Friday, February 4, 2022

Reading Through History: Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird, illustrated by David Small (2021)

In the 1920s, twelve-year-old Suzy has big dreams that reach far beyond her family's Michigan farm, but most of her relatives aren't too keen on entertaining them. When her uncle returns home after some time away, however, he introduces her to former circus performer Madame Marantette. The next thing Suzy knows, she is caught up in the world of ostrich riding, risking her parents' disapproval and her own physical safety in order to pursue a talent that might yet send her out into the wider world. 

This novel reminds me of Newbery winners of decades past. The writing is top-notch, the characters are well-drawn, and the story is memorable. Bird has written a protagonist with a unique, strong voice that really drives the story, and the bits of local color and historical references also help give young readers a full image of Suzy's life and time period. The book has a truly timeless feel to it that is missing from many newly published middle grade books.  

I have not read this book aloud, but I found myself really wanting to do so as I was reading it silently. It has all the makings of a real crowd-pleaser: first-person narration that sounds like a real kid talking, lots of heart and humor, beautifully written dialogue and some really great action scenes involving the ostrich. If I read this again, I will do so in audio format so I can appreciate the language even more. The illustrations by David Small also add an extra layer of charm to the story. His style is perfectly suited to the mood of the book and really complements the author's writing style quite well. The cover caught my eye before I even realized who the author was, and the interior artwork is similarly engaging. 

It was so refreshing to read Long Road to the Circus and not be bogged down by politics and other agendas. This is what children's literature ought to be: well-written, fun, inspiring, and kid-friendly. I hope this won't be the last middle grade novel from Betsy Bird. 

I received a digital ARC of Long Road to the Circus from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers via Netgalley.

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