I AM HENRY FINCH
by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz - Walker Books, 2015
all ages, baby to grown-up / emotional resilience, funny, read-it-before-you-need-it
It's pretty great when a book can make you laugh out loud and still leave you with some deeper thoughts to ponder on. I AM HENRY FINCH is that kind of book.
The finches are a noisy crowd, so much so that ‘you really could not hear yourself think’. And Henry Finch is just an ordinary finch – one of the crowd.
Until he starts to think. And, most importantly, to listen to his thoughts.
Life for the finches goes along at a merry pace with lots of formulaic socialising, but with very little thought.
Until The Beast appears.
There's a moment of panic and mobilisation at that point but, pretty quickly, everything gets back to normal.
Henry Finch seems to be ok with all of that, until one day: “He had a thought and he heard it.”
One thought leads to another and Henry becomes inspired and emboldened with thoughts of greatness. These are followed by some pretty despairing thoughts and feelings of inadequacy (as they so often are). But Henry manages to overcome.
In the end, Henry is truly great – though not in the way he anticipated. (I’m trying not to give away the punch lines because they’re hilarious.)
The finches are brilliantly created around fingerprints, hinting that each finch is actually unique, even if they haven’t quite grasped that yet. The Beast is appropriately menacing but, when he changes, he is positively delightful. And the pictures of Henry’s thoughts are my favourites – so full of life and expressive. Children will get a kick out of the faces he makes and the unexpected moments that crop up.
All of this makes I AM HENRY FINCH a great story to read with a child – but there's much more, so it's a great book for teens and adults too. There are thoughts embedded in the story that will benefit any age. For example:
We all need silence from time to time in order to hear our thoughts.
Even in dire straits, we still need moments of calm to become aware of our circumstances.
It’s worth stepping outside of the everyday and into the realms of possibilities.
There’s hope of rescue from even the most awful situations – and very often we need to help ourselves.
Community really matters – but so do individuals.
By saving ourselves we can also save others.
Greatness is often found in the way we teach and help others rather than in death-defying deeds.
It’s worth some effort to think differently and to think personally.
A healthy sense of our own value is a good thing.
Understanding the perspective of others frees us to talk with them and find a solution to life’s inequalities.
Some really great art activities could flow from this book – families or classes could make their own village of finches using their fingerprints; thought bubbles could be added; pictures of desperate times could be drawn with your own 'fingerprint finch' at the centre of it all. You get the idea, I’m sure.
Henry Finch has some pretty lofty thoughts, along the line of Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ – the kind of thoughts we all need to think from time to time.
But my very favourite is on the very last page: “GREAT,” thought Henry. I absolutely agree – Henry is great, the story is great, the illustrations are great, the learning is great, the thinking is great and the jokes are great! And it would make a great graduation gift.