Books Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Reading Themes

Horrid and Rotten Christmas: A 2-in-1 Post-Holiday Special

PictureBook Challenge Update: 2 out of 72

Fats here.

As the saying goes, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over! Meet Horrid Henry and Rotten Ralph – two of Santa’s most favorite characters (insert: sarcasm). Join them as they partake in the grandest holiday celebration of the year and show readers their idea of a ‘meaningful’ Christmas.

Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Christmas
Written by Jack Gantos and illustrated by Nicole Rubel

That night Sarah decided to read Percy and Ralph a Christmas story. But when Rotten Ralph went to sit on Sarah’s lap, Percy was already there. Instead of listening to the story, Ralph banged on his toy drum. “Stop that,” said Sarah. – p. 20

Welcome to the world of Rotten Ralph, Sarah’s big, red, and devilish cat. Oh, how he loves to be rotten – and Sarah is well aware of that. “Sometimes, you’re very difficult to love, Ralph,” said Sarah. This time it’s Christmas, but when Ralph wakes up one morning, he finds another cat – by the name of Percy – sitting on Sarah’s lap.

What’s a big, red, and devilish cat got to do? Why, be rotten of course! So begins Ralph’s series of random rottenness directed towards Percy. First, he showed Percy how to throw snowballs (which does not feel good at all, as I learned recently from Whoville’s Grinchmas Wholiday celebration at Universal Studios). Then, he cut a hole in Percy’s Christmas stocking. Next, he pulled the ladder from under Percy’s feet when Percy hung the star on the Christmas tree. And at one point, Ralph tied Percy across the tracks when Percy put together a train set!

Will Ralph’s rottenness keep going? Not really, especially after Ralph found out that Percy would not be staying forever. Percy’s owner came to pick him up the next day and Ralph couldn’t be happier.

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos, recipient of the Newbery Honor award

Rotten Ralph is created by Jack Gantos, the recipient of the National Book Award and Newbery Honor with his Joey Pigza series. This is my first Rotten Ralph book. It has a total of 32 pages with the text on the left page and full-page illustrations on the right. It is perfect for kids aged 4-8 years. The text is short and simple, and the illustrations are brightly colored cartoon drawings that make the characters pop up from the background.

This book touches on a variety of themes. First, as with other Rotten Ralph books I assume, it teaches kids about good manners and right conduct. This is self-explanatory, since Ralph is very good at showing some socially unacceptable behaviors. Second, it touches on rivalry. Everyone goes through this phase, no matter what age, so it’s good that kids learn this early on in their lives. Finally, it teaches kids the importance of appreciating others. Ralph was taking everything for granted, even Sarah. He had a change of heart when he thought he had completely lost her to another cat. (I actually felt sad for him when he found Percy sleeping on his bed.)

Although I did not become a Rotten Ralph convert when I read this book, it’s a nice treat for the little ones. If you want something that’s quick and easy to read, then you might want to check out your local library for books like this.

Horrid Henry’s Christmas
Written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross

Years ago, when Henry was in kindergarten, he’d played eighth sheep in the nativity play and had snatched the baby from the manger and refused to hand him back. Henry hoped Miss Battle-Axe wouldn’t remember. Because Henry had to play the lead. He had to. Who else but Henry could be an all-singing, all-dancing Joseph? – p. 2

In this delightful series created by Francesca Simon comes 4 laugh-out-loud Christmas stories featuring the mischievous – and, yes, horrid – Henry. In Horrid Henry’s Christmas Play, Henry wanted to play Joseph but landed the role of innkeeper. Miss Battle-Axe (yes, that is her name) gave the role to Henry’s little brother, Perfect Peter. Although a little disappointed with his role (which happens to have only one line, and that one line is “No”), Henry decided he could still be the star of the play:

The innkeeper! Horrid Henry sat up, beaming. How stupid he’d been: the innkeeper must be the starring part. Henry could see himself now polishing glasses, throwing darts, pouring out big foaming Fizzywizz drinks to all his happy customers while singing a song about the joys of innkeeping. Then he’d get into a nice long argument about why there was no room in the inn, and finally the chance to slam the door in front of Moody Margaret’s face after he’d pushed her away. – p. 5

The Christmas nativity play did not exactly turn out as Horrid Henry had planned, but Miss Battle-Axe and Mom and Dad were definitely not happy about it. In Horrid Henry’s Christmas Presents, Mom and Dad made sure that the kids have their presents wrapped since Christmas is only two days away! Perfect Peter finished this a long time ago. And Horrid Henry? He finished it too – because he didn’t have any presents to wrap! Then he had a wonderful, spectacular idea:

It was so wonderful, and so spectacular, that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it before. Who said he had to buy presents? Didn’t Mom and Dad always say it was the thought that counted? And oh boy was he thinking. This was one Christmas where he was sure to get a lot more than he gave. Whoopee! Who could ask for anything more? – pp. 35-36

