Henrietta: There's No One Better. (Say it with an Australian accent and it rhymes!) In a first-person-narrated stream of consciousness without any real plot, Murray crystalizes perfectly the energy, the randomly logical thought patterns, of a certain type of preschool girl we've all run across. Her accompanying illustrations, best described as "childlike with attitude," are equally spot-on. Often laugh-out-loud funny, with dazzling wordplay that always remains true to its protagonist's age and personality, the book remains among the best I've seen at capturing the essence of a child's character. (It shares something with Lauren Child's Charlie & Lola and Clarice Bean series in this regard.)
So I was thrilled to see two sequels from Murray arriving on these shores last year. And while the surprise factor—just at the author's amazing ability to pull this voice off so well—may be a thing of the past, both Henrietta the Great Go-Getter and Henrietta Gets a Letter are otherwise as delightful as the original, giving readers craving more of Henrietta exactly that.
Now, while I did notice that Henrietta shares certain of the more effusive, enthusiastic aspects of her personality with my Australian friends (there's one in particular I'm thinking of; she probably knows who she is on the off chance she's reading this), I had not at first thought of the qualities that set Murray's books apart as quintessentially Australian. Until, that is, a bit later last year, when I ran across Chris McKimmie's Two Peas in a Pod, on the surface a very different book from the Henrietta ones. For one thing, it has a plot—it's an entry in the classic "best friend moves away" genre. But it features an undeniably similar energy, and it likewise captures the mindset and point of view of a child marvelously through McKimmie's writing and vivid, expressive, often page-packing illustrations.
Combine this revelation with my previously expressed regard for Australian illustrators like Sophie Blackall and Freya Blackwood (whose lovely Half a World Away even covers the same subject as McKimmie's book; I guess friends' moving far away is a particularly common issue for Australian kids?), and I'm fully expecting a full-scale Australian invasion in kid lit any day now.
And that does it for my meandering path through my favorite new kids' books of 2010!
[Images: Courtesy of Independent Publishers Group]