cover image The Floating Circus

The Floating Circus

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, . . Bloomsbury, $15.99 (198pp) ISBN 978-1-59990-185-5

A circus boat in the 1850s is the offbeat setting for Zimmer's (Reaching for Sun ) lively historical novel. Readers will be hooked from the start by the voice of the narrator, Owen, first met in a Pittsburgh orphanage as he describes the difference between him and his younger brother, Zach: “Right follows Zach like a shadow, but wrong wears me like a skin.” Wanting the best for Zach, Owen runs away when, just before the two are put aboard an orphan train, Owen learns that Zach will have a much better chance of being adopted without a brother; from this chaotic beginning, Owen stumbles upon Solomon, a former slave, who brings him aboard the circus boat and gets him a job. As the boat travels south, Owen's awareness of slavery grows in a way that feels organic to the story. Historical details, such as the workings of a printing press, give readers a deeper taste of the era, and animal lovers will especially enjoy Zimmer's portrayal of the circus elephant that Owen comes to know. Bittersweet and satisfying. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)