18 April 2010
The reader is eased in with elementary school joke-telling staples of mummys, grubs, and underpants (Q: What do you get if you pull your underwear up to your neck? A: a chest of drawers,) before giving way to contributions from other characters in the series. Henry shows his--shall we say,--generous side, by allowing Dizzy Dave to include a section of completely tame dinosaur jokes (which only cost the hapless kid a dollar.) Next door neighbor Moody Margaret contributes Knock-knock jokes; Beefy Bert, who is characterized in the series by his trademark "I dunno" to every question posed to him, heads the section of how/what/why jokes. Aerobic Al's sports jokes offer a reprieve from the offense (ha-ha! Made that one up myself!) but then the attack on decency is back on with a chapter entitled, "Jokes not to tell Miss Battle-Axe". This section was my personal favorite, because it didn't so much contain jokes as a repertoire of smart-aleck remarks that any kid (except for Perfect Peter) would love to fling back at a teacher that was irritating them. Guaranteed to make the whole class laugh not at you, but with you, in admiration.
It wouldn't be a Horrid Henry book without Mum sticking her nose in and trying to force the inclusion of Perfect Peter. Despite Henry's best efforts and repeated threats that reading his little brother's jokes would be more vile than any joke already told, Peter gets in. As ever, though, Henry gets the last laugh. He has saved for the very end, "Jokes much too rude to tell Mom." And he's right! These jokes all of a scatalogical nature, are gross! They are his piece-de-resistance, and if it wasn't for the fact that Mom intervenes and whips the book away mid joke and sends Henry to his room, who knows what further horrors lay in store.
While I wouldn't say that Horrid Henry is anyone's national treasure, he continues to remain a breath of fresh air in children's literature, no matter how rancid his jokes are. Despite a few jokes early on that did not make a smooth translation from Britain to the United States, and might have readers scratching their heads and wondering when to laugh, this book has broad and obvious appeal. There are nods to the parent series here, but readers do not need to be familiar with Horrid Henry to enjoy the book. After all, it's full of jokes! And you can be sure that any readers who were not already aware of the Horrid Henry series will want to read it after their brief encounter with Henry here. Tony Ross' illustrations are scattered throughout, sometimes complementing a joke, sometimes showing Henry in action. They continue to bring to life this stinker of a child and the motley crew that makes up his circle of family and friends. Get this into the hands of any jokesters in your life. Then run for cover.
Note: This book was released in the US on April 1st--of course!--and reviewed from an Advanced Readers Copy sent to me by Sourcebooks Jaberwocky.