John Patrick Norman McHennessy sets off along the road to learn but, as the reader is soon to discover, distractions lie along the way. In a somewhat unlikely turn of events, the boy is set upon by a crocodile, and must sacrifice a glove in order to distract the beast. All this makes him rather late for school but his teacher, a character redolent of Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons, becomes enraged at the boy's excuses. The next day, McHennessy meets a lion in the bushes, and is late again. On the third day, he is nearly swept away by a tidal wave, his teacher becoming ever more furious at his elaborate explanations. However, the tables are turned when the teacher finds himself in an impossible situation of his own, and McHennessy (and the reader) may have the last laugh.
As with many of John Burningham's books, the tale of John Patrick Norman McHennessy is eloquently told, and the illustrations are great. The central theme is timeless, although the depiction of a teacher in academical dress, and his threat to give his pupil a beating, are becoming a little dated by today's standards. Being a 'girl who is always late', though, I have a soft spot for this story. And the moral, presented as a Latin epigram at the start of the book ('Ut sementem feceris ita metes', or, 'As you sow, so shall you reap') will resonate for generations to come.