Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Barnaby Brocket was born in Sydney, Australia to a very normal family and in fact, up to the moment of his birth, the Brockets prided themselves on just how normal they were.  But then Barnaby was born and first thing he did was float and their whole normal existence was turned upside down.  Because Barnaby didn't stop floating and pretty soon there were mattresses nailed to the ceilings so that Barnaby wouldn't hurt himself.

Now if his parents were ashamed of Barnaby, his older brother Henry and sister Melanie love him, accept him and think floating is just something he does and it is rather cool.  And the family dog, Captain W.E. Johns immediately attached himself to Barnaby.

As he grew, Barnaby's floating became a very stressful experience for the very normal Brocket parents and although he wore a backpack weighed down with sand to keep him grounded, they were still stressed.  Floating just went against the very nature of normal.

So when Barnaby was eight, his mother took him and the dog for a walk.  While sitting for a rest, Barnaby suddenly feels himself getting lighter and floating upwards - his mother, in agreement with his father, had made a whole in his backpack and sand was leaking out.

Yes, his mother let her 8 year old son float off into the atmosphere because he wasn't normal and it stressed her.  And so Barnaby continues to rise, not knowing what will happen to him.  After a while, he notices something in the distance.  It turns out to be a hot air balloon with two elderly ladies on board.  Ethel and Marjorie rescue Barnaby, and after he tells them his story, they tell theirs.  They each had parents who thought they were not normal, threw them out of their homes and refused any further communication.  The ladies have now been happily together for forty years.

Margorie and Ethel take Barnaby back to their coffee farm in Brazil, where he stays a week and hears about Vincente, another 8 year old boy the ladies had raised, and who now runs an art gallery in New York.  At the end of the week, they put Barnaby on a train that will take him to the airport, so he can fly back to Australia.  But Barnaby falls asleep and ends up in New York City.

As Barnaby floats his way around the world, he meets all kinds of people, most of them defying other people's definition of 'normal', most of them kind, friendly and accepting.  And of course there are those who reject them or those who take advantage of them.  All in all, Barnaby is on a journey that is an eye opening experience for everyone, except people who are normal (I place tongue in cheek as I write that).

Barnaby's adventures, if a little far-fetched at times. are nevertheless fun, but with a moral or a lesson or maybe just John Boyne proselytizing depending on how you feel about what his underlying message is.  Most people see that underlying message as a celebration or acceptance of difference.  But difference still implies other.  

I see the underlying message in The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket as a celebration acceptance - think Henry and Melanie, and Captain W.E. Johns, the dog.  They just accept Brnaby for who he is.

I have to behonest and say I didn't expect to like The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, yet I ended up loving it.  It is fun, funny, poignant, and bears a level of truth that is scary.  It is not a story that should not be read too literally since sending an 8 year old child floating off into the world could be a frightening things to a young readers.  I think Boyne has counteracted this with his playful writing style and there are also the wonderfully whimsical cover and inside illustrations done by Oliver Jeffers completely compliment the tone of the story.

If you are a Roald Dahl fan, as I am, suspend your disbelief and float along with Barnaby.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend.

A word about Captain W.E. Johns - I laughed out loud when I saw the name of Barnaby's always faithful companion.  Captain W.E. John was a pilot and a very prolific writer.  I know him because during World War II he wrote two series books I have read.  One was the Biggles stories about an RAF pilot and the other was the Worrals series about a woman RAF pilot.  Both Biggles and Worrals had lots of adventures, even beyond WW2.  They are a little dated as kids books go, but they are still fun to read.  I reviewed the first Worrals book, Worrals of the W.A.A.F a while ago on my other blog The Children's War and you can read the review here.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Books, Ramblings and Other Shenegans


  1. Would like to read about Floating Barnaby.

  2. Great in depth review and love your additional info on the author.

  3. I love Roald Dahl and I'm happy to "meet" another book like his! I really enjoyed your review! Thank you! Tweeted, pinned and Sulia'd it.

  4. Nice review! Sounds like a great read!

  5. This sounds like such a fun read. My mum used to be forever reminding me about the time when I was sure I could fly - if only I could jump high enough! Luckily, I didn’t think of jumping out of a window I always thought I had to take off from the ground! I was only about four at the time, but I was convinced it would happen one day! I’m going to read this it sounds right up my street!

  6. Tea norman, I hope you do read about floating Barnaby and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Barbara, I like to include additional information if it is relevant and I happen to know it as in this case. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Pragmatic Mom, Glad you liked the review and thank you for the tweet and pin. These are always appreciated.

    Barbara, Barnaby is a fun read, in the Roald Dahl sense of fun. I glad you didn't think about trying to fly out the window, too. Have you ever thought about gliding. It seems it would be almost like flying.

  7. Thanks for introducing me to this book! It sounds so fun. I am a big Roald Dahl and will pick this one up!


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