19 June 2009
And you thought Junie B. Jones was naughty.....
"Henry was horrid. Everyone said so, even his mother."
So begins this new series by Francesca Simon. When I say "new" I mean new to the US; Henry has been a huge hit in the UK for many years. And after being subjected to the Rainbow Magic books--also from Britain--the playing field has been leveled with this series which will appeal to both boys and girls. Case in point: they have been flying off the shelf at work, and when my review copies arrived I pretty much had to wrestle my daughter for access to them.
The premise of the books is fairly straightforward; each volume contains four stories about Horrid Henry, his younger brother Perfect Peter, and their hand-wringing parents. The stories are funny, accessible and expertly illustrated by Tony Ross. Just in case Henry's actions weren't enough to convince a reader that he is indeed horrid, Ross has illustrated the point quite clearly, dressing Horrid Henry as a shaggy haired yobbo, while Perfect Peter seems to live in his school uniform. Just as it is nearly impossible to think of a Roald Dahl book without imagining a Quentin Blake illustration, so is Horrid Henry synonymous with the prolific Ross.
Author Francesca Simon has done an expert job of balancing within each book the moments when Henry truly is Horrid, with the times when he is simply a kid thwarted by adult expectations. This balancing act keeps Henry from becoming intolerable. A great example of this is in Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine. In the eponymous story Henry is playing imaginatively with a box and, for once, not causing any trouble. Things go awry when Peter, who has his own plans for the box, is able to win his mother's support by simply being the perfect child. Horrid Henry's revenge on his brother is creative, funny, and, in essence, harmless. But he wouldn't be Horrid Henry if his mom actually saw him as anything but horrid. And so the blame shifts to the mother, and Henry is free to be legitimately horrid in the follow-up story with the audience firmly on his side.
Perhaps the best thing about the Horrid Henry series is that it provides a subversive alternative to the goody-goody Magic Treehouse books, which have had a popularity stranglehold on this reading level for far too long. More Horrid Henry books are scheduled for release, just in time for summer reading.