Seeing the World through the eyes of Humphrey

There are a ton of intermediate reader series out there these days, but finding one that holds your child’s attention and is at the right level can be truly daunting. That was actually the reason that I started this blog a few years ago. It becomes complicated to write about chapter books, but I am making it a mission to focus on that more, especially since we are finished with the full Harry Potter series and expanding our own horizons.

A few years ago a good friend suggested that we read the series The World According to Humphrey. For whatever reason, at the time J wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was that she has always been more interested in books with princesses and fairies, and then when she moved from those, books had to have a strong female lead. A book with a hamster on the front cover did nothing for her. Fast forward to Christmas of this past year when her beloved second grade teacher gave her a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I was shocked when I went into her room one night to find her eating it up.

Humphrey is a hamster. In the initial book of the series he is purchased as a class pet by a teacher. That teacher winds up moving to Brazil and leaving Humphrey behind with a new teacher who is not so thrilled by his existence. Ms. Mac, the first teacher, brings Humphrey in because “You can learn a lot about life by observing another species,” as well as by taking care of another species. Now most would think that this is a statement for the the children to learn by taking care of Humphrey, but Humphrey also learns a great deal about the children and adults who take care of him.

The fun thing about the Humphrey books is that they are told from Humphrey’s perspective. Since the new teacher, Ms. Brisbane, does not initially like Humphrey, he gets sent home with a different student each weekend (although his first weekend is with the Principal, Mr. Morales). The students are able to learn by taking care of this amazing hamster, but he also learns a great deal about them by observing them in their natural habitats.

A great example from the book has to do with a little girl named Sayeh. Ms. Brisbane has been trying to get her to participate in class more often. They make a deal that if Sayeh raises her hand at least one time during a given week, Ms. Brisbane won’t send a note home about her lack of participation. Sayeh does raise her hand to volunteer to take Humphrey home. When he goes home with her, he learns that English is not spoken in her home and that she is afraid that the other kids will make fun of her accent. While Humphrey is home with her, Sayeh gets the courage to tell her family that since he only understands English, they have to speak English that weekend. Humphrey gets a better understanding of who Sayeh is as a person and Sayeh believes in herself a bit more.

The series continues in a marvelous fashion and the books don’t need to be read in any specific order. Some of the themes that are covered are friendship, doing the right thing, racism, and cultural differences.  J likes to read the books and says “Even though all the humans hear is Squeak-Squeak-Squeak, Humphrey helps them solve their problems. He’s everyone’s favorite classroom pet!

The Humphrey books tend to have a Lexile level somewhere in the 600s or 700s. Typically that is the 3-6th grade level. That said, I believe that these books are more age appropriate for 6-9 year olds. At 8, they are sort of perfect for J even if they are super easy reads for her. A great read aloud for a 1st grader and perhaps something to encourage them to read more on their own.

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