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The terrible thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Curiously a couple of years ago I was attracted to the novel 'The Girl Who Could Fly' by Victoria Forester. That novel began with wonderfully funny prose about a child born to float and parents scared of what the neighbours would think: 'When she finally turned five and still floated clear across a room her parents finally admitted the truth to themselves ‘Seems like our child ain’t normal is all I’m saying,’ Betty McCloud told Doc Bell. It was decided that ‘home school’ was the best decision.

But a girl who wants to fly will eventually fly; she is eventually found out and the child cruelly snatched from her loving parents by a sinister Government agency.

In John Boyne's tale (with quirky funny drawings by Oliver Jeffers) the difference is that the boy, Barnaby is born to parents so desperate to be normal, so mortified by a child they can't keep down, the mother in particular resents and eventually hates the kid enough to 'let him go' knowing that he will float off and never be seen again. The father concurs and it seems the only person to miss him is his dog called Captain W. E. Johns.

Barnaby is born and bred in Sydney, Australia and not a boy to be got rid off so easily. He is rescued by two ladies (who dare to be different) and who own a coffee plantation in Brazil. This is where Barnaby wakes up and he spends the rest of the book and many more journeys trying to get back home learning that some people are quiet happy being different and almost everyone is messed up in some way trying to live up to their parents expectations. (Though John Boyne should know that there are no trains from Brazil to New York (although there should be)). In Sydney, Barnaby makes friends with a boy with hooks for hands and we learn pretty early on he's minded to accept people for who they are. And despite his horrid parent he sends them postcards telling them of his desperate efforts to get back to Australia.

Two quite different novels, but both starting out in the same place. Neither one goes where you think it might and both are fun to read and would appeal to age 10 plus readers anywhere. I loved Jeffers illustrations and I only wish more kid's books were illustrated.Curiously a couple of years ago I was attracted to the novel 'The Girl Who Could Fly' by Victoria Forester. That novel began with wonderfully funny prose about a child born to float and parents scared of what the neighbours would think: 'When she finally turned five and still floated clear across a room her parents finally admitted the truth to themselves ‘Seems like our child ain’t normal is all I’m saying,’ Betty McCloud told Doc Bell. It was decided that ‘home school’ was the best decision.

But a girl who wants to fly will eventually fly; she is eventually found out and the child cruelly snatched from her loving parents by a sinister Government agency.

In John Boyne's tale (with quirky funny drawings by Oliver Jeffers) the difference is that the boy, Barnaby is born to parents so desperate to be normal, so mortified by a child they can't keep down, the mother in particular resents and eventually hates the kid enough to 'let him go' knowing that he will float off and never be seen again. The father concurs and it seems the only person to miss him is his dog called Captain W. E. Johns.

Barnaby is born and bred in Sydney, Australia and not a boy to be got rid off so easily. He is rescued by two ladies (who dare to be different) and who own a coffee plantation in Brazil. This is where Barnaby wakes up and he spends the rest of the book and many more journeys trying to get back home learning that some people are quiet happy being different and almost everyone is messed up in some way trying to live up to their parents expectations. (Though John Boyne should know that there are no trains from Brazil to New York (although there should be)). In Sydney, Barnaby makes friends with a boy with hooks for hands and we learn pretty early on he's minded to accept people for who they are. And despite his horrid parent he sends them postcards telling them of his desperate efforts to get back to Australia.

Two quite different novels, but both starting out in the same place. Neither one goes where you think it might and both are fun to read and would appeal to age 10 plus readers anywhere. I loved Jeffers illustrations and I only wish more kid's books were illustrated.
© Sam Hawksmoor Feb 2013
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