Why is Mr. Fridley important in Beverly Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw?

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In Beverly Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw, when Leigh is in the sixth grade, he writes a series of letters to the author Mr. Henshaw responding to a list of questions Mr. Henshaw wrote Leigh in his last letter to Leigh. In the letter dated November 27th, Leigh answers the question about who his favorite teacher is by saying he doesn't have a favorite teacher but really likes the school custodian Mr. Fridley because Leigh sees Mr. Fridley as a kind and caring person.

One example Leigh gives of Mr. Fridley being a kind and caring person is that Mr. Fridley does not "even look cross" anytime he has to clean up after a kid who has gotten sick. Another example concerns Mr. Fridley's treatment of Leigh before school starts.

In a letter dated December 1st, Leigh explains there is a school rule that no one is allowed on campus until 10 minutes before the first bell. Leigh hates the rule because his mother must leave for a class she's taking well before Leigh's school starts, leaving Leigh all on his own in their cottage that "seems dark and damp" in the mornings because of the fog. Because Leigh is lonely, Leigh leaves for school soon after his mother does but must walk very slowly in order to try to get there no sooner than ten minutes before the bell. He usually gets to school much too early and feels he must hide behind the bushes so he is not seen by Mr. Fridley. One day, Mr. Fridley does "something nice" for Leigh by getting him out from behind the bushes. Leigh explains in his letter dated December 12th that he had been watching from behind the bushes as Mr. Leigh raised the U.S. and California state flags up the school flagpole. Leigh noticed that Mr. Fridley had raised the California state flag upside down, hanging the bear upside down. When Leigh comes out from behind the bushes to point out the error, Mr. Fridley invites Leigh to fix the flag himself and raise it "right side up." Mr. Fridley then suggests Leigh "come to school a few minutes early every morning to help him with the flags." The wise reader will recognize that Mr. Fridley raised the flag upside down on purpose, out of the kindness of his heart, to get Leigh to stop hiding behind the bushes and to make him feel comfortable with his need to come to school early. By inviting Leigh to help with the flags, Mr. Fridley gives Leigh some much-needed attention, as Leigh notes when he says to Mr. Henshaw, "It was nive to have somebody notice me."

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