a bunch of other shops on the street, like a thrift store, fast food, and "a couple of junk stores they call antique shops" (13.4).
    • Mom fixed up the house real nice from things she bought in the shops.
    • When the gas station isn't pinging, Leigh can hear the ocean. The barking sea lions remind him of Bandit.
    • Leigh will write some more unless the TV gets fixed.

    Letter 14: November 26

    • The TV is still out, so Leigh answers some more questions.
    • Question #5: do you have any pets?
    • Nope. When his parents got divorced, Mom got Leigh and Dad got the dog.
    • Leigh is okay with this, though, because Bandit would've been lying around all day and Leigh remembers how the dad in Ways to Amuse a Dog said that dogs have to be amused.
    • Besides, his dad likes having Bandit to keep him company when he's driving, and Bandit likes to ride.
    • One day when his dad was at a truck stop in Nevada, Bandit just jumped into his cab and stayed there. He was wearing a red bandanna instead of a collar, hence the name Bandit.
    • With a cramping hand, Leigh signs off.

    Letter 15: November 27

    • Get ready for question #6: do you like school? (Leigh promises to never send another list of questions to an author. Ever. No matter what.)
    • School's okay.
    • The best thing about sixth grade is that he'll get out of it.
    • Question #7: who are your friends?
    • Apparently, being the new guy hasn't netted him many friends. Maybe because, at least in his mom's opinion, Leigh is a loner.
    • No one pays much attention to Leigh, but he wishes they would.
    • All they seem interested in are the lunches Katy and his mom make for him.
    • Question #8: who is your favorite teacher?
    • Leigh doesn't have a favorite, but he does like Mr. Fridley, the custodian who's friendly and fair to all the students.
    • Leigh shares an anecdote about Mr. Fridley not getting grossed out when a kid threw up in school. It reminds Leigh how his mom got mad at his dad for spending too much time at the truck stop.
  • Letters 16-20

    Letter 16: December 1

    • Leigh is a good sport who's willing to sacrifice it all to finish answering these questions. (Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that his mom is on his case to finish.)
    • Question #9: what bothers you?
    • A lot bothers him apparently, like kids stealing food from his lunch, little kids with runny noses, and having to walk super slow to get to school.
    • Mom leaves the house early for a college class and the house is too lonely, so Leigh leaves early for school. He can't stand being alone in the mornings.
    • The problem is that kids can't be on campus early, so he has to take a really long time to get there, even though it doesn't take a really long time.
    • He's tried taking baby steps and walking backward, but it doesn't help, so he hides in the bushes at school until it's time to go in.
    • He's also bothered when his dad calls on the phone but calls him "kid" instead of Leigh, and when his dad won't say he misses him.
    • He's bothered when his dad doesn't call at all, which is most of the time.
    • Question #10: what do you wish?
    • Leigh's wish list has two things on it: for whoever's stealing the good stuff from his lunch to stop and for his dad to pull up on his big rig and take Leigh to school like a big shot.
    • That's the end of the questions, and Leigh signs off with "fooey on you" (16.7).

    Letter 17: December 4

    • Leigh apologizes for being rude in his last letter.
    • He says he was mad because his dad didn't send money this month. And he wants his dad to want to see him.
    • Get this: after all that complaining about answering all those questions, Leigh sort of misses writing. Go figure.
    • He thinks he'll write a book called The Great Lunchbag Mystery because today his deviled egg went missing.
    • Leigh really wants Mr. Henshaw to write back.

    Letter 18: December 12

    • Mr. Henshaw sends Leigh a postcard from Wyoming. He says he's busy writing a book and chopping wood, and for goodness' sake stop writing so much because he's tired of answering all of Leigh's letters. Think he means it?
    • One day before school, Leigh is hiding out in the bushes and sees Mr. Fridley hang the state flag upside down.
    • Mr. Fridley asks him to come early every day and help with the flags.
    • Now Leigh doesn't have to walk so slowly to school. One problem solved.
    • Nothing was stolen from his lunch today because he ate it before school.
    • Mr. Henshaw's postcard suggests that Leigh start keeping a diary.

    Letter 19: December 13

    • Leigh buys a notebook and puts a killer title on it but can't figure out how to start it.
    • He doesn't want to write "Dear Composition Book" or "Dear Piece of Paper."
    • Help, Mr. Henshaw.

