Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney

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Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A seasonal entry to this ever-lengthening series, which proves to have a bit more intrigue about it than others.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 9780571255467

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Even a humble classroom hamster can be excited about Christmas – although Humphrey, with his ability to help all his classmates out, and his good scores in the spelling bees held in lessons, could hardly be called humble. As usual here he has to bear witness to children not quite having the time of their lives – one is running herself into the ground making her own gifts to give to everyone she knows. It's all very well the school putting on a seasonal spectacular in the gym, but what about the boy who exaggerates his piano prowess, and what can be done for the boy who sings like a foghorn? Even more serious than that, what about the adult who could even hinder Humphrey's own participation in the school show?!

This far into the series we know just what to expect from Humphrey and his tales. (The only bit of the unexpected here is that he seems to have started his stories not much more than a year ago, his time – we've been reading about his action-packed life for so long now.) Once more he has to try his best to help out, or at least squeak out, when someone is doing something wrong, or in an unfriendly manner, or just not fitting into his brilliantly Waspish mindset. This is a very American holiday season, and as much mention is made of Hanukkah and its traditions as Christmas.

Beyond the PC-ness, the do-goody attitude of this hamster that can, and the effusive promotion of carrots as the be-all-and-end-all of vegetables, there is in a way a better balance of Humphrey helping his human friends out, and him being in the dark, than in some others in the series. There is a lot about the season he doesn't fully understand, and quite how those lesser-talented classmates will fit into the show – and how he himself will manage to take part – are kept as surprises for him and for us. It seems odd to equate the audience, as young as they might be for these books, with a hamster, but one joyful aspect of this series is that in a Disneyfied kind of way, the two are interchangeable. Humphrey's life lessons to his friends are to us in the audience, asking us not to worry about gifts too much, for the cheapest and simplest are friendships, and asking us to seek talents in everyone, and for once he seems to be ignorant just enough to make the plot a bit more of a mystery.

Yes, it's branded so it might only be read once a year, yes it's twee – and very mawkish in places, especially the show's song lyrics, but this entrant to the series is among the better examples. I hope all the young readers remember a hamster is for life and not for Christmas, but this could stay a favourite for some time too.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Another animal-based Christmas adventure that we really enjoyed is Toad Surprise by Morris Gleitzman.

Buy Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christmas According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon.com.


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