Saturday, April 18, 2009

Horrid Henry Series

This newly published series from Sourcebooks has been a publishing sensation in the U.K. for some time with almost 12 million copies sold to date. Each of the first four chapter books features four self-contained stories about the same group of characters.

Horrid Henry lives up to his name. He is a most unpleasant child. However, as an anti-hero, he provides outrageous fun for children an
d a continuing object lesson for parents as he is everything you would hate your own child to be.

As he plans and schemes to make fools of his family and friends, Horrid Henry gets into a series of scrapes that seven- and eight-year old boys (in particular) will revel in.

Most of the character development of the supporting cast is telegraphed in the character's name. Perfect Peter is Henry's do-good brother. Moody Margaret is the bothersome girl next store. Bossy Bill, Clever Clare, Rude Ralph, and Greedy Graham are his fellow students in Miss Battle Axe's classroom. All of these children play signature roles in Henry's adventures.

Horrid Henry is Dennis the Menace 40 years later and on steroids. His behavior is so bad that even though children enjoy his mischief, they know it's fiction and not real. However, knowing that no child could ever really be this bad, doesn't detract from their fun one bit.

The award-winning author, Francesca Simon, is a transplanted American living in London where these books first found an audience. There are additional adventures to come and there is even an official UK Horrid Henry website which may spawn an American version at some point. Both of these websites offer insights into Henry and his creator.

It's difficult to imagine the books without the clever drawings of illustrator Tony Ross. He has done a marvelous job of capturing the personalities of the characters in simple pen and ink renderings.

If you think I might be exaggerating Henry's unpleasant personality, let me just say that there is a reason Horrid Henry is billed as the "world's most mischievous child"!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Horses of Half Moon Ranch

Every 11-12 year old-girl I've ever known, including me, has gone a little horse crazy at some point. What is it about young girls and horses? In my case, I was fortunate to have a friend down the street who had a horse. She taught me how to groom her horse, how to muck out his stall, the basics of riding, and the best way to feed and water him. I learned that taking care of a horse is an awesome responsibility and one that does not disappear when you start to lose your interest.

I always thought it would be fun to live on a ranch for a summer. In the newly re-published series, The Horses of Half-Moon Ranch, Kirstie Scott does not have to imagine what life on a ranch is like. She lives on the ranch. Her mom, her brother, and a small group of dedicated hands have brought her grandmother's ranch back to life again and they take in guests during the summer.

In both Wild Horses and Rodeo Rocky, the first two books in the series, author Jenny Oldfield creates a satisfying mix of horse lore, mystery, and local color. Not surprisingly, Kirstie is the most fully developed character but there are plenty of memorable characters, even if a little heavy on stock characters of the old crusty trusted ranch hand and heart-of-gold, hermit in the woods kind.

For many readers there will be much to learn about in these stories including how wild horses are tamed and trained and what a rodeo is like. But the thing that shines through both of these stories and rings most true is the love and connection that Kirstie has for these horses. By caring for them and loving them, she learns much about herself and the world around her. A very enjoyable read.