    Letter 20: December 21

    • Mr. Henshaw writes that Leigh should pretend to be writing to someone in the diary.
    • Leigh thinks there's no one better than Mr. Henshaw to pretend to write to. We couldn't agree more.
  • Diary 21-24

    Diary 21: December 22

    • We've changed from letters to Mr. Henshaw to Leigh's diary to Mr. Pretend Henshaw.
    • The problem with Leigh eating his lunch early is that he's hungry by noon.
    • So today, he doesn't eat early and his fancy mushrooms disappear.
    • He doesn't want to be a tattletale, so he tries watching the area around the lunches to catch the thief himself. No luck.
    • Suddenly, Leigh gets an idea: after Christmas, he'll write a fake name on the bag. As Gru would say, "Light bulb."

    Diary 22: December 23

    • First day of vacay.
    • But no Christmas present from Dad.
    • He probably won't come to visit, either. Bummer.

    Diary 23: December 24

    • Still no present.
    • Last Christmas was much better, with killer food, a small tree, and all of them together.
    • They made up songs about lost shoes and they laughed, and life was good.

    Diary 24: December 25

    • Leigh tells us that late at night on Christmas Eve, a strange visitor arrived at his house looking for him.
    • Surprise, his dad sent a present and it was exactly what Leigh wanted—a jacket.
    • For Christmas dinner, they go over to Katy's.
    • Leigh wonders if his mom is also thinking about last Christmas when his dad was there and they made up shoe songs and were happy.
  • Diary 25-28

    Diary 25: January 3

    • Leigh was busy over the break running errands.
    • At school, he writes a fake name on his lunch and nothing gets stolen this time. Score one for Leigh.

    Diary 26: January 8

    • Dad calls from Oregon while waiting for a load of potatoes.
    • He says Bandit is doing great, he's sorry about forgetting to send money to Mom, and he hopes Leigh likes the jacket.
    • When Leigh asks if he can ride with him in the summer, his dad says he'll have to see.
    • Nothing is stolen from his lunch so hooray about that.
    • Mr. Fridley is funny because when he reminds kids not to throw away their retainers, he calls them "false teeth."

    Diary 27: January 9

    • Wanted: missing cheesecake from Leigh's lunch. Guess the pseudonym stopped working.
    • Mr. Fridley suggests a burglar alarm. That gets a laugh out of Leigh.
    • Leigh has high hopes that his dad is going to call. Mom does not.
    • He asks why she divorced him and she says, "It takes two people to get a divorce" (27.4).
    • Tomorrow, Leigh is going to tape the heck out of his lunch bag so no one can get in.

    Diary 28: January 10

    • All that tape means Leigh himself has a difficult time getting into his lunch.
    • Dad is supposed to call today or tomorrow, so Leigh will ask him how to make a burglar alarm for his lunch bag.
    • One of Mr. Henshaw's writing tips is to listen, so Leigh writes down a conversation between him and his mom.
    • He asks her why she doesn't get married again.
    • Mom says she doesn't want someone who just wants her to take care of him or who's in love with his truck.
    • Leigh wonders: how can someone be in love with a truck?
  • Letters 29-31

    Letter 29: January 12

    • Leigh is writing to the real Mr. Henshaw again.
    • The school librarian gives Leigh Mr. Henshaw's new book, which thrills him because a) he's the first to read it and b) someone else has noticed him besides Mr. Fridley.

    Letter 30: January 15

    • After finishing the book in two days, Leigh is mulling some things over.
    • He decides that books don't have to be funny, though it's nice when they are.
    • He knows the new book is going to be sad when the mother bear dies in the beginning.
    • Then, the bear cubs wake midwinter because they haven't had enough to eat.
    • Thankfully, the ranger and his son find and help them.
    • This gets Leigh thinking about real dads, how his doesn't call or seem very interested in Leigh.

    Letter 31: January 19

    • Thanks for sending the postcard with the mountains and lake, Mr. Henshaw.
    • Leigh's writing is getting better, and he likes it more and more.
    • A few schools are getting together to produce a book of writing by some young peeps.
    • The best writing also wins lunch with a Famous Author. (Leigh hopes it'll be Mr. H., of course.)
    • It's a good day because he gets two postcards: one from Mr. Henshaw and one from his dad.
    • He wishes his dad would take him to see Mr. Henshaw.
  • Diary 32-37

    Diary 32: January 9

    • Writing stories is hard work. Leigh wants to write like himself and not copy another story he's heard.
    • Plus, he's still waiting for his dad to call.
    • Too bad another sweet treat was stolen from his lunch again.
    • Mr. Fridley reminds him that everyone's got troubles. Leigh thinks Mr. Fridley would make a super grandfather.

