Video Interview with the Celebrated Illustrator and 4 Fun Facts About Dear Mr. Henshaw
“I think [the greatest] joy I’ve received from writing is the many letters I have received from children, or from their parents, or teachers telling me of a child who never liked to read until he discovered my books.”
“Keep on drawing. Don’t get self-conscious. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look good enough. Keep on doing it. Love the doing of it, not just the look of the finished thing. Only by not stopping do you get better.”
Paul O. Zelinsky’s illustrations for Dear Mr. Henshaw have delighted generations of readers since its publication in 1983. The drawings throughout Beverly Cleary’s Newbery Medal–winning classic add so much to the story—helping to anchor the narrative, provide context, and enliven imaginations.
Watch this exclusive video interview with the celebrated illustrator to learn about his journey as an artist, get a sneak peek into his process for illustrating a children’s book, and hear his advice for aspiring illustrators.
Did you know Beverly Cleary and Boyd Henshaw have something in common? They both received quite a bit of fan mail! In fact, two letters in particular inspired the story of Dear Mr. Henshaw. Read on to discover four interesting facts about the novel and its creators.
A Letter from Two Readers Inspired Dear Mr. Henshaw
In an interview with Reading Rockets, Beverly Cleary spoke about what drives her to tell particular stories. This is what she said:
“With Dear Mr. Henshaw, two little boys who didn’t know one another asked me to write about a boy whose parents were divorced. And I had never thought about it, but I said I’d give it a try.”
Beverly Cleary and Paul O. Zelinsky Worked Together on Another Favorite Book
In 1982, a year before the release of Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly and Paul also collaborated on Ralph S. Mouse. You can see the original cover below!
You Can Learn How to Draw Faces with Paul O. Zelinsky
Two years ago, Paul did a project with the Society of Illustrators. They created a video in which Paul takes viewers through how to draw faces, step-by-step. Viewers can see the many different styles he uses!
Dear Mr. Henshaw Won the Newbery Medal in 1984
Among Beverly Cleary’s dozens of kid-favorite classics, Dear Mr. Henshaw is the only one to have won the coveted Newbery Medal. Regarding the enduring popularity of her stories, the venerable author replied: “I don’t think children themselves have changed that much. It’s the world that has changed.”
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Beverly Cleary (1916–2021) remains one of America’s most beloved authors. As a child, she struggled with reading and writing. But by third grade, after spending much time in her public library in Portland, Oregon, she found her skills had greatly improved. Before long, her school librarian was saying that she should write children’s books when she grew up. Instead she became a librarian. When a young boy asked her, “Where are the books about kids like us?” she remembered her teacher’s encouragement and was inspired to write the books she’d longed to read but couldn’t find when she was younger.
She based her funny stories on her own neighborhood experiences and the sort of children she knew. And so the Klickitat Street gang was born! Mrs. Cleary’s books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, presented to her in recognition of her lasting contribution to children’s literature. Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father have been named Newbery Honor books. Her characters, including Beezus and Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ralph, the motorcycle-riding mouse, have delighted children for generations.
Beverly Cleary lived to be 104, passing away in March 2021, but her books—relatable, humorous, and inspiring stories for kids, about kids—will live on for generations to come.
Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. As a sophomore in Yale College, he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children’s books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field.
Among many other awards and prizes, Paul received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995). In 2018, Paul was given the Carle Honor Award for Illustration.
Paul lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.
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