Esme Dooley and the Kirkkomaki Circus
Esme Dooley is only eleven years old, but that doesn’t mean she can’t solve mysteries. She and her cousin, Tommy, are best friends as well as cousins, and Tommy stays with Esme through thick and thin as she follows clues and tries new, daring ventures. Their grandmother, Papuza, announces she is going to take the two of them with her as she goes on a journey to find someone she thought was dead long ago. Papuza tells them how, when they were children, Arthur was Papuza’s cousin and best friend, just as Esme and Tommy are now, but Arthur has been gone for sixty years. At least that’s what Papuza thought. Her adventurous childhood had included working as a miner and in a logging camp, where she had become friends with a girl named Katrina Kirkkomaki. Katrina always wanted to have a circus. When Papuza sees a newspaper ad for a Kirkkomaki Circus, she sends a telegram and discovers it is her old friend who runs the circus, and Katrina had been contacted by a detective looking for Papuza. The detective has news of Arthur. Papuza, Esme, and Tommy embark on a journey to meet the circus, see Katrina, and get in touch with the detective.
Complicating everything is old Aunt Hatch, a hateful relative who seems to want Esme dead. The three travelers leave town quickly after an incident with Hatch. They travel in a gypsy wagon and have lots of adventures along the way. They run across animals that seem to have escaped from a circus, and when they finally arrive there, they discover there are all kinds of strange and dangerous things happening at Katrina’s circus. It seems someone is trying to destroy the circus. Esme decides it will be up to her and her self-proclaimed sleuthing skills to find out just who the culprit is. This is no easy task. People are being injured, and some injuries are life-threatening. Every time she turns around, Esme seems to find a new suspect, and Tommy is finding just as many. There are enough red herrings in this mystery to populate a town.
Co-authors Jane Donovan and Holly Trechter have written a fast-paced, episodic adventure with an amazing cast of characters who are quirky and perfect to populate an old-time circus. From a snake charmer to a bearded lady to a sage, an old fortune teller to a mermaid and more, there is something for everyone in this book. There are so many characters that it would have been a welcome addition to have a character list to refer to, because some characters disappear for longish periods and the book is much longer than is ordinary for the middle-grade audience for which it is intended. It will take focused, robust readers to complete reading this one. The charming silhouette illustrations by Jane Donovan add nicely to the story.
Sky Candle Press
Jane Donovan and Holly Trechter