a delightful exploration of the nuances of family life, friendship and school

by Martine Murray – Allen & Unwin, 2017
ages 3 to 8 years / picture books + chapter books, emotional resilience, heartwarmers


Henrietta is a ‘great go-getter’ with an ‘adventurous spirit’ and ‘great determination’.

She’s also ‘an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries.’ She’s waiting for a new baby—and hoping for a sister. She’s also starting school, making new friends, having her first sleepover and doing all the things that lucky children do at that age.

There are disappointments of course: Henrietta is cast as a bat instead of Noah in the school play, and she misses out on going horse riding when her little brother arrives. But she has a loving safety net at home and she recovers quickly with an infectious gleefulness for life!

The power in this book:

1)  It’s ideal as an early chapter book—just the right length for extending concentration—and the charming pictures are nicely gender-neutral. The story is about a girl, of course, but the pictures are simple enough that they aren’t overly feminine. They’re full of exuberance for life and that means that both boys and girls will feel like they connect with Henrietta. 

2)  There’s a whole lot of comfort in it for young people going through big changes. Henrietta is nervous about school because she’s ‘really very shy. … Shy people pretend they’re great adventurers so that no one knows how shy they really are.’ She goes through all the usual fears and worries that children experience when they start school, and her parents support and suggest and walk with her. In the end, it’s the chance to help another girl that really makes the difference—such a lovely way to approach a new and nerve-wracking situation.

3)  It's full of excitement about life’s everyday adventures. Henrietta is adventurous and bold, and she lives that way in the middle of a very ordinary life. She takes what comes—new baby, new school, sleepover, school play etc—and is frank about her feelings while being brave at the same time.

4)  There’s some great modelling of how to cope with disappointment. Henrietta copes really well with missing out on being Noah in the school play. She overcomes her jealousy of her best friend Olive, who did get the part. She throws herself into practising her own part as a bat. And when she helps Olive learn her lines, Henrietta says, “I feel much better about being a best best friend than I would have felt being Noah." It’s a mature and reasoned response, and a wonderful example.

5)  There’s a tiny bit of sex-ed. When Henrietta is curious about her mother’s expanding stomach she asks, "But what makes the seed inside Mum grow?’ Dad answers, "Daddy’s love started it going, and Mum’s body keeps it growing …"—a simple, age-appropriate answer.

The stars are beginning to shine in the sky. I feel as if life has just changed, as if one moment ago it was like I always was and now it’s forever after different. … It’s a funny feeling. A feeling as special and mysterious as stars.
— Henrietta

There are actually four Henrietta books—Jesse finds them irresistible for her 4 to 6-year-old class. It's pretty wonderful to find a series for young children; there’s not much better than getting the next instalment of your reading in the mail (or at the bookstore). These are the other three books, they don’t really need to be read in order, or you might like to check out the three-in-one volume.

We’re all quite smitten with Henrietta – she’s full of fun and makes a terrific book friend!

Amazon  -  Book Depository

Book Depository has free postage anywhere in the world and great pricing, but Amazon might be cheaper for North American readers.

Names in this book – Henrietta, Eloise, Olive, Max, Albert