Before we share our reviews of Henry the Blowfish, I just wanted to preface this with a word or two about what happened with this book. My son LOVED this book and was over the moon with it. He thought Henry the Blowfish was the cutest thing ever. Me, on the other hand… to be completely honest, I had mixed feelings. We began this website because I was observing that sometimes I love a book (e.g., One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss) that I cannot for the life of me get my children to be interested in or the flip-side is that my children love a book (e.g., Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey) that I definitely have issues with.
So, this clearly creates a dilemma for authors: Are you writing books for children to enjoy or for children and their families to enjoy? How do you get past the parent gatekeepers (i.e., the ones who ultimately decide which books their children will read?) When we consider the many awards that are given out honouring the best children’s books, whose opinion matters? Whose voice is considered? What do YOU think?
Title: Henry and the Blowfish
Author: Howard Morlan
Illustrator: Sonny C. van Kempen
Year published: 2011
Publisher: The Kodel Group, LLC
Number of pages: 31
Recommended age: 3 to 6
Reviewed by: Renee and Dominic (Mother and Son)
1. What is the story about? This story is about a little blowfish named Henry that lost his job and met two friends. Then the blowfish helps his friends win a race and then he goes back to his ocean.
2. What do you think of the cover and/or the pictures in the book? I loved the cover and the pictures. I think Henry is really cute. My favorite picture is of Henry when he finds out he can help his friends on page 17. He looks really happy and he’s really cute. I also like pages 27 and 29 because they show Henry and he looks cute.
3. What is your favorite part of the story? My favorite part of the story is when Henry finds out he can help his friends win the race because I was happy for Henry.
4. What is your least favorite part of the story? My least favorite part of the story is when Henry loses his job because I was sad for him.
5. Who do you think would like this book? I want to read this book 1,000 times a day because I loved it so much. I think everybody would like this book especially boys and girls who are 10 and under. I want to give this book 1,000 stars.
Son Rating: ★★★★★
My Thoughts: Henry the Blowfish is a picture book which introduces us to an adorable fish whose job is to blow up balloons. Unfortunately, even though Henry is a great “blower”, he loses his job when he ends up popping too many balloons as a tester at the balloon factory. Feeling sad, Henry goes for a long, long swim with his tail between his flippers until he comes to rest in an old car which has rusted under water.
Henry is in for a rude awakening when two boys tow the car out of the water with little Henry still in the trunk. The two boys set out to repair the car for an upcoming race and are surprised to find the stowaway. The two boys befriend Henry who turns out to be an important asset to the boys. When Henry blows really hard toward the back of the car, they are propelled forward like being “shot out of a cannon”. Henry learns that even if he’s not great as a tester in a balloon factory, there are still so many other things he can do.
I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about Henry the Blowfish. There are many positives to this book. The author successfully created a character in Henry with whom the reader can really empathize. I found myself feeling sad when Henry lost his job and went for his long swim feeling despondent and I cheered for Henry when his contribution helped the boys in the race. I also like the play on words with the title characters name (i.e., Henry the Blowfish whose job was to “blow”). Henry is a solid main character.
I really appreciated the underlying message in the book and the themes touched upon including friendship, self-esteem, self-confidence, and finding one’s place in the world. I think these are good teaching points for parents. For example, we see that Henry’s skill in blowing in one context (i.e., his job as a balloon tester in the balloon factor) was not a good fit and that does not end well; whereas in a different context (i.e., in the race), his skill is more useful and leads to a positive outcome.
I had two specific issues with this book. First, I had trouble suspending disbelief in order to make the story work for me. I could accept that Henry’s job was to blow up balloons in the balloon factory and in fact, I thought that was really adorable. However, it was more of a stretch for me to accept that Henry’s blowing could propel a car as fast as a being shot out of a cannon. Also, Henry (the blowfish) and the two boys could talk to each other. It struck me as odd and out of place that the animals and humans could understand each other. I don’t have problems with animals talking to other animals, but it just felt off in this case that there was speech between Henry and the boys. Although interestingly, my kids didn’t raise eyebrows, so that’s my adult bias.
My second issue was with the illustrations. Some of the illustrations are oriented to be parallel to the text and in other cases, they were perpendicular in orientation so that we had to flip the book to look at the pictures. That was a bit odd and it interrupted the flow of the story. It was quite noticeable. Also, I was not a fan of the illustrations – it’s just not a style that I like. While they were colourful and as my son stated above “Henry was cute”, I felt some of the proportions were off especially with the depictions of the boys. Really, it’s a matter of preference for style. I was not a fan, but my son enjoyed them.
My Bottom Line: As I said, I have mixed feelings. The character is adorable and the underlying message is excellent. I see the potential in future stories featuring Henry the Blowfish but I would like to see a different style of illustration. I would recommend this book to children ages 3 and older who love main characters who are animals and parents looking for a story about building self-esteem.
Mom Rating: ★★★½☆
* This book was provided to us by the author free-of-charge in exchange for our honest review.*
About the Author:
Howard Morlan is a singer/songwriter living in the Great Northwest, with his wife Debra, and Thee-Kitty-Boy: Prince of the House. There is also a song (words and music by Horward Morlan) about Henry the Blowfish entitled Henry’s On the Move. You can order your copy at www.stevietenderheart.com