I am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon & Viviane Schwarz

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Published by Walker Books, 2014.

Imagine my surprise to discover Descartes’s famous maxim, I think, therefore I am paraphrased in a picture book!

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Alexis Deacon has written a picture book with depth; I am Henry Finch addresses big philosophical concepts but in an accessible way. As Henry Finch learns about freedom, choice and individual existence, the key principles of existentialism are gently explored.

Henry Finch is one finch among many. Every day is the same.

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This routine is only disrupted on the days that the Beast comes along, hungry for finches. Henry decides to break from this repetitive, homogeneous existence. He starts to listen to his thoughts and to assert himself as an individual. He realises that he could be great. He decides to take on the Beast. However, his ambitions for greatness are thwarted when the Beast eats him. At this point, the story explores themes of bravery and having the resilience to carry on when dark thoughts crowd in and all seems lost. Ultimately, greatness is achieved but in a very different way to how Henry envisioned originally.

Viviane Schwarz uses a very simple, but striking, colour palette for her illustrations – mainly red, black and white with a blue-green for the Beast. The design for the finches is delightful: she uses fingerprints for their bodies and then adds wings, beaks, eyes and feet with a simple black pen. Children will love trying out this technique themselves. Backgrounds are white until Henry is swallowed by the beast. Then they switch to black: an effective contrast between outside and inside.

This is a brilliant picture book with lots to think about and discuss.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 5+

I am Henry Finch won the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award.

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