October 15

Differences – the Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

Suspend all beliefs to go with the flow of this adventurous tale of Barnaby Brocket, written by John Boyne, author of ‘the Boy in Striped Pyjamas’.

Barnaby is the son of Eleanor and Alistair Brocket whose main aim in life is to be ‘normal’ and not stand out in any way. Before Barnaby was born, life was good and ‘normal’.

However, giving birth to a child who defies the law of gravity alarms the Brockets, and they spend their time hiding him away and using bizarre methods to keep him ‘grounded’. Mattresses are nailed to the ceiling, for meals he is tied to a chair, and for a walk in the park he is on a lead. Not that his parents really care for him – they seem to blame him for his floating condition, as if he could control it if he really wanted to.

When doctors can provide no answers, and Barnaby needs to go to school, the normal options aren’t available to him for his parents fear he would bring shame or notoriety to the Brocket family. Thus his schooling option is ‘the Graveling Academy for Unwanted Children’ – until disaster strikes. Barnaby is almost sacrificed with the rickety old buildings of the ‘Academy’ but for his plucky (and only) friend, Liam McGonagall.

With this turn of events, Eleanor Brocket reluctantly gives in and enrols Barnaby in a local primary school where things seem to settle down, and the mechanics of keeping Barnaby from floating in public seem to work. However, while on a school excursion climbing the Harbour Bridge, Barnaby comes to notoriety when he is counted as the ten millionth person to climb the bridge! Again this flies in the face of Eleanor and Alistair’s wish for anonomity in a ‘normal’ life – and again Barnaby is held responsible.

When Eleanor does the ‘terrible thing’, Barnaby begins an adventure of a lifetime where he meets with a number of people around the world. Most are happily successful or content with their differences.  As stated by one of the characters, ‘Just because your version of normal isn’t the same as someone else’s version doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you’ – a thought which echoes throughout this whimsical tale, without lecturing the reader.

Boyne’s story is accompanied by the quirky but clever illustrations of Oliver Jeffers, including the postcards Barnaby sends to his family as he attempts to make his way home to Sydney. It’s an enjoyable but not too demanding read – though it probably doesn’t match the impact of ‘the Boy with Striped Pyjamas’. What do you think?

 

 

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March 14

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

curious“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though that is what they are. I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But that is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put into his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige coloured hearing aid, or Siobhan who has glasses…”

Christopher Boone doesn’t behave like most of the kids at his school – and this often causes him strife and trouble. He  usually says exactly what he is thinking, and sees things in a rather black and white manner, with little room for emotion or pretence. He can’t understand the way many people behave, and why his honesty often causes him, and others around him, grief.

On the positive side of things, Christopher is a bit of a maths whizz and enjoys working out puzzles – though puzzling why a neighbourhood dog is brutually killed gets him into lots of strife. He decides he is going to solve this murder mystery and keeps track of things as he writes a story about his discoveries. Difficulties come about when he can’t understand ‘normal’ social cues, and the idea of telling a white lie or avoiding issues to protect others is beyond his comprehension. this is especially serious when the police become involved and secrets from the past are revealed.

As the above quote suggests, there is really nothing wrong with his thought processes, except for how they fit into society’s way of thinking. ‘The Curious Incident…’ is an interesting insight into how many autistic people view the world, as it is written from Chris’ point of view, as it reflects how he views normal daily interactions which we often intepret quite differently.

It is food for thought for teachers and students as we learn to accept the differences between ourselves and those around us. The struggles Christopher has dealing with relationships, adolescence and school are often magnified by his autism, but Haddon’s tale  is intriguing as he reveals the many complexities involved, while providing an insight to how others could empathise better with those who are different – since “everyone has special needs.”

Recommended to anyone with an interest in thinking about how others tick… And isn’t that you and I?

Further reading:

Robison, John Elder. 2007. Look me in the eye: My life with Apserger’s. North Sydney. Random House

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