Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster

Hailed by The Bookseller as a ‘Horrid Henry for girls’, the Penny Dreadful formula will be familiar to fans of Lauren Child’s Clarice Bean. The eponymous narrator lives with her exasperated mother and indulgent father, superior older sister, grandmother and her cat, Barry. She has all the accoutrements of the stock fictional child diarist: a trusty sidekick, a perfect cousin and a classroom nemesis.

So far, so familiar.

Yet Penny Dreadful manages to transcend the formula and provide moments of real hilarity.

There are three stories in this book, each a suitable length for bedtime reading-aloud sessions, with enough subtle jokes and acute social observations to appeal to the adult reader as much as to the children.

Jess Mikhail’s ink-blotted illustrations evoke Ronald Searle’s wonderful Molesworth, and the overcrowded pages, liberal use of capitalization and bold type face allow Penny a range of expression not facilitated by her vocabulary. The text imitates the sentence structure of a breathless and very verbose eight-year-old; the downside is that while the tumbling syntax conveys the impression of a young narrator, it can result in overly long sentences that are simply incomprehensible.

There is another instalment of Penny Dreadful due for publication this September, and Nadin is a prolific writer who has a successful series of teen books in diary format, the Rachel Riley books, already to her credit. Any child who takes to this entertaining character will be able to fill their bookshelves with Joanna Nadin books for years to come.