The List: Five horribly naughty children

Adults might wonder why, but children have always loved bad girls and boys

Horrid Henry: The Movie, based on the best-selling children’s books by Francesca Simon, was released this week and looks likely to be a summer holiday hit. Adults might wonder why, for Horrid Henry is such an unappealing boy. He cheats, he lies, he hits his younger brother. Yet children love him as they have always loved bad girls and boys. Here are our top five:

1. William Brown

William Brown, in Richmal Compton’s Just William series (1922-70), is a grubby, feckless, back-of-the-classroom boy but William’s naughtiness is more inadvertent than Horrid Henry’s. There are no plastic goo-shooters here. This is a world of cricket, sword fights and pet rats. By today’s standards, William’s interests seem healthy and constructive. He even writes stories.

2. Peter Rabbit

Peter, in Beatrix Potter’s stories (1902), comes from a single parent burrow. His three sisters are good little bunnies who gather blackberries. Peter, meanwhile, climbs into Mr McGregor’s forbidden garden and loses his shoes and his little blue jacket. There are mixed messages here. Peter’s mother does not wring his ears when he returns home naked, and when Peter steals McGregor’s onions Mrs Rabbit duly hangs them up in the kitchen. Peter does eventually make good, though, by going into business running his own nursery garden.

3. Pippi Longstocking

Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren created Pippi (1945-48), an immensely cheery, superhumanly strong nine-year-old girl with orange pigtails that stick out at right angles. Pippi doesn’t go to school but lives on her own with her pet monkey and her horse in a village completely bereft of education welfare officers. The world is divided between those who believe Pippi is refreshingly self-assertive and those who find her nauseatingly full of herself.

4. Elizabeth Allen

Spoilt and wilful Elizabeth Allen is the heroine of an Enid Blyton series called The Naughtiest Girl (1940-52). Sent away to a progressive boarding school, where the other children enforce the rules, Elizabeth tries her hardest to be expelled and commits such heinous crimes as refusing to share her tuck and wearing socks instead of stockings.

5. Dennis the Menace

The Beano star has been throwing pies and shooting catapults at his enemies since 1951. Dennis used to be beaten with a slipper by his long-suffering Dad but times have changed. Now Dennis whizzes about on a skateboard and eats pizza. If you were the parent of a boy like Dennis you’d think twice about letting him have pets but he has been amazingly indulged. He has a dog (Gnasher), a pig (Rasher), a piranha (Splasher), a spider (Dasher) and even a bat (Fang), all just as horrible as Dennis.

Amanda Mitchison is the author of ‘Mission Telemark’ (Walker)

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