There can be few characters that polarise the posse we will call my Mum Chums (copyright of collective noun K.and S. circa 2002) more than Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry. Opinions seem to range from the apathetic; 'it's just formulaic fodder- rubbish but y'know- whaddever' through the dismissively jealous;'If only I'd thought of it, it could be me swimming in Francesca Simon's lovely lolly thank you very much, what jammy luck she had' to the downright terrified; 'No copy can come through our front door or The War is Lost and we'll need to wall ourselves in the Panic Room until the kids have raised themselves and moved out.'
I think Horrid Henry is brilliant, clever and very very funny. There is a reason why Francesca Simon's books have sold trillions (possibly) and spawned about ten other copy cat franchises: She is a really. good. writer.
Yesterday I did my annual sortie to Bill's upper bunk to change his sheets. I don't go up there often. You have to mine your way though Lego booby traps and 50 assorted soft toys under the supervision of the baleful gaze of his Giant Bob the Builder ('I'll be ready to get rid of him soon Mum- just not yet...'), and then throw everything overboard to excavate the duvet and mattress lurking somewhere beneath. All whilst not braining yourself on the ceiling. In the process I must have discovered six different Horrid Henry books buried in niches around his pillows like a squirrel hoarding nuts. He loves them completely and absolutely. They are, currently, the only books he is motivated to devour in one sitting in daylight hours (oh- apart from Captain Underpants, whose turn in the spotlight will surely come).
If I'm going to argue with the apathetic and dismissive first I will say that I think it's Francesca Simon's ear for dialogue that raises these books above the mass of others. They're fun to read aloud and fun for Bill to read himself. The best ones are plotted as intricately as a good sitcom episode too; with a satisfying weave of sub plot and back firing plans. I wouldn't underestimate the skill that's gone into them or make the mistake of thinking I could do better. (Why do so many people think they can write children's books?- they're really hard-they can't.) We've gone through a fair few alternatives; the 'Yuck' books, 'Gargoylz' and 'Dirtie Bertie' spring to mind but there are others, and when you read them you come afresh to an appreciation of just how good and varied the Original is.
"Henry sighed. Boy, was this boring. Why didn't they have a decent car, with built-in video games, movies and jacuzzi? That's just what he'd have, when he was king.
Softly, he started to hum under his breath.
'Stop being horrid, Henry!'
'I'm not doing anything,' protested Henry. He lifted his foot.
'MUM!' squealed Peter. 'Henry's kicking me.'
'Are you kicking him, Henry?'
'Not yet,' muttered Henry....'
As for the terrified; there is no doubt that the behaviour of Henry the hero is horrid. I can see the theory; who would want their children to identify with a boy that tortures his brother, runs rings around his parents, refuses all green matter to eat and hates school (although he's also clever, imaginative, endlessly inventive and self sufficient). All I can say is that Bill at least can understand that this is fiction- not a 'how to' manual. It's not just Henry who's despicable after all, Perfect Peter is nauseating, Mum and Dad distracted and inconsistent, teachers and classmates equally unpleasant. Sometimes Henry gets the upper hand and often he doesn't; whaddever- it's funny. My children may be being raised in an overly ironised household and their ears might be more highly tuned to the nuances of parental sarcasm but I wouldn't make any particular claims for them.
Ultimately, they don't seem any more inclined to follow Henry's example than any of the morally upright, suitable and nourishing heroes I also introduce them too. I liked 'What Katy Did' as a child but I'm afraid (and also glad) to say it definitely didn't turn me into Katy.
'Horrid Henry and the Bogey Babysistter' written Francesca Simon, illus. Tony Ross, pub Orion,
many many others available. audio cds read by Miranda Richardson also a hoot, but I wouldn't bother with the tv series and certainly don't touch the film.