    Diary 33: January 29

    • Leigh is down in the dumps because his dad still hasn't called, even though he said he would.
    • Mom says not to get his hopes up because his dad forgets sometimes.

    Diary 34: January 30

    • According to Leigh's book o' maps, his dad should be in Bakersfield now, so why hasn't he called?
    • Mom says being a trucker isn't easy because of the loud winds in your left ear, greasy food, too little exercise, and too much stress.
    • Leigh wants to know why his dad does it if it's so hard.
    • Mom says Dad loves driving a powerful machine and the excitement of being on the road.
    • She used to ride with him until Leigh was born, and Leigh wonders if she'd still be doing that if he hadn't come along.

    Diary 35: January 31

    • Dad hasn't called, and Leigh is "filled with wrath" at both of his parents (35.1). (Sounds like he's trying out some new writing tricks.)
    • He's mad at his dad for breaking his promise even though it was in writing, and he's mad at his mom for divorcing him.
    • Also, he really misses Bandit.

    Diary 36: February 1

    • The sugar refinery is shutting down, which means his dad won't be going there and maybe Leigh won't ever see him again.

    Diary 37: February 2

    • Some of his mom's friends come over to drink coffee and talk about life.
    • Leigh doesn't want to go into the living room and be asked dumb questions, so he's hiding away in his room with a couple of the ladies' sleeping babies.
    • He remembers riding with Dad once and how exciting it was.
    • At the truck stop, everyone knew his dad as Wild Bill, and Leigh was proud to be his kid.
  • Diary 38-43

    Diary 38: February 4

    • Leigh hates his dad (it's really bad when it's said in italics), and he tells us why.
    • His mom's not home because she's working hard for a golf tournament.
    • Leigh is supposed to be cleaning, but he's all mad about the divorce so he doesn't do it.
    • Instead, he calls his dad's trailer in Bakersfield, even though he doesn't expect him to answer.
    • Dad answers.
    • He calls Leigh "kid" again, and Leigh tells him to stop it.
    • Leigh is upset because his dad hadn't called this week. Dad says the week isn't up yet.
    • Leigh explains how his lunches are being stolen. Dad tells him to punch the kid in the nose.
    • Leigh asks about Bandit. Silence.
    • Dad says Bandit got out in the snow and didn't come back. He says he tried to find him, but he's gone.
    • Leigh is so angry he's crying. How could his dad let Bandit freeze to death?
    • Dad tries his best to reassure Leigh that Bandit will be okay, and Leigh is about to say he understands when…
    • ...he hears some kid in the background ask his dad about getting pizza, and Leigh hangs up. He feels like his insides are falling out.
    • He doesn't want to hear any more, and he doesn't want to write any more just now.

    Diary 39: February 5

    • This is the first diary entry where Leigh doesn't have to write to Mr. Pretend Henshaw. He's able to just write down his thoughts on paper. Mr. Henshaw's strategy worked.
    • Leigh realizes he doesn't really hate his dad, though maybe it'd just be easier if he did.
    • After hanging up on his dad, Leigh cries about Bandit and about the boy getting pizza with his dad and about his dad not calling.
    • Mom comes home and hears the story, and then tells him how she and his dad fell in love.
    • She says she got tired of driving and truck stops and wanted to stay home when Leigh was born.
    • She cries and tries to make Leigh feel better about Bandit.
    • After picking up fried chicken, they eat in the car on the beach.
    • Watching the waves and being together calms them both down, and Leigh is not mad at his mom anymore.

    Diary 40: February 6

    • Today is a hard day for Leigh: he's super tired and realizes Mr. Fridley doesn't really need his help with the flags, and someone steals his little cheesecake.
    • Leigh vows revenge on the perpetrator.
    • He tries writing a story for Young Writers, but the ideas aren't really happening.
    • During spelling class, everything bubbles up inside, and he gets so mad he grabs a random lunch bag and is about to drop kick it in the hall when Mr. Fridley intervenes.
    • Leigh doesn't care.
    • Mr. Fridley does.
    • They have a short talk about friends, how scowling doesn't help, and how everyone has problems.
    • Mr. Fridley sends Leigh back to class to think things through.

    Diary 41: February 7

    • After school, Leigh tries to walk off the rotten way he's feeling.
    • He passes all the shops and sees the "butterfly trees" place he's heard so much about.
    • Walking in, he's not sure what all the fuss is because he doesn't see much.
    • Then, he looks closer and sees them. They cover the trees.
    • The sun pops out, the butterflies take flight, and Leigh feels all warm and fuzzy inside.
    • Running home, he notices metal boxes on some of the shops that say "alarm systems." He wonders what's inside.

