Kyle's Reviews > Hi, Barney!

Hi, Barney! by Marie McSwigan
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Jul 09, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: blacks, brits, cats, catholic, childrens-books, war
Read in July, 2008

This book, written right after WWII, is about an 8-year-old boy, Barney. He's relatively well-off it seems, but he hasn't yet learned the prejudices of his family or grasped the idea of class. He talks to the black garbage man and plays with the colored children, to use the laguage of the book, and invites the Italian gardener to his birthday party. At first it seems like it's going to be a good moral tale about how he brings round his stuffy grandmother and gets her to let him play with the black kids he likes instead of the stuffy rich kids from his school, but it doesn't turn out that way. It kind of tries to walk a middle line showing things for what they were at the time, but not judging. The black family he befriends initially bring him home when he's lost and then they willingly accept charity from his rich grandfather to help their sick daughter. The tension between the races and classes are occasionally alluded to delicately, but most of it is just assumed to be understood by readers.

It's a nice story, where goodwill between everyone prevails, and even though the issues underlying it all are felt by the reader, they aren't directly addressed by the author. Perhaps at the time it wouldn't have been published had it been any more explicit.

The second half of the book is taken up by his father's escape from France when his 'spitfire' plane is shot down. It is the sort of lucky escape adventure with the help of the French underground that I have often heard before. The Germans and Japs are the bad guys, the French, English and Americans are the good guys and no one is conflicted about any of that. I wonder if it felt that simple at the time?

For a book about WWII it was remarkable that there were no Jews in it and the Jews were never even mentioned although they did throw darts at a picture of der fuehrer at Barney's birthday party. Overall an interesting little time-capsule of the of the zeitgeist of the era. Set in Pittsburgh.
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