The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

John Boyne is an incredibly talented and versatile writer.  He writes for both adults and children, and he can write incredibly moving stories that punch you in the gut or magical stories that make you laugh.  John’s latest book for younger readers is a wonderful, whimsical tale of an unusual little boy, called The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket.

There’s nothing unusual about the Brockets. Boring, respectable and fiercely proud to be as normal as normal can be, Alistair and Eleanor Brocket turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it’s clear he’s anything but normal. To the horror and shame of his parents, Barnaby appears to defy the laws of gravity – and floats. Little Barnaby is a lonely child – after all, it’s hard to make friends when you’re pressed against the ceiling all day. Desperate to please his parents, he does his best to stop floating, but he simply can’t do it. It’s just not who he is. Then, one fateful day, Barnaby’s mother decides enough is enough. She never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. She’s sick and tired of the newspapers prying and the neighbours gossiping. Barnaby has to go. Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon. And so begins a magical journey around the world; from South America to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even a trip into space, Barnaby meets a cast of truly extraordinary new friends and realises that nothing can make you happier than just being yourself.

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket is one of my favourite books of 2012.  John Boyne has crafted a magical, imaginative tale that celebrates difference and takes us around the world, introducing us to an interesting cast of characters along the way.  Whenever I’ve been asked to recommend books similar to Roald Dahl I’ve always struggled because his writing is so unique, but Barnaby Brocket is a perfect example (as is John’s previous book, Noah Barleywater Runs Away).  The characters in Barnaby Brocket are very Dahl-esque, especially Barnaby’s horrible, selfish parents.  As soon as he is born, Barnaby is the bane of his parent’s life.  They are normal people who want a normal life, but Barnaby is anything but.  A son who floats and gets a lot of attention threatens their normal lives, so his mother does the unthinkable.  The worst thing is that they don’t even regret what they did!  We discover why they behave the way that they do, but it doesn’t excuse their actions.

I love all the interesting characters that Barnaby meets on his travels.  There’s Liam (the boy with hooks for hands), Joshua Pruitt (the window cleaner with a hidden talent) and the imprisoned members of Freakitude.  They’re all different in their own ways and they not only help Barnaby get back home, but also help him to realise that nothing can make you happier than just being yourself.

Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations are fantastic as always and they perfectly match the style and tone of the story.  Oliver’s illustrations are spread throughout the book and they really bring John’s cast of characters alive.  I especially like the Oliver’s illustration of ‘An odd collection of friends.’  I hope we see more collaborations between John and Oliver.

Grab The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket from your library or bookshop now and share it with the children in your life.

5 out of 5 stars

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