I think there must be a lot of naughty schoolboy living inside my feathers, because I enjoyed Horrid Henry. It's the first in a series of books written by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, and published by Sourcebooks (USA, 2009), although originally published in Great Britain by Orion Children's Books in 1994.
Junior fiction that gets kids reading is so important. Horrid Henry has large font, lots of white space, and four short episodes that means young readers will feel comfortable straight away. A quick flick through Tony Ross's cartoon-like illustrations will have them grinning, and Simon's obvious understanding of what makes kids under 10 laugh will hook them for sure.
Henry is the sort of child we must all have wished to be when our parents extolled the virtues of a smug sibling. He's ill-mannered, naughty, the despair of his parents, and in complete contrast to his goody-goody brother, Perfect Peter.
The first story, Horrid Henry's Perfect Day, shows us what happens when Henry decides to behave as perfectly as his brother. Simon's great sense of timing and comedy are evident from the start.
"Henry, where are your peas and carrots?" asked Mum.
"I ate them," said Henry. "They were delicious."
Mom looked on the floor. She looked under Henry's chair. She looked under the plate.
"You ate your peas and carrots?" said Mom slowly. She felt Henry's forehead.
"Are you feeling all right, Henry?"
(I know we have a "Mum" and a "Mom" in that quote, but apparently the US publisher altered the original for US readers, and one "Mum" slipped through the edit.)
The second story, Horrid Henry's Dance Class, introduces Henry's dance teacher, Miss Impatience Tutu, who hates teaching, noise, and children. Simon and Ross between them bring this skinny, sharp-nosed tartar to life, so we rejoice with Henry when he gets to go to karate class next week instead.
Horrid Henry and Moody Margaret shows us that Henry certainly doesn't get the better of his neighbour and sometime playmate, Margaret. And Horrid Henry's Holiday puts Henry's long-suffering family under canvas in the rain with a very grumpy Henry.
The Sourcebooks website has teacher activities to accompany the books in free downloads, Horrid Henry games, and kids are encouraged to send in their own Glop recipes. (Warning, people with delicate stomachs should not visit that last page!)
I'm looking forward to my next Horrid Henry book, Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy. Meantime, I'm just off to find my red whoopee cushion.