________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007


Ten Thumb Sam. (Orca Young Readers).

Rachel Dunstan Muller.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
122 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-699-9.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Elizabeth Walker.

***½ /4



The crowd cheered as Max pushed Sam into the spotlight. It was a disaster from the start. The spectators waited for Sam to begin his first trick, but he was frozen to the spot.

"Sam!" said Annabel. She elbowed her brother in the ribs.

"It's okay, son," Max said quietly. Take a deep breath. You'll be fine."

Sam rubbed his side and blinked.

"It's okay," Max repeated. "Just concentrate on your first trick."


Eleven year-old Sam Stringbini was born into a dynasty of circus performers. His father, Max, is a magician in the Triple Top circus; his mother and siblings all perform on the trapeze and tight rope. The family travels across Canada with the other performers in their renovated school bus, setting up in towns from coast to coast. Sam, however, is devoid of talent; in fact, he is so clumsy and uncoordinated that he has earned the nickname "Ten Thumb Sam." He wants nothing more than to leave the circus life, and he is counting down the days until freedom. Everything changes, however, when Sam's uncle, aunt and cousins suddenly descend upon the Stringbini school bus. Their own small circus has been bought out by a huge entertainment company, and they are bankrupt. Sam instantly forms a friendship with his cousin Harriet, who, like Sam, is not cut out for circus life. What Sam and Harriet are cut out for, though, is solving mysteries. When someone begins sabotaging the Triple Top, the cousins are on the case. Sam is automatically blamed for the pranks (a loose safety net, missing props, foul-tasting cotton candy), but through clever deduction and tenacious conviction, Sam and Harriet discover the truth.

     Ten Thumb Sam is a fast read a cute, cozy mystery for younger readers. It introduces the conflict of small business versus multinational conglomerates in an approachable manner. However, the book does have some serious flaws. It lacks interesting description of either characters or setting. A circus is a colourful, manic setting for a children's book, but Muller's prose does little to illustrate the acrobatics, magic or lively personalities. Likewise, though the circus travels across the country, Muller merely throws out place names instead of any sort of evocative descriptions of the Canadian landscape. Children might be excited to read a book set in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, but it really could be set anywhere. Furthermore, Muller's attempts at verisimilitude are hit-or-miss. The characters play video games and use the Internet like normal kids, but Sam and his siblings apparently receive no formal schooling until the end, that is, when everything is resolved neatly. Children who look for realistic details in their books will probably find that a lot of Ten Thumb Sam does not ring true.


Elizabeth Walker is a student in the University of British Columbia's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.