Book Review: The World According to Humphrey
By Aruna Bewtra
“You can learn a lot if you stop spinning and start listening.”
This is one of the many lessons to be learned from Humphrey, a hamster and the main character in Betty G. Birney’s story for kids, The World According to Humphrey. It’s the first in a series of ten books, so young readers who enjoy Humphrey and his adventures will have much to look forward to.
Humphrey’s tale begins when a beloved substitute teacher buys Humphrey for Classroom 26. However, when the regular teacher returns, she declares that she does not like rodents and that Humphrey simply cannot stay at her house on the weekends. The students’ mothers, who see an opportunity for their children to learn responsibility, decide that each weekend Humphrey will go to one of their homes. But it’s Humphrey who does the caring; the very sage hamster finds himself solving the individual problems of each student host.
Humphrey tries to be as helpful as possible in each house. He helps one child find a girlfriend by putting a clipping he has chewed from the newspaper on an overhead projector. He assists a girl nicknamed “Speak up Sayeh” to overcome her shyness and assert herself in class. He also helps a family learn to turn off the television and pay attention to each other. Humphrey seeks to understand each family and problem-solves with compassion, never condescension.
As young readers follow Humphrey’s adventures, they too learn life lessons. By experiencing the different environments of each house through Humphrey’s eyes, readers learn that their peers may face unique situations and challenges. All of this is narrated by Humphrey in his signature, witty style.
Each of the characters in The World According to Humphrey is realistic. And although each situation has a sweet resolution, the book manages to sidestep triteness. Parents will find nothing questionable in Humphrey’s journeys and much to admire in his inquisitiveness. This would be a great book for 8- to 9-year-olds to read alone, or for reading aloud to 6- to 7-year-olds. Chapters are short enough to be prefect for bedtime reading.