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Monday, October 12, 2015

Circus Mirandus, written by Cassie Beasley. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $20.99 ages 9 and up

"The penguin eyed him suspiciously then went back to skidding on its belly. Ephraim tagged along after it. He had only ever seen illustrations of penguins before, and he'd thought that they looked solemn, as though they had dressed for a funeral. But they were such funny birds in person. They paddled against the ice with their wings and feet just like they were swimming. They trumpeted and nipped ... "

Grandpa Ephraim and Micah have only had each other since the death of Micah's parents. Now, Grandpa Ephraim is dying and Micah desperately wants to change that. Grandpa has been telling his young grandson stories about Circus Mirandus since their first days together. It is an enchanting place, only seen by children who believe and who need its magic. Micah loves the stories, but is not sure they are true.

Because Ephraim is so sick, Great-Aunt Gertrudis has come to care for the two. She is a mean, and vindictive woman, who wants the stories to stop. She keeps Micah from seeing his grandfather, saying he is too tired and that telling stories saps what little energy he has left. When Ephraim writes a letter to the Lightbender asking for a promised, but delayed, miracle, Micah is sure he will  ask to be healed. As adults, we know that some things cannot be changed. Micah needs to believe that
they can.

A solemn return message from the Lightbender motivates Micah to find the circus his grandfather has dearly loved since his own boyhood visit. Jenny Mendoza agrees to accompany Micah on his quest. She is a young girl with a scientific mind and doesn't really believe in magic. But, she and Micah have a strong friendship despite their many differences; it is that which propels Jenny's actions. Together, and with the help of the circus' crusty messenger parrot Chintzy, they find Circus Mirandus and meet its many very intriguing performers. They are bent on keeping magic alive in a world where too many children feel hopeless, lead by the Head and with help from The Man Who Bends Light.

The outcome is not as Micah had hoped; there is nothing the Lightbender can do to save his grandfather. He can, however, provide that much needed miracle.

This is a grand story. The characters are admirable, and memorable. Believing in and trusting others is at the heart of the tale ... along with a pinch of magic, of course. Death is dealt with in the best possible way for its middle grade audience. Magic and reality are well mixed. It is a terrific read, and would make a wonderful readaloud for your family, or in your classroom.

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