My mum’s a light touch doomsday-prepper. Not the kind who stores gallons of water and gas masks in the cellar (although if we had a cellar she most definitely would). She’s more the… err domestic kind. Prepared for “end of the world household situations”. Like when you run out of cling film. Da da da dum. Don’t worry, Mum’s got seven boxes of the clingy stuff in the second drawer. Seven boxes. That’s 420 metres of cling film. The bathroom drawers are like a hotel room service cart… fully stocked with bars of soap, countless plastic shower caps and toothbrushes. She winds bits of cling film around any in-use toothbrush so that insects don’t roost on the bristles during the night. This IS Australia after all.
So back to my point. Russell Ayto’s new book Henry and the Yeti has a fantastic spread where little Henry packs his bag to go on a Yeti-finding expedition. Reading those lines instantly sent my brain hurtling back through the eighties and into year one. My domestic doomsday-prepping Mum had carefully packed my school bag. The lunch bell had gone, and I opened my lunchbox to find… a cling filmed parcel of buttered bread. A banana (also bound in cling film). And a knife. OK, OK. I get that there are all manner of alarming things in that sentence that you’re trying to process. Why wrap a banana? Again with the cling film? But for just a moment, let’s focus on the five year old pulling out a knife in the playground in order to make a banana sandwich. I could barely wipe my bottom and there I was effectively running my own Subway. Yup… not at all weird. But there’s more. Building your own banana sandwich is messy business. Don’t worry! Mum’s prepped for that too. She’s packed a wet flannel in a plastic zip bag; like a messy kid version of a hot towel on an airplane. And I think I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, that I’m most likely sat there, towelling my face, while wearing thongs (err flip flops). Because it’s raining and Mum doesn’t want my shoes to get wet. My shoes are carefully wrapped in plastic and safely stowed in my bag. Never mind my soggy feet. Mum’s ability to pack a school bag was like Mary Poppins-esque carpetbag magic. Oh how she would get on with Russell Ayto’s little Henry. Let me tell you about Henry…
“Henry loves yetis. Yes, yetis.”
(What a cracking opening line… this book has won us over on the spot!) The catch is that nobody knows if yetis exist. Henry’s astronomer dad is encouraging… but distracted. His teacher is downright dismissive. The class points and laughs. So Henry takes it upon himself to go and find a yeti. That’s when he packs his bag with all manner of important things, including a camera so he can get evidence. Nice one Henry! Lugging a bag that’s twice the size of his body, Henry farewells his Dad and follows the signs out of the city, across the ocean and all the way up to the mountains. I’m not saying much more than that, as it will spoil the book.
This is not the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing one of Russell’s picture books. We recently read ‘The Wolf Who Cried Boy’, written by James O’Neill and illustrated by Russell. It’s become a firm favourite (not least of all because we like books that encourage you to holler at them!) This book captures some of that same deadpan humour. Russell’s created something that’s very modern and very droll, but with a most satisfying and heart warming ending. We just love it.
Henry looks a bit like a spiky cannellini bean… with glasses. We never see his mouth, but you can always tell how he’s feeling. Like when the thought of writing lines for the teacher leaves him horizontal. How he sinks lower into his shirt when the kids tease him. And how he flings his tiny arms around that big, endearing yeti. It’s super original and great fun to read. The only problem is that Henry forgot to pack the cling film. Because you never quite know when 60m of cling film will come in handy.