A Review by Kelly Carey
Cassie Beasley’s middle grade fiction novel, Circus Mirandus, certainly deserves a space on the shelf with The Polar Express and Alice in Wonderland, as all three explore the importance of a belief in magic and the unexplainable through a creative explosion of fantastical characters that pluck at the very heart strings of love and life. On the surface, Beasley’s Circus Mirandus is a visual delight of fun house creatures, sideshow oddities and mind bending magicians, but pull the tent flap back just a bit and readers will find a touching examination of the special bond between a devoted grandfather and his grandson and a stunning message about faith and the magic of love.
In Circus Mirandus, Beasley conjours up a mystical traveling circus that appears like Brigadoon to the faithful who believe. The circus first materializes to a young Grandpa Ephraim and it both changes and shapes his life in essential ways. When the story opens, Ephraim is a dying old man whose powerful relationship with his grandson, Micah, makes them both reach out to Circus Mirandus for a miracle. Beasley wonderfully complicates Ephraim and Micah’s quest with a horribly wicked Aunt Gertrudis. Even her name sticks in your throat as you read it and her actions make you hate her in a most satisfying way. Then along comes clever and logical Jenny, a classmate and friend of Micah’s, to act as a perfect foil to both Aunt Gertrudis’ nastiness but also to Micah’s faith in the existence of magic.
The search to find Circus Mirandus will be just as harrowing as the sights and characters of the circus itself. Readers will feel their hearts swell and swoon as they join Micah on his quest to discover the circus and the miracle he and his grandfather desire. Along the way, it would be a good idea to adhere to British science fiction writer Arthur Clarke’s second law – The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. This is true both when hunting for a magical circus and in our universal pursuit of happiness.
Enjoy the discovery!
Plot, character and creativity are Beasley’s greatest strengths as she masterfully pulls readers into her story of magical realism. First, she makes you care about Ephraim and Micah. Then, she enthralls you with the fanciful charm of her circus and its performers. Finally, she presents a life or death problem plagued with a vile villain.
The formula may seem simple, but Beasley plays out her plot and characters with the skill of a master puppeteer and, at some point it may be true, that the strings are attached to the reader who happily allows Beasley to move them through her wonderful tale. Beasley lets her story unfold with a seamless flow back and forth between Ephraim’s boyhood to the present, where the reader is following Micah’s struggle to save his grandfather, find the circus and survive horrible Aunt Gertrudis. Backstory comes through chapters told within the tents of the circus and Beasley offers up each new bit of information just as the reader is relaxing. She ramps up the rising tension of her plot by removing the limits of Aunt Gertrudis’ wickedness, pushing Grandpa Ephraim closer and closer to death, and then snatching away the certainty of Circus Mirandus as a solution.
In the end it is simply magic.
~ Amanda Smith
Twelve-year-old Charlie’s life is filled with normal twelve-year-old stuff: friends, school, science fairs, Irish dancing, and missing her a sister who went off to college. When we first meet Charlie, her biggest problem is having too little money to buy the Irish dancing solo dress of her dreams. An opportunity to ice-fish, and sell her catch to the local tavern, offers Charlie a way to save for her perfect solo dress. However, her very first catch is a wishing fish. Soon she realizes the fish is not a figment of her imagination, but really grants her wishes (although not exactly as she would have liked it too). She hooks the fish again and again to manipulate things she cannot control by herself. Through a devastating family crisis, Charlie learns that some things cannot be controlled, not even by a wishing fish.
In THE SEVENTH WISH Kate Messner masterfully weaves fantasy elements into realistic fiction. The silliness of the fish, and the hilarious outcomes of Charlie’s wishes form a striking paradox with the true conflict in the story: Charlie’s inability to control her sister’s choices or addiction. THE WISHING FISH is rich in imagery. Charlie ‘s dependency on the wishing is parallel to Abby’s dependency on drugs. The more Charlie goes out on the ice, the less she fears it, so even when there are clear warning signs, she ignores them, trusting that she will be fine. The ice becomes a false security, similar to Abby’s addiction.
THE SEVENTH WISH is an important and timely novel. In an age appropriate manner, Kate deals with the emotional turmoil drug addiction causes in families. Even though it deals with a heavy subject, it is an enjoyable read with relatable, multi-faceted characters, which makes it a perfect conversation starter. I will definitely be sharing this book with my kids.
THE SEVENTH WISH contains numerous swoon-worthy sentences delivered at just the right time. However, Kate Messner’s brilliance is most noticeable in the tight first chapter of this novel. Off the bat, Kate establishes a solid relationship between Charlie and Abby, and by page 6 we can already see the change in Abby and the resulting cracks in their relationship. Seamlessly throughout this chapter the reader is introduced to Charlie’s family and friends; conflict is established; magic is referenced; and a major theme is set up in a friend's warning, “Wish all you want. Wishing doesn’t make a thing so.” For writers, the first chapter of THE SEVENTH WISH serves as an excellent mentor text.
For a behind the scenes look at THE SEVENTH WISH, click here to read our interview with Kate Messner.
Reviewed by Annie Cronin Romano
In this spirited follow-up to Sophie’s Squash, Sophie is off to school, toting her closest friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, along with her. Sophie’s devotion to her squash makes it difficult for her to bond with the other children in her class. Even a boy who brings his beloved stuffed frog to school can’t win Sophie over. As Sophie’s two squash start to fade, she realizes that making room for human friends is an important part of life.
SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) follows Sophie as she learns to open her mind and heart to making new friends. Colorful, lively illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf perfectly depict Sophie’s progress as she moves from sharing adventures with her two squash to growing relationships with her classmates. Miller’s text and Wilsdorf’s illustrations blend flawlessly to convey a sweet tale of learning how to welcome new friends. SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL is picture book for children ages 3-7. Get your hands on this well-crafted sequel and make some new friends of your own!
In SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, Miller creates a sequel which flows beautifully from Sophie’s Squash yet creates a unique adventure for Sophie. Lessons Sophie learned in the first book are carried over into this follow-up in a seamless, subtle way.
For more information on Pat Zietlow Miller’s work, visit her website at www.patzietlowmiller.com or check out her June 2016 guest blog on this site at http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/guest-blogger-pat-zietlow-miller-talks-sequels.
For info on Anne Wilsdorf’s work, visit her website at www.studiogoodwinsturges.com/anne-wilsdorf1.html.
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