Riding an ostrich? It’s a long shot, but Suzy Bowles hopes that’s her key to finally leaving her small Michigan town in Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird (Knopf, 2021). Her story entails a one-of-a-kind summer in the 1920s in this historical fiction novel for young readers. Long Road to the Circus is both a novel with a loveable character as well as an amusing story.
Suzy’s story is quite funny and she is easy to relate to. She had a familiar tone as the narrator and she felt like a friend, even though her 1920s life is far distant from ours. Truly, the conflicts and struggles of childhood feel pretty universal. Similar to many today, she and her brother do not get along, her grandmother nags her, and her little sister gets all the attention. Throughout the book, Suzy finds ways to use these to her advantage. Yes, even siblings can be useful in our quests!
Then, there is her determination to ride that ostrich. Madame Marantette used to be in the circus and has retired near Suzy’s neighborhood. When Suzy discovers that her uncle is helping train an ostrich, she tags along and becomes determined to learn to ride it. This seems like such a preposterous idea, and yet, in this book, Suzy does just that, helping to train the ostrich to pull Madame’s wagon in the summer parade.
Suzy is a character wither determination and ideas. I like to see how she came to her solutions. I also loved discovering that Madame Marantette was a real person from history. She truly had been in the circus, and in her retirement years, she kept her 12 ostriches on her farm. What a fun and unique character to bring to life in middle-grade historical fiction for children!
I enjoyed reading it as an adult and laughed aloud as I read. While I really enjoyed the story and characters, nothing really jumped out to me as this being a novel that I must recommend to the tweens in my life. But, that said, Long Road to the Circus would be great for just the kid who wants to get join the circus, dreams of getting out of a town, or simply loves funny animal stories. I hope the right kids find it and enjoy it even more than I did as an adult!