“Leaving Mr. Humphries”
By Alison Lohans
Illustrated by Gretchen Ehrsam
Spiders, bats, and really long shadows. Josh has to stay with his grandpa and aunt at a summer cottage while his mom goes to a conference. His room is in the attic, and it is definitely spooky. Thank goodness he has Mr. Humphries, a fuzzy blue teddy bear, to keep him company.
“Leaving Mr. Humphries,” a High Plains Book Awards finalist in the children’s category, is written and illustrated by cousins Alison Lohans and Gretchen Ehrsam, respectively, and brings children into an emotional world they will recognize.
Separation from a parent can be disorienting, and, from page one, Lohans makes it clear that Josh does not want to be at the summer cottage away from his mother. He’s homesick, as many children would be. The only good thing for Josh is Mr. Humphries, and the boy isn’t about to let him go.
Josh relies on Mr. Humphries as new adventures unfold and he slowly warms up to his relatives. They go on a boat ride on the lake. They help bake a pie. They climb a tower. No matter what, Josh makes sure Mr. Humphries is always close, including during an emergency run to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Yet, the story will eventually involve a separation between Josh and his beloved teddy bear.
Through character and plot, Lohans shows how hard it can be for a boy to grow up. With sensitivity, she highlights the conflict between Josh’s need for Mr. Humphries and his mother’s desire that he outgrow his dependence. Unfortunately, I did have to re-read a few passages because the transition from one activity to another seemed confusing.
Despite these sometimes difficult transitions, however, Lohans’ words alone paint a picture in the mind for the reader, and Ehrsam’s illustrations enhance the story’s vividness. I found them quite unusual, in fact, almost like highly textured, colorful woodcuts.
Leaving Mr. Humphries is a terrific book for young children and accomplishes what Lohans set out to do — help little ones work through their fears of growing up and separating from parents. A hint for the reader — make sure to turn to the last page.