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'Circus Mirandus' creates magic for middle-grade readers

This middle-grade novel is about much more than an imaginary – or is it real? – circus.

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    Circus Mirandus
    By Cassie Beasley
    Dial Books
    304 pp.
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I’m not naturally drawn to books that feature big round tents, tigers roaming wild, or talking parrots. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve read a book with circus in the title since a clown juggled balls too close and frightened me when I was six.

But have you ever picked up a book you knew nothing about, glanced at the title, put it down, but then something drew you back? That happened to me with Circus Mirandus, and I’m delighted it did.

Was it the beautifully designed bright red-and-white-striped dust jacket that pulled me back? Perhaps. I read it, cover to cover. I liked it so much I read it again. I’m happy to report that this middle-grade novel is about much more than an imaginary – or is it real? – circus.

Recommended: 100 of the best children's books

Yes, Cassie Beasley’s debut novel is full of mystery, magic, and miraculous events. One character is a talking parrot named Chintzy who flies in windows and delivers messages. Many of the creatures, human and animal, have lived a very long time, more than a lifetime even. 

But the story is also very real. 

Young Micah Tuttle and his grandfather happily live together, building a treehouse, telling stories, tying intricate knots. Their bond is strong and special.

When his grandfather becomes quite ill, the boy’s great aunt moves in to care for them. No longer does Micah enjoy tea and stories with his grandpa.

Great Aunt Gertrudis serves tea so bitter and inky that Micah tosses it away. She is “not the kind of grown-up who appreciated explanations.” She does not believe in wasting time with what she considers silliness, disturbing the patient, or anything that remotely feels magical. Mostly, Great Aunt Gertrudis is determined to keep Grandpa Ephraim from telling Micah the truth about Circus Mirandus.

Even with his grandfather facing death, there’s a bright spot in Micah’s life. His schoolmate Jenny Mendoza, “the smartest person in the whole fifth grade,” is the true friend every young reader hopes to have. She believes Micah’s stories, figures out how to help, and even covers up for his inability to finish their school project.

And what a project it is! Complex knots eventually save the day and the homework assignment for Micah. After all, he says, knots aren’t “regular homework when you were a Tuttle. They were something of a family specialty.”

And what about that circus? Although he visited the magical circus as a boy and has told his grandson the stories, Micah’s grandfather has lived many years since without hearing even a whisper about Circus Mirandus. Still, years ago, a promise was made; a miracle was saved for a time in the future when Ephraim might need it.

His old friend at the circus, the Lightbender, once assured him that miracles don’t expire, that a promise is a promise no matter how much time has passed. If Grandpa Ephraim can receive his miracle before it’s too late, Micah will now have to claim it.

Some will call this fantasy. But with her extraordinary storytelling, Cassie Beasley convinced me that the Amazing Amazonian Bird Woman, the Man Who Bends Light, and certainly that talking parrot could be around the corner and across the parking lot, if only we believe.

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