Published in hardcover by David Fickling Books, 2010
Noah Barleywater has the feel of a classic folktale – it is whimsical, witty, full of adventure, works subtly on your emotions and has a rollicking charm. The style reminds me of classic James Thurber or Peter S Beagle, and I bet it would be fun to read aloud with kids.
It concerns eight-year-old Noah Barleywater (great name), who decides to run away from home because he thinks it is easier to deal with his problems if he pretends they aren’t there. After a very unusual trip down untrodden paths and through hostile villages, he comes to a toyshop that in addition to its many wonderful toys, houses a sprightly sort of magic. He also meets the toymaker, who shares his story, his adventures and his sorrows, in the hope of helping Noah understand his own reasons for running away.
This is a story about growing up, growing old and saying goodbye. It does this gently, with both understated and delightful humour; it teases out the narrative and retains an enthralling sense of wonder and imagination. I understand that it is the tragedy Noah must deal with that forms the heart of the book, but I found I was much more taken with all the quirks and strange happenings of the characters and places around him and the wonderful stories the old toymaker had to tell. His story and Noah’s story work nicely together and their interactions are a delight to read.
I am not quite won over by the ‘twist’ at the end. I saw it coming, and I like the idea of it, but I’m just not sure it was worked in as seamlessly as it could have been. Some of the sentimental moments could have been reined in just the tiniest bit, but I think this is just my own preference as a reader and it is probably the right amount for kids.
What I mainly loved was the book’s quirky humour, and the delight it takes in its own silliness. Noah is a likeable hero and the ending played out very satisfactorily. The illustrations are also a nice touch.
"A boy ... a real boy ... he grows old and nothing lies ahead of him but death ... You should never want to be anything other than you are ... Remember that. You should never wish for more than you've been given. It could be the greatest mistake of your life."