It seems I am not capable of writing more than brief thoughts these days, so that is what I’ll do for the next few books I have thoughts on. These two books are by John Boyne. Though they are written for children and definitely intended to be children’s books, they have so much in them that I really enjoyed them. Boyne writes for a younger audience with a talent, even about complex issues. While I didn’t finish either book in love with them, they both provided much room for thought and are enjoyable reads.
The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brockett by John Boyne (January 2013) is a highly improbable book about a child who is born with the amazing quirk of floating. Barnaby Brockett cannot help it: it is just the way he is. He and his family find solutions (a heavy bag of rocks to keep him down, a “walk” on a leash where he floats in the air behind his mother), but by the time he is about eight years old, his parents have had enough. They are proper people, and they do not support anything out of the ordinary. A floating child is definitely out of the ordinary. When his mother lets him loose, Barnaby floats in to the atmosphere and has a series of adventures around the globe. He learns that everyone has their own quirks and he should embrace his differences just as others embrace their differences.
Barnaby Brockett is a book about acceptance of one’s self and acceptance of other people, all couched in an amusing story about a boy who is different. For him, every day is an adventure. Just as he learns to appreciate his differences, the people who read his story may learn to appreciate the differences in those around them. But beyond the not-so-subtle message, the book really is simply fun as well!
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (David Fickling Books, 2006) is not a “fun” or amusing book, but it is just as highly improbably, and I think that is something every reader of it should realize: this is not a historically accurate book. The subtitle is “A Fable,” although more accurately it is an allegory. It is meant to represent larger issues, much as Barnaby Brockett’s story does.
With those caveats, then, I will tell you a little bit about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. A young boy must move with his family to a new place, a place where there are no other children for him to play with. This sounds ordinary enough, right? It is not, for his new home is “Out-With” and the person who sent them to work there is “the Fury.” When Bruno befriends a boy on the other side of the fence (a Jewish child who is imprisoned and starving), his life is changed. He doesn’t realize that Shmuel is lacking the things he has. But he sees him as a friend.
It is highly unrealistic that a 9-year-old son of a Nazi leader would not be indoctrinated in Nazism and racial discrimination. Bruno is beyond naive, and his story is therefore completely improbable. But I felt that his ignorance doesn’t diminish the powerful effect his story has on the reader. Rather, it strengthens the message. Because the author does not frequently spell out the details of Nazism and the war, the setting seems much more timeless; Bruno could almost be any boy making a friend with a child that is otherwise shunned on the other side of any fence.
Because the book is about the Holocaust, albeit subtly, parents should read it before sharing it with children. Not all children would be ready for the suggested horrors.
Note: I was provided with a digital copy from the publisher of Barnaby Brockett via netgalley.com for review consideration.