Saturday, November 28, 2009

Horrid Henry

Biblio Bits Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, SourceBooks Jabberwocky, 2009 (ISBN 9781402217753)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9-11

Genre Humor, Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
In this, the first book in this series, we meet Henry and his family, including his brother, Perfect Peter; we also encounter Moody Margaret, Henry's arch-nemesis. In every Horrid Henry book there are four stories or installments; they are not chapters in a continuing story, but always follow Henry and his latest naughty capers. This book opens with Horrid Henry's Perfect Day, in which he spends the whole day being perfect, like Peter always is. Consequently, the family is late for Cub Scouts because the parents slept in (no sounds of fighting to wake them up!). This new and unexpected turn of events infuriates Perfect Peter, who doesn't quite know what his role is now and even tries out being Horrid himself! This story is followed by Horrid Henry's Dance Class, Horrid Henry and Moody Margaret, and Horrid Henry's Holiday. Horrid Henry is rude, disagreeable, disgusting, conniving, difficult, and manipulative, but somehow totally hilarious at the same time.

Critical Evaluation
This series is as perfect as Henry is horrid, particularly for reluctant readers, fans of humor, anyone who has a sibling, or as a classroom or family read-aloud (if you don't mind being interrupted by hysterics). It's Henry against the world, which is a feeling that we can all relate to: a perfect brother (Peter loves veggies, going to bed early, dance lessons, and he gets perfect grades); parents who make us do terrible things (dance lessons instead of karate, wilderness camping instead of cushy camping); and his rival, Moody Margaret, who is always out to thwart Henry at every turn. It's a little bit like the picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst, 1972). The illustrations reminded me of Roald Dahl's books and sure enough, Ross illustrated my own copy of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is always at least one anecdote per Horrid Henry episode that has my own family rolling off the couch with laughter (ages 7-35).

Reader's Annotation
He's awful, he's rude, he's disagreeable----He's Horrid Henry! What happens when Henry decides to try being perfect for a day? Can he do it? If Henry's being Perfect, where does that leave Perfect Peter?

Author Information
Francesca Simon was born in St. Louis (MO) and was raised in California. She majored in Medieval Studies at Yale and Oxford Universities, and then "threw away a lucrative career as a medievalist" to pursue a career in journalism. She worked free-lance for the Sunday Times, The Guardian, and The Mail (all British publications), and Vogue (US). Simon is a best-selling children's book author in the UK; over 12 million Horrid Henry books have been sold, in 24 countries around the world. Simon now lives in London with her husband, son, and dog. (Information in this author biography is from her official site.)

Challenge issues
Any responsible adult might worry about Henry's thoroughly reprehensible behavior and would surely hate to think that the children in their care adopting Henry's antics.

Booktalking Ideas
The Trouble With Siblings would be the theme of this booktalk and I would try to focus on books that are also funny. I would include The Penderwicks (Birdsall, 2005), Superfudge (Blume, 1980), Beezus and Ramona (Clearly, 1955), and Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear (Mazer, 2007).

Curriculum Ties
It would be a great writing prompt to ask students to develop their own Horrid Henry story, inspired by an autobiographical anecdote. Have they ever had one of those days when EVERYTHING goes wrong? At every turn, you are thwarted by your parents who want you to wash your hair or change your shirt, or siblings who insist on having that one LEGO piece that you can't live without?? I could create a character called Irritating Iris whose husband, Jesting Jacob, is constantly making jokes that are just not that funny if she's in a grumpy mood. Irritating Iris bothers Jesting Jacob by telling him that sometimes his jokes really stink! Anyway, it would be a good group activity to "brainstorm" the type of story that makes a "good" Horrid Henry installment: the element of cringing horror that the stories elicit in readers, the interaction between characters, the roles of each character and how that advances the plot, etc.

Why this book?
Isn't it thrilling to read about characters who are horrible and get in trouble? Who do things that we do (or wish we could)? It's satisfying to read about one who is so predictably devious as Henry. Since, chances are, we are not as bad as he is, we delight in his antics.

Yes, indeedy, there are plenty more Horrid Henry books. Check the website, here, for the full list.


Rockport Public Library owns?
No. (But we own others in the series!)

No comments: