I dislike Beverly Cleary. Her books are unimaginative, puerile garbage, and she writes in the stilted language of her child narrators to make up for her own lack of ability.
"Dear Mr. Henshaw" is in many ways her most nauseating work. In it, a troubled young boy, Leigh Botts, writes to his favorite author. The subjects of these letters fall into three categories; the mundane, the pseudo-philosophical, and the blatant appeals to emotion.
The mundane includes such riveting subjects as the person who steals from Leigh's lunch. I never found this entertaining, even when I was 8 years old and dealing with this stuff myself. Perhaps a very talented writer could write about it in an appealing manner. However, Cleary, as usual, is missing the ingredients of humor and perspective! These trivial parts of a child's life are never presented in a funny manner, or even from a unique point of view. As such, they're drab.
Someone stole Leigh's food. It sucks. He's frustrated. The end.
However, even such tedium is vastly preferable to Cleary's sad attempts at philosophy. Look, she's a hack who mass-produces crappy children's books, not the second coming of Nietzsche or Spinoza. The fact that she seriously thought she could tackle this stuff belies her arrogance.
At one point, Leigh and Mr. Henshaw discuss what happens after one's death. It's a universal subject with countless books written about and religions spawned around it.
What does Cleary, through these two characters, think of the matter? Nothing noteworthy! Only that there might be nothing at all after death, which, by the 1980s, is akin to saying the sky is blue.
All these pseudo-philosophical ramblings are consistently kept at a very shallow, surface level, and usually lead nowhere.
Lastly, Cleary for the emotional jugular with tales of Leigh's deadbeat father. It was Stephen King who, in "The Dark Tower" series, noted how easy it was for children's books to draw emotion from their young readers. To get them to cry and feel vicarious misery is easy.
Hacks like Cleary will abuse this power over their young audience and use it in lieu of a good plot and engaging characters. In "Dear Mr. Henshaw", it literally serves no purpose than for its young readers to feel sadness for Leigh.
(Also, spare me the nonsense about this being some deep metaphor for the Cold War. Anyone can write a garbage book, claim it's some deep metaphor for post-colonialism/feminism/cause de jour and have idiot "academics" lap that shit up)
When we read "Dear Mr. Henshaw" in elementary school, the 160 pages, full of inane tedium, pretentious, banal bullshit, and disgusting appeals to innocent child emotions were sheer torture.
If you like torturing kids, make them read this book. And if you're not a sadist, avoid it like the plague.