cover image When the Circus Came to Town

When the Circus Came to Town

Polly Horvath. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-374-38308-4

How many circus families can a small town tolerate? That's the ostensible premise for this rollicking ode to silliness, starring Ivy, a disheveled fifth-grade smart-aleck, and her new friend Alfred Halibut, whose father has just retired from a traveling circus. At first, the townspeople are intrigued when circus families who crave all-American normalcy move to placid Springfield. But the civic tolerance level dips markedly when Elmira the Snake Lady starts leashing her snakes and taking them for walks around the block, and when the Flying Gambinis start collecting garages for a backyard hobby. All the characters in this book are joyfully eccentric; observed by sharp-tongued narrator Ivy, their giddy characterizations acquire a toothy edge. Ivy and her lute-playing mother (in church, she's in a group called Lutes for Lent) occasion cunning parodies of parochial suburban life, and so does the climax, which involves mint cupcakes and rigging a church bake-off. Horvath (An Occasional Cow) remains a master of the middle-grade comedy. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)