Horrid Henry's anarchic adventures have enthralled children for years, but why are Francesca Simon's books and their badly-behaved protagonist so popular? Find out here, as well as where to start if you'd like to read them.
Wild child Horrid Henry first bounded into a book in 1994, when the first title in the series, named simply Horrid Henry, was published. Alongside his sickeningly well-behaved little brother Perfect Peter, his school nemesis Moody Margaret and many other engaging characters, he has thrilled young readers for years, and his escapades have sold millions of copies. In 2006, the books were adapted into a hugely successful children's TV series, which ended in 2015 after 208 episodes. So what has made this unlikely hero and his stories so popular?
11-year-old Horrid Henry is a badly-behaved and often cruel child, so some may wonder why his stories have had such success. However, in a child's world of rules, regulations and routines, Henry's naughty nature may prove deliciously defiant and daring. His adventures involve typical childhood scenarios and difficulties, and are set in recognisable locations like school and home, but these relatable childhood circumstances are disrupted and corrupted by Horrid Henry's trouble-making, giving life to readers' own mischievous daydreams and desires. In an article for the Telegraph, Francesca Simon comments that 'reading about that kind of naughtiness in a book can be rather liberating; it gives kids a chance to explore the wicked side of themselves, but in a safe way, with no consequences'.
Parents and teachers may worry that the books encourage children to behave badly, but Francesca Simon believes they do the opposite. In another article for the Telegraph, she explains: 'It gives them a safe outlet for emotions that are very uncomfortable. Henry gets to go through the door marked 'no entry' because he doesn't think of consequences where we do. [...] That is the joy of reading and why people love to go to the theatre, so they can experience what it's like to be Oedipus. It doesn't mean they're all going to go out and murder their fathers.' The books allow children to revel in some fictional mischief; their own impish impulses can be satisfied by escaping into these rebellious reads.
The books may also encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book. They have an appealing, fun and wicked spirit that can draw even the most unwilling young reader to sit down with a gripping story. The straightforward format of the books and the clear-cut characters make the reading experience hugely enjoyable for autistic children, too. Francesca Simon has received many letters from parents whose autistic children have loved the books. She points out: 'Weepy William is guaranteed to start weeping, Perfect Peter to want to be good, and so you always know where you are, and that's quite reassuring if you have trouble interpreting people.'
The lively illustrations of Tony Ross also add a huge amount of fun and character to the books, making them a brilliantly engaging read.
In short, the Horrid Henry books are daring, funny and exciting, and kids can't get enough of these unruly reads. Be sure to check out the full range of Francesca Simon books.
Where to Start
You and your kids may wish to read the Horrid Henry series in the order they were published, beginning with Horrid Henry (1994), Horrid Henry and the Secret Club (1995) and Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy (1996). Alternatively, you may wish to start with the books whose titles particularly appeal to you and your child, so be sure to take a look at the entire range.
A Brief Biography of Francesca Simon
Francesca Simon was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in California. She studied Old English and medieval studies at Yale and then at Jesus College, Oxford.
Francesca gave up a lucrative career as a medievalist and instead became a journalist, writing for the Sunday Times, Guardian, Mail on Sunday, Telegraph and Vogue (US). She became inspired to write children's books after reading stories to her son, Joshua, who was born in 1989. Many of her stories are based on real-life events.
Her most successful creation has been the infamous Horrid Henry, who first appeared in 1994. The adventures of Horrid Henry have been published in 27 languages and millions of copies have been sold worldwide. In 2008, Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman won the Children's Book of the Year Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards.
Francesca has written more than 50 books for kids of all ages. She likes to encourage and inspire young writers too, and has judged many writing competitions for schools. She has also been on the judging panel for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. One of the proudest moments of her career occurred in 2009, when she was awarded a Gold Blue Peter Badge.
Francesca now lives in North London with her husband and son. She is a passionate ambassador for children's literacy and access to literature. She is a trustee of the World Book Day charity and has been involved with many other literacy charities and initiatives, including Beanstalk, Booktrust's Children's Reading Fund, The Reading Agency and Storybook Dads.