I’m not sure if this was the first Keith Robertson book I read, but it was an early one, first published in 1958. I would have found it in my grade school library some time after spring 1960. I was probably already familiar with the illustrator, Robert McCloskey, even if I didn’t know it, as we had his picture book for young children, Make Way For Ducklings. His style is full of charm and humor, just right for this book, which is not unlike McCloskey’s own novels for children, Homer Price and Centerburg Tales, which I also enjoyed.
Henry Reed’s father is an American diplomat in Italy, where the family lives. In a series of journal entries we learn that Henry is spending the summer in the tiny community of Grover’s Corner, New Jersey (near Princeton) with his mother’s brother Uncle Al and Aunt Mabel, who live close to where Henry’s uncle and mother grew up. That family home is gone, but a large barn remains, which Henry is delighted to discover he owns, along with the property it’s on. Before long, Henry and his new friend Midge Glass as well as Henry’s beagle pet Agony, have opened a research center in the barn. Henry’s been asked by his teacher in Italy to engage in some free enterprise business on his vacation, and that’s how he decides to do it.
Henry and company seem to attract trouble and excitement like honey attracts bees, which Uncle Al says was also true of his mother. Midge offers to contribute a pair of tame rabbits to the pigeons and turtles Henry soon accumulates, but one of them escapes, and the kids and Agony spend the rest of the summer trying to catch Jedediah. Meanwhile, Agony also tangles with Siegfried, the cat of neighbor family The Apples. Mr. Apple has something odd going on in his back yard that the kids can’t figure out, but if they or their animals set foot in it, they’re in big trouble, which happens a lot.
Henry and Midge manage to make a surprising amount of money in various ways while chaos happens around them, or because of them, with adventures like Agony getting stuck in a pipe, Midge dousing successfully for oil, Henry finding a rare pot, and Jedediah jumping out of a mailbox into the face of the mailman. Their final adventure involves a hot air balloon carrying both Siegfried the cat and Agony the dog inadvertently into the sky. Several of these adventures end up in the local paper, entertaining Uncle Al, but Mr. Apple is not amused.
Not only is this a great read, as are all Keith Robertson’s many books, but it held a particular fascination for me because I lived not too far from Princeton, NJ when I read it, and had been there a few times. Henry Reed returned in several more books that I’ll be rereading this summer, and I think they all are easy to find online.