When I was a kid my favorite books were Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price books in which the young boy, Homer Price, “somehow gets involved in a series of outrageous incidents, such as tending an inexplicably unstoppable doughnut-making machine in his uncle’s diner, or caring for mystery plants that turn out to be a giant form of allergy-inducing ragweed.” (Source, Wikipedia.) Betsy Bird’s Long Road to the Circus reminded me a lot of Homer Price.
Suzy Bowles is a twelve-year-old girl in rural Michigan who desires to see the world but is stuck in Burr Oak. The world comes to her, however, when first her uncle moves back to the farm but tends to skip out on the chores for mysterious reasons. Suzy follows her uncle to discover that he’s working for the legendary Madame Marantette and her flock of ostriches.
Suzy becomes almost obsessed with the birds and takes a special liking to one named Guacho. Madame Marantette allows Suzy to help her uncle take care of the birds, but she has to do both her chores and her uncle’s chores on the family farm as well. But to take care of Guacho and the other ostriches is worth it.
There is a lot of fun here, mostly due to the fact that we have ostriches as a main character. I mean … ostriches! Big, awkward looking birds that our protagonist will ride like horses and about which we will learn a good deal.
There’s a sweet growth of character in Suzy, thanks to her interest in Guacho and the ostriches, and she (and our young readers) learn that the way to achieve a goal is through hard work and determination. But wisely, the lessons aren’t too overt, but the savvy young readers will pick up on it.
As fun as this is, learning that this is based on a true story really makes it all that much more intriguing – a true story based on Betsy Bird’s own family history.
Artist David Small illustrates the book and it’s possible that it’s these illustrations that have me reflect on Robert McClosky’s Homer Price books – they have a similar blend of realism and whimsy. These are pictures that young readers can (and probably will) spend a lot of time looking at. It’s a really nice blend of story and art.
If there’s one downside to the book, it’s that the story is just a tad too long. I did get bored for a bit somewhere between half and two thirds of the way through and I thought maybe it was being stretched a little too hard to be ‘novel length.’ Still, it will likely be a favorite for many readers.
Looking for a good book? Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird with art by David Small is a nice middle grade/YA book, complete with lessons learned and … ostriches.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
* * * * * *
Long Road to the Circus
author: Betsy Bird
artist: David Small
publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
hardcover, 256 pages