'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 1 August 2011

Review: Barry

Colin Thompson is absolutely one of those authors whose work falls in the anticipatory category. Thompson not only produces books that fall outside the regular commerical publishing 'square', his books also have, most ironically, striking commercial appeal.

In Barry, Thompson gives us another visual and narrative feast that ekes up the corners of your mouth from the moment you run your hand over the smooth front cover.

Barry may look small and insignificant, but size isn't everything. He has a massive brain, you see - and, most incredibly, much of that brain is actually stored far away on his home planet - in a galaxy that time forgot.

Barry's brain is so huge and so omnescient, you may be surprised to learn that he has actually controlled the fate of planet Earth since 1952. From the Loch Ness monster to flood and famine, Barry has been responsible for everything... all whilst living down the crack of a grungy old couch, keeping company with fluff, and old biscuit and a crusty lipstick.

In 1964, things start to change. A spoon arrives, then Barry has a baby arm visitor, then someone reaches down and finds him and tinkers with his insides with a screwdriver. These actions, of course, send butterflies to the South Pole. Then a mini Ice Age arrives. It snows on the pyramids - but Barry has faith everything will all work out for Planet Earth.

You can just picture the mental processes churning away in Thompson's mind as he produced this book. A little but of Wally-E, a smidgeon of Shaun Tan, a whole lot of ecologically-current affairs and stunning visuals make up for a striking and unusual book.

I have to say, though - although the images are beautiful and the storyline concept is genius, the book's text seems oddly edited. Someone once said if a reader needs to turn back pages once, that's ok, but if they need to do it quite a few times, that's a worry. I had to do it more than quite a few times, wondering if I'd missed a page.

The story just jumps from concept to concept far from seamlessly, particularly in the last third, and I was left quite confused at the highly subjective ending. This ending is probably a little too obtuse for a picture book, and although I could eventually see where Thompson was going with it all, I wonder how kids will effectively grasp it.

Nonetheless, children will warmly grasp the visuals and also the hilarious (and disconcerting) concept of a tiny tin robot controlling the mishmash that has become our planet. Just be prepared to elaborate on the plot so little minds can grasp it all (the back cover blurb helps explain the plot more coherently).

Title: Barry
Author/Illustrator: Colin Thompson
Publisher: Random House, $24.95
Publication Date: 1 August 2011
ISBN: 9781864718836
Format: Hard cover
For ages: 2 – 6
Type: Picture Book

You can buy this book online