Henry Works

Book review by
Marigny Dupuy, Common Sense Media
Henry Works Book Poster Image
Henry David Thoreau as a bear.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that adult readers will recognize that Henry the bear is a fictionalized version of the famous Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, or, Life in the Woods, and that the bear's experiences reflect those of the 19th century author. Children may not have the historical context, but the appealing artwork and gentle story reproduce Thoreau's world in a way that is easy to grasp. There is a readable map on the end papers to follow Henry's route around Concord.

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What's the story?

Henry the bear is simply walking to work in 19th century Concord, Massachusetts, but a walk with this acute observer is a slow and careful event. To some he appears to be idle. He stops to pick comfrey root, waters some milkweed flowers, collects pine needles, and notices that a fox poses a threat to a friend's chickens.

Along the way, he stops in on neighbors such as Emerson (Ralph Waldo), Mrs. Hawthorne (wife of Nathaniel), and Mrs. Alcott (spouse of Bronson). He helps Emerson with a woodchuck infestation, tells Mrs. Alcott to bring in her drying laundry because it will soon rain, and plants a strawberry plant in Mrs. Hawthorne's garden. This is quite an illustrious set of neighbors, but people are not Henry's focus. He is sharply attuned to the world of plants, trees, and natural phenomena such as the weather. When he arrives at his cabin he begins his work: writing.

Is it any good?

This fourth title in a series continues the saga of a most unlikely picture book subject, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), with the same aplomb as its award-winning predecessors. While Thoreau does not appear in an immediately recognizable guise, his quiet containment, clarity of focus, and relationship with the natural world reflect the man perfectly.

D. Johnson's extraordinary Cubist-style artwork and quietly told story reproduce Thoreau's world in a way that is easy to grasp and peaceful enough for bedtime. This is a beautifully rendered tale rich with historical, literary, geographical, and natural history references. Thoreau himself would surely approve of planting the seeds of wisdom in young minds.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Thoreau's life. What kind of insights did he gain from his life in solitude, close to nature? Why would someone choose to live as he did? Do you think it would be possible in today's world?

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