Maybe it's because I'm not British. Or have long since outgrown my childhood. Whatever the reason, The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon by David Almond just left me perplexed.
Almond gives us Paul, a young boy who lives in the basement of an apartment building. One day, with his parents' permission, he decides to stay home from school as, “he simply didn't like school and school didn't seem to like him” (pg. 1). In an attempt to find something interesting to do, he resolves to touch the sky. What ensues is his confusing trip to the roof, preceded by an equally baffling side trip guided by his neighbor, Mabel, to her the home of her brother, a recluse, who in the illustrations strangely resembles Jesus. The Jesus/brother decides to join the group on their quest for the moon and returns with them to Paul's apartment building.
Almond's characters are eccentric to the point of being inexplicable. In addition to the Jesus/brother, there is Harry the runner, who briefly appears at the beginning and again at the end of the story, but whose only contribution to the plot seems to be to extol the virtues of exercise. A worthy message to children, to be sure, but strangely out-of-place in this narrative. Then there is Molly/Mabel, who lives on the top floor of the building and is systematically drawing portraits of all the residents of her building, beginning with the upper floors and working her way down. Throughout the story she denies her own identity, insisting that she is really her own sister, and that her sister is on vacation in a number of differing locations. When, in the end, the alleged sister actually appears, it goes unexplained by Almond, leaving the reader confused as to the purpose of the whole charade. While their eccentricities are all quaint, they only serve to convolute the story to the point where it is nearly incomprehensible.
Of course, the book is filled with lessons for children. For example, the importance of teamwork is stressed when Paul enlists the help of his neighbors to lift his ladder to the roof. In addition, the idea that children should “reach for the stars” is clearly evident in not only the text, but in the title as well. There is also an underlying theme of encouraging children to just be themselves, even if they are different from everyone else, as the oddball characters represent throughout the story.
However, despite the important messages, the whimsical illustrations, and the lighthearted tone of the book, the surreal quality of the narrative takes over, rendering the balance of the narrative into a disjointed mess. In addition, the target audience seems a bit unclear. With all its twists and turns, the story seems far too sophisticated and complex for young children, yet the themes are still a bit too simplistic for a mature audience. The book seems to require a disproportionate amount of time and energy for limited rewards. Maybe it's because I'm not British.
© 2011 Lynn DuPree
Lynn DuPree is an Associate Professor of English at a private university in Madison, Wisconsin. She holds a Masters Degree in Secondary Education from Viterbo University and a Masters Degree in English-Literacy, Technology and Professional Writing from Northern Arizona University. She has been an educator for over 20 years teaching students in grades from middle school through college.