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Talk About: The World According to Humphrey

Core, Reading, Talk About

Published on: September 12, 2023

Written by: Gina Hagler

Banner of the front cover/title of The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

Talk About posts give you the key events and essential information you need to discuss a Core Book with the children in your life.

Cover of The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

The World According to Humphrey | Book 1
by Betty G. Birney

Humphrey stories are told from the point of view of a classroom hamster named Humphrey. He is no ordinary classroom hamster. He is a little guy with a big heart and enough empathy to power the world. He also has totally amazing problem-solving skills!

Lexile: 670L | Reading Level: Grades 3-7

Story World

Ms. Mac changes Humphrey’s life on the day she gets him from the pet store. His new home will be Room 26 of Longfellow School because, as Ms. Mac says, “You can learn a lot about yourself by taking care of another species.” Life is wonderful with Ms. Mac, but when Mrs. Brisbane returns, Ms. Mac leaves. Humphrey is horrified that Mrs. Brisbane is the permanent teacher. She makes it clear that she is not a hamster-in-the-classroom kind of person, even though taking care of him will teach the kids to be responsible. As Humphrey gets to know the kids, and Mrs. Brisbane, he sees for himself that everyone has something they’re dealing with at home. He decides to use the lock-that-doesn’t-lock on his cage to let himself out to help the humans in his life.

Key Characters

Their interactions with Humphrey tell the story:

core books,themes,Main idea

Ms. Mac

Ms. Mac is the person who takes Humphrey home from the pet store and brings him to Room 26 of Longfellow School. She is a happy, energetic person who enchants the kids in the class, brings Humphrey home each night, lets him run around for a while each evening, and sometimes takes him places in her pocket. Humphrey adores her. She leaves Room 26 to teach in Brazil and sends postcards to the class. Humphrey is delighted when she says she misses him. At first, Humphrey is very angry that she left. Over time he understands that she still cares about him.

core books,themes,Main idea

Mrs. Brisbane

Mrs. Brisbane is quieter than Ms. Mac. She considers Humphrey to be a rodent and is not happy to have him in the classroom. Humphrey can see that she really cares about the kids, though, when she takes time to speak to them in private during recess. When Mrs. Brisbane is forced to take him home, Humphrey discovers that her husband has been injured in an accident. Now in a wheelchair, Mr. Brisbane is angry and unhappy. Humphrey decides to liven things up by playing a game that has Mr. Brisbane chasing him around the house. Soon after, Mr. Brisbane starts teaching art at the Rec Center. He also designs an elaborate gym for Humphrey and makes sure each kid in the class helps build it.

core books,themes,Main idea

Aldo Amato

The first night Humphrey is left in the dark classroom, he is terrified. Then the lights go on and Aldo walks in with his cleaning supplies. He just started doing this job, and he’s lonely. He tells his troubles to Humphrey and shares a bit of his dinner each night. Aldo can’t leave the light on, so he opens the blinds a bit to let the streelight shine into the room. Humphrey likes Aldo a lot. He’s also impressed that Aldo can balance a broom on his fingertip. When he sees an ad for club for people who work the nightshift, Humphrey manages to cut it out of the paper with his teeth and put it on the overhead projector. Aldo sees it and knows it has somethimg to do with Humphrey, but it can’t be, right? Aldo tells Humphrey that his nephew, Reapeat-That-Please-Richie, is in Humphrey’s class. Soon, Aldo tells Humphrey he went to a meeting and met a wonderful woman. When he decides to ask her to marry him, Humphrey is the first to know.

core books,themes,Main idea

Principal Morales

Mr. Morales is the Most Important Person at Longfellow School. He’s the only one who wears a tie. Everyone respects him. Since he’s the principal, what he says goes. He always wanted a hamster when he was a kid but there was no extra money, so when Humphrey needs a place to stay one night, Mr. Morales is happy to take him. Once they are at Mr. Morales’ house, Humphrey can see that his kids don’t respect him at all. Mr. Morales tells Humphrey how sad this makes him, so Humphrey decides to pretend to escape. The kids have to work together and listen to Mr. Morales to get Humphrey back to his cage. This helps them start a better relationship.

core books,themes,Main idea

Sayeh Nasiri

Speak-Up-Sayeh never speaks. Never raises her hand. Rarely looks up from looking at her desk. Mrs. Brisbane tells Sayeh that she has perfect scores on all the tests, so she knows Sayeh knows the answers. She says she’s not calling on Sayeh to be mean and asks Sayeh to promise to raise her hand. Sayeh promises, but, when she still does not, Mrs. Brisbane asks her to take Humphrey home for the weekend. Humphrey is glad because Sayeh is always so gentle with him. When he gets to Sayeh’s house, he doesn’t understand what people are saying, and he realizes they speak a different language in Sayeh’s house. Sayeh’s parents speak very little Englilsh, so Humphrey and Sayeh make up a game to get her mom to try. Everyone enjoys the game and Sayeh’s mother decides she will learn more English so she can do more things. When Sayeh tells Humphrey she’s embarrassed to speak in class because she has an accent, Humphrey squeaks that he does, too. The next day in class, Sayeh realizes Humphrey is afraid of a pumpkin near his cage. She raises her hand to ask if she can move it!

core books,themes,Main idea

Miranda Golden

Golden-Miranda reminds Humphrey of a fairy-tale princess who lives in a castle. When he goes home with her, he discovers that she lives in a fourth-floor apartment with her mom and her big dog, Clem. The apartment, elevator, and mom are great. Clem – not so much. He keeps putting his doggy face right up against Humphrey’s cage. Clem is also a genius at unlocking doors. When Miranda has to go out with her mom, they lock Clem in the mom’s room. They lock the door to Miranda’s room, too. That doesn’t stop Clem, and Humphrey is forced to defend himself by shooting a rubberband at Clem’s nose. Clem is nicer around Humphrey after that.

core books,themes,Main idea

Garth Tugwell

Wait-For-The-Bell-Garth is usually a friendly kid. Suddenly, he becomes mean and nasty to Humphrey. He shoots rubberbands at A.J. Why the change? Mrs. Brisbane talks to Garth and finds out his mom is very sick. That’s the reason he can’t bring Humphrey home for a weekend and is angry at everyone else who can – including Humphrey. Mrs. Brisbane arranges for Garth to visit A.J.’s on the weekend that A.J. has Humphrey. The boys repair their friendship. When his mom is better, Garth is able to take Humphrey home for a weekend.

core books,themes,Main idea

A. J. Thomas

When Humphrey goes home with Lower-Your-Voice-A.J., he’s surprised to learn that A.J. stands for Anthony James. He’s also surprised by how loud it is at A.J.’s house. The television is on and blasting loudly all the time. A.J.’s mom has the radio on full volume in the kitchen, too. Life seems to revolve around television – including dinner. When Humphrey can’t take it any more, he leaves his cage to pull the plug. With the TV broken and no money to get it repaired for at least a week, the family plays cards, the kids play outside, and A.J.’s parent have a chance to be together in quiet. Things are so much better without the TV that, when Mr. Thomas discovers it’s unplugged, he and his wife decide to leave it that way for a few more days.

What Does Humphrey Learn?

The messages/themes in this book are kid-friendly:

  • Ms. Mac didn’t leave because she didn’t care; she left because she had things to do that were important to her, and Humphrey was safe and needed where he was.
  • Ms. Mac still loves him very much and misses him while she is away.
  • We can’t know what is going on in someone’s home; sometimes, people are dealing with difficult things.
  • A friend helps when he can and listens when he can’t.
  • You can learn a lot about yourself by taking the time to know other people.

Worksheet Download: The World According to Humphrey

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