Imagination According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney

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Imagination According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A slimmer and perhaps less subtle read than the series has offered before, but one that will not really disappoint his many legions of fans.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Faber and Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780571282517

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If you haven't already, meet Humphrey – the most squeakily vocal inhabitant of Classroom 26. The charming and inventive hamster is here with yet another of his main novels – as opposed to early readers, quiz and joke books, anthologies, guides to having pets – there are so many around that my edition didn't try to put them all on one inventory page, but chose to leave a few out. Here the series continues with Humphrey and the same children as he's befriended over the last few volumes, and it's storytime. The class is being read a novel about a boy and the dragons doing evil to his village's weather, and everyone is trying to write creatively about flying as a response. But when someone threatens to bring a real-life dragon to class, how could the little class pet be safe, especially when he hasn't the imagination to see what the result could be?

Before now I've found this series to be brilliantly able to convey issues for the young, and Humphrey equally able to resolve the issues, often just by turning up at a child's house over the weekend to be fed and watered out of class, and able to give of his wise, squeaky company. Here the issue is, for the first time, in the title, which was a little surprise, and an indication of how the balance of the subtlety of the series has changed. Gone are the chapter-closing adages, and we have small bits of doggerel instead. We also have fewer subjects, and this shorter-seeming novel is mostly geared around the school project, one which Humphrey for once struggles to complete.

Therefore all the help that Humphrey manages to give is to his guinea pig colleague down the school corridor, and to two children – one with a different issue, and one with the same self-diagnosed lack of imagination as Humphrey. I was surprised therefore that a further child, with an imaginary friend, is not deemed to be of help, but just passes through to nudge the theme along. I think in the past the writing has been more clever at adapting everything and everyone to be of concern for Humphrey, so he has more to do. (I also think the writing was at one time much more PC than to jibe about someone 'needing glasses' when she says something that disagrees with Humphrey's narrator, which surprised me with the Disneyfied morals of the stories up to now.)

Still, even if our hero has to be a little less proactive than before, there is little to completely disappoint. For one thing he is still utterly easy to engage with, with his own chatty voice a BIG-BIG-BIG selling point for the tales. And even after all the titles already published, the series still hits the target with its main theme – who has gone to school and not recognised the utter, disappointing blankness when told to just 'write something'? With a volume like this the number of children accepting Humphrey's real help (ie Birney's) without realising it has perhaps diminished, which is a pity, but the numbers reading for the pleasure as well as the assuring wisdom of the books will not be reduced.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Humphrey's Great-Great-Great Book of Stories by Betty G Birney is one of the anthologies, and a mighty fine thing it is. For a slightly older audience, there's another subtly-evolving series to be had with the likes of Atticus Claw Learns to Draw by Jennifer Gray.

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


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