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?