School Days According to Humphrey

by Betty G. Birney (2005)

A Sweet Spot selection. 

Humphrey is back. Aldo is back. Og is back.

For any school, any family, and any community that has discovered the magic of Betty G. Birney’s classroom pet – Humphrey the hamster – Read to Them is proud to offer the seventh title in the Humphrey series.

Read to Them heartily recommends that once families fall in love with Humphrey they keep up the healthy habit of reading together and seek out all Humphrey titles.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why is Humphrey the most popular One School, One Book title?

It starts with Humphrey, to be sure. He’s humble. Confident. Sympathetic. He has a sense of humor. And he’s hugely empathetic. He REALLY-REALLY-REALLY wants to help out. Someone worth embodying and identifying with – don’t you think?

The Humphrey stories also take place in a classroom – in Room 26 of Longfellow School, to be precise. Students identify and relate in a more specific way if authors and books can connect with aspects of their daily classroom environment. Things that are funny. Things that are annoying (students or tasks or teachers). Things that are emotionally challenging. This is true in Frindle and even in The Trumpet of the Swan or The Indian in the Cupboard.

It’s really true in Humphrey. It’s what the books are about. We meet the varying students in Humphrey’s class – each of whom has identifying personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.

In School Days According to Humphrey, we meet Hurry-Up-Harry, Tall-Paul and Small-Paul, Helpful-Holly and Rolling-Rosie. Hurry-Up-Harry is always late. Is it his parents’ fault? Is he just so observant that gets distracted? Why does he dawdle? This may sound like a pedestrian concern, but Betty Birney sets it up so that the reader/listener empathizes with both Harry and his teacher (Mrs. Brisbane), but especially with Humphrey as he schemes to help Harry solve his problem.

In fact, Humphrey somehow wants to solve everyone’s problems. He’s not the classroom pet – he’s the classroom therapist!

The Humphrey books work their magic because Humphrey goes home with various members of the school community on the weekends. Students love that writer’s/reader’s/hamster’s window into the life of each new family. What they eat for dinner. How they watch TV. How the siblings and relations interact. Humphrey books are like a crystal ball for elementary school life.

Most schools that read Humphrey end up pining for their own classroom hamsters. But students, too, relish Humphrey’s hamster-eye view on his school. He even sneaks out of his cage explores the school at night. (A la Harry Potter or the Kincaid siblings in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)

The truth is, Humphrey has all the ingredients: Witty. Funny. Sympathetic. Endearing. And that’s why families and schools are coming back for more and demanding more Humphrey titles. Keep on writing, Betty! Families will surely keep on reading. And we’ll keep bringing them program materials so everyone can celebrate Humphrey – his friends, his wisdom – and the salutary joy and pleasure of reading together as a community.