Noah Barleywater left home in the early morning, before the sun rose, before the dogs woke, before the dew stopped falling on the fields.
This old man, a toymaker of uncommon talent, has a shop filled with puppets, a door named Henry that moves from wall to wall offering his services, a clock named Alexander making noises like a stomach growling when it's meal time, floorboards that shift, a cuckoo clock that is a live bird coming through the window announcing the progression of time, and of box of memories.
This beautifully carved holder of timeless treasures appears during a shared lunch with the old man. Within its confines are puppets that were also made by the old man's father. Each puppet has a tale to tell revealing the life journey of the toymaker and his father. In alternating chapters readers follow, much like Noah followed the path to the shop, the life of this unusual character and the story of Noah and what prompted his leaving home.
More than once when reading this book I marveled at the mind that could take what is well-known, project into its probable future and weave a realistic life event among its fibers so flawlessly. Musings and conversation by both Noah and the old man, who constantly has a block of wood in his hand carving, and Noah's parents are realistically rendered.
"You don't want to answer me?" asked the old man eventually in a quiet voice, and Noah looked across at him and swallowed hard before shaking his head. "I don't want to be rude, " he said, and as he spoke he found that his voice was coming out much more forcefully than he had intended, "but now I've run away from home, I think it's best if I don't think about my mum and dad at all. Or talk about them."
"Well, now, that's a very strange thing to say," said the old man, turning around and staring at him in surprise. "First your mother stands up for you against a security guard who has wrongly accused you, then she makes a beach out of a swimming pool, and then she takes you out of school to go to a fair. And you don't want to talk about her? Why, if I'd had a mother like that...well, I never had a mother, of course, I only had Poppa," he said sadly. "But still, I don't understand why you don't want to be with her."
Irish author, John Boyne, is perhaps best known by my students for his bestseller, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas. Noah Barleywater Runs Away: a Fairy Tale by John Boyne does lure readers into a realm of magic but it is more like an excursion into a world of make-believe, a world full of choices, promises, love and loss. Touring through the life of the old man, Noah comes to know that he has choices, that some promises will be broken and that love is illuminating as well as painful.
One day in the life of Noah and days in the lifetime of the old man will have readers looking at the way they have spent, are spending and will spend the time traveling down their life's road. Even though Noah is eight years old this story will best be understood and appreciated by older readers; middle school and up. The book jacket speaks the truth: A journey that will change his life. And...it could change yours too.