Henry Reed, Inc.

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“According to Uncle Al the Princeton area is filled with all sorts of research centers. I didn’t know that the big companies had separate buildings and places where their scientists developed new products, but apparently they do. I guess that’s an example of free enterprise, and I am going to learn more about these research places in order to tell my class about them.”

And that is exactly what Henry Reed did.

In 1958, Keith Robertson created a quirky, smart, friendly, respectful, and inquisitive character named Henry Reed. Henry and his neighbor friend Midge are the thirteen-year-old central characters in a 5-book series. Henry Reed, Inc. is the first book and it is one of the best of its kind that we have read. Everything that we have loved about Homer Price, Danny Dunn, Good Old Archibald, and Alvin Fernald is present in Henry Reed, Inc.. The scrapes that Henry and Midge get into are side-splittingly funny. The intellectual curiosity of Henry and Midge is wonderfully inspiring to my science-minded kids. The writing is complex and sound while remaining boyish. The characters hold very traditional values. The story arc is a compilation of delightful vignettes. Like the other books I mentioned, this one is wonderful for read-aloud, and would be excellent for helping a young reader develop confidence and stamina.

“This is a journal, not a diary. Diaries are kept by girls and tell about about their dates and what they think of their different boyfriends. My mother says that men deep diaries too, that the most famous diary in the world was kept a long time ago by an Englishman named Pepys. That may be so, but when I read about pirates and explorers and sea captains they always kept journals, so this is going to be a journal. It is going to be a record of what happens to me this summer in New Jersey.”

Henry is the son of foreign diplomats. He lives in Europe and has spent very little of his life in the United States. The story is told entirely through journal entries that Henry keeps for a class project. Henry is spending the summer with his Aunt and Uncle in Grover’s Corner right outside of Princeton, New Jersey. The teacher at Henry’s Italian school asks Henry to study American free enterprise and report back to his class when he returns in the fall. Naturally inquisitive, Henry spends the summer learning the art of free enterprise through a research and development firm that he and Midge develop.

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Parents of boys and girls will find much to love in this book. Henry’s uncle is quick to point out that his sister, Henry’s mother, was a budding naturalist and that Henry’s love for animals, nature, and science come from his mother. It is very clear that Henry’s parents, and Henry’s aunt and uncle, are all very intelligent and very curious people. This gives the story a really beautiful intellectual quality to it. I found it particularly satisfying that the themes throughout emphasized a love of ideas, a love of nature, and a love of scientific experimentation.

It becomes very clear that Grover’s Corner is a bedroom community for Princeton University professors and scientists. This gives the story a really neat setting. Nestled into farm country, populated by free thinkers, and maintained with traditional values, Grover’s Corner seems to be an ideal place to turn a boy and his friend loose for the summer so they can explore their world, test their theories, and practice a little enterprise.

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Robertson understands boys. Presumably because he was one. But more than that. His story celebrates the boyishness of boys. As a mom, I found myself cringing while my boys were rejoicing! I will never look at a wasp’s nest the same way again!

It is early March in NE Wisconsin as I write this. There is snow on the ground and the trees are still bare. Nearly two months after having read Henry Reed, Inc., my kids and I were on a nature walk yesterday and discovered a large paper wasp nest. I hate those things. Almost instantly, all of us cried out, “Do you remember when in Henry Reed….” What a joy! Now when we see a nest like that, we will always think of a construction truck knocking the power out in an entire neighborhood. I will let you read the story to get the details for yourself. 

Illustrated by Robert McCloskey, the sketches are dynamic. They capture the spirit of the book perfectly. I thought I loved McCloskey’s work in Homer Price but it pales in comparison to Henry Reed. These pictures tease us into laughing before we have read the punchline. What a great way to encourage a young reader who is trying to learn how to read better and faster!

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One small word of warning. There is one scene of mildly questionable decision-making on the part of Henry and his aunt. When I read it, I was worried that there would be more and that it would spoil the book. I do wish that scene could have been resolved without a lie. I am very glad, however, that that was a one-time occurrence and nothing came of it.

This is a series that I would love to own in hardbound. I believe that you can buy all of the books in paperback reprints, but the hardcover books are more substantial in size.

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