Title: Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life
Author: Michael de Guzman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Family, Change, Overcoming Loss, Coming of Age
Age Range: 3rd-5th Grade
Henrietta and her parents are clowns in a travelling clown circus. Henrietta thinks her life is perfect. Instead of going to school, she gets her education from the other clown in her troop. And instead of soccer practice or swim lessons, she gets to perform every night with her beloved father in their two person act. Henrietta wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with the circus, but changes are coming. Attendance at their shows is getting smaller, and some of the clowns are leaving to find real jobs in the real world. Then, tragedy strikes. Her father is killed by a hit and run driver. How will she and her mother survive the loss of her father, and will Henrietta be able to survive the loss of her beloved circus life?
Poor clowns! They get a lot of bad press these days. Seems like every time you turn around there is another creepy clown photo or tv show or movie. You don't see too many people wanting to be clowns in the 21st century. But Henrietta and her travelling clown troop brought back those old feelings of wanting to run away with the circus-live in a tent, travel the world, make friends with the acrobats and lion tamers. The troop that Henrietta and her family belong to is one big, happy family, and you can completely understand why Henrietta wants to spend the rest of her life surrounded by the people she loves best.
The story is a simple one, but full of heart. You feel Henrietta's joy at working with her father, her deep fear of losing the circus, her distrust of her aunt (her mother's sister, who was not well pleased when Henrietta's mother ran away with her father), and her deep sorrow at the loss of her father. The first person perspective allows the reader to get immersed in Henrietta's inner life. The unique setting should engage elementary age readers, and there is enough emotional depth that you could have some decent discussions with students. It would make a decent addition to a classroom library, and could be used for novel study as well, depending on the themes being studied.