Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne

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Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A very different fable from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but this book has as many similarities as differences to John Boyne's first novel for children. It features a naive central character trying to understand adult issues and deals with painful truths. But it's considerably more optimistic and has the most wonderful dollop of surrealism. Bookbag thoroughly enjoyed it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: September 2010
Publisher: David Fickling
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0385618956

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Noah Barleywater gets up very early one morning. He's eight years old and he's decided to leave home in search of adventure. Off he goes through the forest and villages until he sees a marvellous tree. As he gazes at it, he meets a friendly dachshund and a (very) hungry donkey who tell him all about the toyshop behind the marvellous tree. And so Noah opens the door and goes in.

Inside are hundreds and hundreds of wooden puppets and a very old toymaker. Things don't work the same way at all inside the shop as out in the world - in fact there's a great deal of magic in the air. But the toymaker is a kindly man and he feeds Noah some scrummy food while the two of them swap stories. The toymaker has had an adventurous life but he also has some big regrets. Noah has led quite a boring life really, but he has some wonderful memories of family life. And as they tell their stories, some serious secrets are gradually revealed...

On the surface, Noah Barleywater is a very different book from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but actually the structure is quite similar. Both books feature a young, innocent central character struggling to understand some difficult adult issues. Both see things from the child's point of view too, so readers won't understand exactly what's going on straightaway either. Once they do - and that depends on how old and how mature they are - they'll realise the clues have been there all along. In this book, there are two unspoken issues: the reason for Noah's leaving home, and the identity of the toymaker. I think they'll catch on to the former more quickly than the latter, but it'll be interesting to see if I'm right.

However, this is a lighter book than Striped Pyjamas with more optimism and a happier - but not saccharine - ending. It deals with some significant and difficult themes: mortality, growing up, family dynamics and living with regret. But it's not dour. And, with goodly dollops of magic and wonderful surrealism, it has a fable-like quality. My favourite "character" was Henry the Door:

The door through which they had left the ground floor came running past him, puffing and pantng, its cheeks red with embarrassment. "Apologies, apologies all," said the door, pressing itself firmly into the wall in front of him. "I got talking to the clock and quite lost track of time. He never stops when he gets going, does he?"

Isn't that just marvellous?!

If they like magical stories, and if they like to deal with serious issues in a metaphorical way, they will love this sweet, funny and kindly book. I certainly did.

PS: Look at that beautiful cover. Mine's a proof copy, so just plain green. I feel quite jealous!

My thanks to the good people at David Fickling for sending the book. We also have a review of The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne.

Other fables involving toyshops and puppets include the dark and gothic-styled The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt, and Puppet Master by Joanne Owen, a chilling historical fantasy. I think they might also like The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

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Buy Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne at


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