The Terrible Thing…

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this book yet! What was I thinking? I found The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brockett by John Boyne with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, on my son’s bookshelves (my son has excellent taste in books – a gift he inherited from me).  Boyne made his name with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. However, The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brockett is not similar in theme or setting.


It begins in modern-day Sydney, Australia, with the birth of a bonny bouncing baby boy called Barnaby. Actually, Barnaby doesn’t bounce so much as… float. This tendency to rise in the air and hang about on the ceiling is not welcomed in the Brockett household. Babies shouldn’t do that kind of thing. Babies, Barnaby’s parents Alistair and Eleanor firmly believe, should be ‘normal’.

As Barnaby grows older, measures have to be taken to preventing him from floating away. He is taken for walks on a harness. When he starts school, his backpack is weighed down with bricks. These measures work to a certain extent but they don’t really get rid of the central problem – any yes, –  Mr and Mrs Brockett continue to see their youngest son’s condition as a problem. An embarrassing one, that prevents them being the ordinary, average family they crave so very much.  One day, unable to stand the ‘stigma’ a second longer, Mrs Brockett decides to accidentally-on-purpose cut Barnaby’s rucksack straps and off he floats, up, up and away over the Sydney skyline. ‘Mum! Mum! Help me; I’m sorry. I’ll try not to float anymore,’ Barnaby cries plaintively but to no avail. ‘It’s too late, Barnaby’ Eleanor replies. ‘Look after yourself.’

How Barnaby looks after himself forms the basis of the rest of the book. His escapades are many, taking him all over the world and into the lives of strange, funny and delightful characters. Yet despite his encounters, and despite his mother’s unforgivable crime, all Barnaby wants to do is get back to Sydney, his dog Captain W E Johns, and his family. But what will happen if he does?  Will his mother simply cut his rucksack straps again?

This is a brilliant story about love and acceptance, about being ‘different’ and about finding your way of life.  Readers will be rooting for the sweet-hearted and bemused Barnaby from the outset. They’ll also want to take his parents by the shoulders and give them a good rattling until their teeth drop out.

Highly recommended for 8-11 year olds, The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brockett is perfect for a gift or as a Y5/6 class reader, especially if any teachers looking for books about empathy and inclusion. It’s not bad for teaching geography, and science, either!

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