    Diary 42: February 8

    • Leigh asks the guy at the gas station what's inside the alarm box. Batteries and a bell, he finds out.
    • He starts a new story for the Young Writers' Yearbook called "The Ten-Foot Wax Man" and starts thinking about how to rig an alarm in a big lunchbox.

    Diary 43: February 9

    • Leigh gets an "I'm sorry about the dog" note from his dad with $20 included.
    • Dad says to buy an ice cream with the money, which makes Leigh really mad.
    • Mom says his dad doesn't really mean for Leigh to get ice cream but that he feels really sorry about Bandit and Leigh should keep the money.
    • He works on his story and decides to save the money for a typewriter. (This is back in the day before computers.)
  • Letters 44-45

    Letter 44: February 15

    • Leigh has made a good start on his wax man story but can't figure out how to finish it, so he sends a quick letter to Mr. Henshaw for advice.

    Letter 45: February 28

    • Thanks for the advice, Mr. Henshaw. It gives Leigh a lot to think about.
    • Leigh is surprised that Mr. H. didn't always have an easy time writing, either, and he mulls over Mr. H.'s idea that a character "should solve a problem or change in some way." (45.1)
    • His teacher says he could write a description or a poem instead of a story.
  • Diary 46-51

    Diary 46: March 1

    • Leigh runs out of room in his first journal and starts a second.
    • He also buys a beat-up black lunchbox like men carry, which is totally different from the cartoon kind.
    • The thief strikes again, but Leigh isn't too upset because he's got a plan.
    • The library has some easy books on batteries and electricity that Leigh studies.
    • He gives up on the wax man story and tries to write a poem about butterflies, but images of batteries keep dancing in his head.

    Diary 47: March 2

    • The butterfly poem he's trying to write isn't working out.
    • Neither is writing his dad a thank-you letter for the $20, though he's not sure why he can't finish it.

    Diary 48: March 3

    • Armed with his lunchbox and $20, Leigh goes to the hardware store.
    • A nice old guy who works there helps him find the right pieces and gives him advice about building an alarm.
    • Leigh likes the way the old guy calls him "son" and wishes his dad wouldn't call him "kid."
    • Once at home, he arranges, hooks, and wraps all the pieces together into his lunchbox, and eureka—it works.
    • It works so well that his mom comes in to find out what all the racket is about. She helps him figure out where in the box his lunch can fit.

    Diary 49: March 5

    • It's an exciting day for Leigh. He and his mom carefully pack the working lunchbox, he waits all morning on the edge of his seat for it to go off, and…nothing happens.
    • Now it's lunchtime, and Leigh is not sure what to do. If he opens his lunch, the alarm will go off.
    • But he's hungry, so what's a guy to do?
    • The alarm goes off, startling everyone, and suddenly everyone is noticing him: teachers, the principal, the kids with boring lunches (like Barry), and other kids who've had things stolen just like Leigh.

    Diary 50: March 6

    • One of the kids in Leigh's class, Barry, asks him to come over after school to help put an alarm on his door.
    • Barry doesn't have the right battery for the job so they mess around with his models instead.
    • Leigh still doesn't have a good idea for the Young Writers contest, but he's feeling so good about hanging out with Barry that he writes the thank-you note to his dad.

    Diary 51: March 15

    • Lots of kids show up with alarmed lunchboxes, and the cafeteria is really loud for a while.
    • The fad fades away, and even Leigh stops setting his alarm.
    • The thief stops stealing his good stuff.
    • He doesn't find out who the thief is, but he discovers he's glad he doesn't know.
    • He doesn't want the kid to get into trouble now; maybe he came to school with a crappy lunch or no lunch at all.
  • Diary 52-58

    Diary 52: March 16

    • Out of the blue, Dad calls.
    • It's so surprising that Leigh is not sure how to respond.
    • Leigh asks if he's found Bandit, and Dad asks if Leigh misses him.
    • Leigh says he does, but he writes that it isn't as true as it was a couple months ago.
    • Dad wants to talk to Mom, but she doesn't want to talk to him.
    • Dad calls him "kid" again, and Leigh figures his dad will never change.
    • He reads Ways to Amuse a Dog "for the thousandth time" (52.18) because it makes him feel good. It's like an old, familiar friend.

    Diary 53: March 17

    • It's Saturday morning, and Leigh takes a slow walk through the butterfly trees.
    • He thinks about writing a descriptive piece about them instead of a poem, but he gets distracted remembering this one really great time he hauled grapes with his dad.

