Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney
|Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: One more volume full of proof that this series belongs on your shelf. It's innate – it's biology.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: March 2016|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
|External links: Author's website|
Spring, of all things, is a dead end. The class, given the homework task of finding signs of spring, are just failing and failing, what with the bad weather. And nobody can come up with any useful ideas for the class theme at the school's Family Fun Day, as being clowns has been nicked by someone else. How can a humble classroom pet hamster help everyone and everything – especially when he has been gazumped himself? For the very child tasked with looking after Humphrey for the weekend has been sent a package containing what is alleged to be a sign of spring – although to our hero the two tiny tadpoles in a tank look like two specks in gunk…
Like spring, things have changed in this series – or at least, since I last looked, the cover artwork has changed from a Photoshopped real hamster to a cartoon one. Both are equally valid – the adventures of a hamster who jumps around classrooms hanging on to blind cords (bringing a hilarious episode to life here) have at the one and the same time had a comical, cartoonish feel yet an honest, true-to-life-but-better Hollywood gloss, a moral sheen where Humphrey loves each and every child in the class and is loved in return, no matter their differences and problems.
And so, while this adventure in the ongoing series does not even try and jump the shark, it has a noticeable element I cannot but mention. The fact that Humphrey is clearly jealous of the two tadpoles-to-be in their gunk, and questions his memory of his upbringing to the end that he doubts he will ever know his origins, actually in some small way disguises the way this book gets close to the bone as regards – shock, horror – biology. Yes, make no mistake, this is no teen-only Humphrey book (wouldn't that be a strange thing indeed?!), but it does touch in incredibly sensible and universally friendly ways on reproduction, family units and suchlike. One child here is an orphan, which is no major matter to the plot, but when Humphrey cannot see his family tree enough to do the children's homework in his own secret notepad we actually see reproduction in his world for the first time. Add into proceedings the school caretaker having twins and moving on in life, and boy, you are subtly putting the tin opener to a can of worms, if not quite opening it.
If I ignore such adult concerns, and turn to this book as pure entertainment, well, I find no failings there either. The quality of the writing is still FINE-FINE-FINE, as Humphrey might have it. There is once more little attempt to fully differentiate the many children in the classroom, but more than enough character through seeing the world with Humphrey's eyes to suffice. The school activities are engagingly portrayed, even if this is a world where nobody has a lesson plan and can just invite all and sundry to traipse around in the snow at the mere sight of a crocus. And the very cute, fun and lively ways in which our hero hamster does manage to help his human friends is still writ very entertainingly as well as large, meaning this series seems to have once again come up trumps. A book, then, for all seasons.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
It's not new, but Humphrey's Great-Great-Great Book of Stories is well worth clicking on, as three Humphrey stories in one book only means excellence.
You can read more book reviews or buy Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney at Amazon.com.
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