In Horrid Henry’s Ambush, it was Christmas Eve at last. Horrid Henry decided to write Santa Claus a letter before it was too late. He had asked for certain gifts last year like the Space Howler but all he got were vests, handkerchiefs, a jigsaw puzzle, and a jump rope! This was Santa’s last chance. But Henry would always come up with better ideas:

All his present problems would be over. Presents were far too important to leave to Santa Claus. Since he couldn’t be trusted to bring the right gifts, Horrid Henry had no choice. He would have to ambush Santa Claus. – p. 47

Did he really? Even though Henry sneaked out of his room a little after midnight, Mom and Dad were sneakier. Henry’s plans backfired on him, and Santa still managed to fill Henry’s stocking without being caught.

In the final story, Horrid Henry’s Christmas Lunch, it was Christmas Day at last! Henry had waited for this moment for a long time. When it was time to open the presents, Henry received a lot – none of which he ever wanted! I guess Santa Claus made a mistake again!

Why is Henry so horrid? Maybe he thinks he can get away with it. And you know what? Most of the time, he does. It does not always turn out how he wanted things to be, but he does not end up in big trouble, either.

Like Rotten Ralph, this is my first Horrid Henry book ever. Ever! How could I have ignored Francesca Simon’s wit and humor for years?! Horrid Henry has to be the second most hilarious series I have read, next to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Simon’s writing clearly makes her “one of the world’s best-loved children’s authors.

Three things readers should know about the Horrid Henry series:
1. Over 15 million copies sold in 27 countries and counting.
2. It is the #1 chapter book series in the UK.
3. Francesca Simon is the only American author to ever win the Galaxy British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year. (Past winners include J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Eoin Colfer.)

So, really, Horrid Henry’s mischief is worth every penny. As mentioned earlier, each book in the series contains 4 short stories that are equally hilarious. Cohesion exists among the shorts, thereby contributing to a bigger picture.

With the exception of Mom, Dad, and Henry’s teachers, the characters’ names are borne out of word play. I love how my tongue rolls every time I say them: Horrid Henry, Perfect Peter, Beefy Bert, Clever Clare, and Weepy William. Henry’s world is also full of odd names such as: Rabid Rebecca, Soggy Sid, and Vomiting Vera.

I also love the illustrations in the book, courtesy of Tony Ross. His Horrid Henry artwork actually reminded me of Quentin Blake’s illustrations in the new edition of the Roald Dahl books. This is no surprise since Tony Ross also illustrated some Roald Dahl books. His art is simplistic in nature, yet artistic in its own ‘Horrid Henry’ way.

If Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series chronicles the life and mishaps in middle school, Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry is a tale of childhood. Henry is just like any other kid. He can be a little extreme at times but he is simply being himself. For Henry, the world is indeed his oyster.

To end this 2-in-1 special, let me share with you the Horrid Henry theme of the most popular book – and television series – in the U.K.

About the Authors

Jack Gantos was inspired to write in sixth grade when he read his sister’s diary. Since then, he kept his own diary and collected anecdotes he had heard in the lunch room and incorporated some of these in his works. He received the National Book Award for Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key in 1998, and the Newbery Honor Award for Joey Pigza Loses Control in 2000.

Francesca Simon attended both Yale and Oxford Universities where she specialized Medieval Studies. She switched to being a freelance journalist, but started writing children’s books full-time when her son was born.

About the Illustrators

Nicole Rubel’s debut book, “Rotten Ralph,” earned her the Children’s Book Showcase Award for Outstanding Graphic Design. Her unique art style was inspired by the paintings of Henri Matisse and the art deco architecture of her Miami hometown. Her imaginative, poignant, and comical storylines are derived from growing up with her identical twin sister. A significant theme in her stories is finding oneself.

Tony Ross was trained at the Liverpool School of Art, and has worked as a cartoonist, a graphic designer, the Art Director of an advertising agency, and as Senior Lecturer in Art at Manchester Polytechnic. Some of his books have been animated on television and there are several videos featuring his works.

Visit Jack Gantos’ artistic website at
Find out more about Francesca Simon at
Discover the world of Nicole Rubel at
Nicole Rubel’s biography was from
Tony Ross’ biography was from
Visit the official website of Horrid Henry at

2 comments on “Horrid and Rotten Christmas: A 2-in-1 Post-Holiday Special

  1. myragarcesbacsal

    Truly well worth the wait Fats. Great post! Loved it! Will check these books out from our community library when I come visit this coming Tuesday. I’m also excited about our new theme for this month. Postcards/Letters here we come!


    • Thank you! Ela might like Horrid Henry. I am excited about it as well!! Will send you and Mary a message on Facebook about the books I plan to feature for Postcards/Letters. Mwah! =)


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