    Diary 54: March 20

    • With one day left before the story deadline, Leigh dashes off a description about the day his dad took him along in the rig to haul grapes.
    • He puts in lots of vivid descriptions but leaves out the part about the waitress and Dad playing video games.

    Diary 55: March 24

    • Barry comes over for dinner.
    • Leigh wasn't sure if Barry would like their house because it's so small, but Barry says it's great to eat without a bunch of little sisters all over the place, and that makes Leigh happy.
    • Barry says his door alarm works, but his mom says it's too loud and he needs to stop using it.
    • How great is it to have a friend?

    Diary 56: March 25

    • Even though he doesn't like thinking about his dad being lonely, that's what Leigh's doing.
    • He asks his mom if she thinks his dad will get married again.
    • She says probably not; he can't afford it.
    • She says his dad is a good man, and Leigh wants to know why they don't kiss and make up.
    • Mom says it's because he'll never grow up and that's that.
    • Tomorrow is the day we find out who wins the Young Writers contest and gets to have lunch with a famous author. We're rooting for Leigh.

    Diary 57: March 26

    • Leigh gets an honorable mention in the Young Writers' Yearbook.
    • He admits he's bummed that he doesn't get a prize and get to meet the famous author but figures "you win some, you lose some" (57.3).
    • The mysterious author is one all the girls like because she writes about girl probs.

    Diary 58: March 30

    • It turns out that Leigh gets to meet the author after all because the winner copied her poem from a book.
    • Miss Neely, the librarian, gets the okay from Leigh's mom to go to the lunch and then drives him to the Holiday Inn.
    • There are other librarians and student winners there.
    • The kids sit with the famous author, Mrs. Badger, at a long table, but there's not a lot of talk at first.
    • Mrs. Badger finds out Leigh was the one who wrote "A Day on Dad's Rig" and praises it, saying that "it was written by a boy who wrote honestly about something he knew and had strong feelings about" (58.13).
    • She encourages Leigh in his writing and calls him an author, which is just about the best thing anyone's ever said to him.
    • The other kids start chatting more, and Leigh asks Mrs. Badger if she's met Mr. Henshaw. She sure has. She says he's a nice young man with a wicked twinkle in his eye.
    • Everyone goes home, and Leigh stays up late writing this diary entry and wishing he could tell his dad about the exciting day.
  • Letter and Diary 59-60

    Letter 59: March 31

    • Leigh writes to Mr. Henshaw to say thanks for the encouragement and advice.
    • He tells him he won the honorable mention and is going to continue writing.

    Diary 60: March 31

    • Barry and Leigh walk to the post office and the butterfly trees.
    • When they get back to the house, guess who's there? Dad. And Bandit.
    • (It's a good thing, too, because Shmoop just couldn't cope with the idea of Bandit being gone forever.)
    • Barry gracefully exits the scene. He knows that Leigh and his dad deserve privacy.
    • They make small talk at first.
    • Dad calls him "kid," and Leigh reunites with Bandit.
    • Dad explains that he found the dog by asking other truckers every day on the CB radio. Finally, he heard from a guy who found Bandit in a snowstorm and let him jump in the truck.
    • Dad and the trucker met up to make the exchange.
    • The talk becomes pretty awkward; Dad comments on Leigh's height, "which is what grownups always say when they don't know what else to say to kids" (60.9).
    • Leigh wonders why his dad came by, and his dad says he was waiting to pick up a load of broccoli nearby. Not smart, Dad, not smart at all.
    • Leigh has been waiting and waiting for his dad to show up and is disappointed that his dad only came because of the broccoli.
    • Mom comes home, and Dad invites himself inside.
    • Mom makes coffee, and Leigh shows his dad the lunchbox alarm and the story he wrote.
    • Mom brings the coffee, and the two adults sit and stare at each other.
    • Dad says he misses her and asks if there's any chance.
    • Mom says no, they can't get back together because there are "too many broken promises. Things like that" (60.37).
    • Dad gets up to go, everyone hugs, and he leaves the house, leaving Bandit with Leigh.
    • Thinking of all those long, lonely drives, Leigh yells out that his dad needs to keep Bandit.
    • Dad hesitates, but Leigh says he won't be able to amuse Bandit when he and his mom are out of the house so much.
    • Dad and Bandit drive off.
    • Mom is inside staring off into space, and Leigh goes to his room to think.
    • He listens to the gas station bell pinging and thinks about how the broccoli maybe brought Dad close to them, but that his dad made it the rest of the way to the house because he missed them. It makes Leigh feel sad and good all at the same time.