Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross
And now for something completely different. . .
Have you heard of Horrid Henry? If you live outside the UK, chances are you haven’t. Neither of us had. But we were sent copies of the series to check out, since they are being published in the US for the first time this summer. Here are our thoughts on this new, off-beat and entertaining series of books for early readers.
You can tell from the first page that this is indeed a different series of books: I mean, here’s a boy who is so horrid that “Even his teddy bear, Mr. Kill, avoided him whenever possible.” In the course of Horrid Henry’s adventures—well, devious schemes—there are no happy endings or neatly tied together resolutions. But there are irreverent, funny incidents and unexpected twists that make you eager to read the next story. Like the time Henry tried to trick the tooth fairy into leaving him money by stealing his younger brother Perfect Peter’s tooth. Or when he disrupts the dance recital with his rendition of a pterodactyl. His trip to a fancy French restaurant (Le Posh) is a wonderful farce about snobby dining, and readers will root for Henry as he triumphs by eating “disgusting” yet delicious snails.
Tony Ross is the perfect illustrator for these stories. He also illustrated some of the Roald Dahl books, which have a similar irreverent style.
I think it’s about time these books, wildly popular in the UK, made their way across the ocean. Author Francesca Simon was told by many American publishers that the books were “inappropriate” (read politically incorrect) for US audiences. But I think kids will love them and be drawn to the exaggeration of real-world situations told with a wry sense of humor. The series is a kind of Monty Python for the younger set.
My two-year-olds are still too young for Horrid Henry. I tried to read the first book aloud to them, and Molly protested, “This book has too many words!” But I imagine that in a few years these will be a rather beloved series in our house.
I expected to find books in the vein of Captain Underpants– a series I really don’t like at all, but am thrilled exists because I know from other parents and teachers that kids love it and it gets them reading. Instead, I found a book that reminds me more of Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc and Edward Gorey or Pierre by Maurice Sendak. Granted, both of these books point out the folly of horrid behavior, while the Henry books don’t, but I think kids get the downside of this behavior. And goodness knows, they know the upside (fun, fun, fun!) without anyone pointing it out. I think kids will really enjoy Horrid Henry’s antics and adventures.
As an adult, I enjoyed some of the situations that Simon slyly puts Henry into- from snobby dining to a tacky wedding- where frankly, much of his horrid behavior is exactly how many adults would choose to behave if we weren’t too bound by social convention and politeness. Or the fact that Perfect Peter is as annoying as Horrid Henry. I imagine him as a miserable, boring, friendless Agent for the IRS when he grows up . . .