________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 34 . . . . May 8, 2015


The Traveling Circus.

Marie-Louise Gay & David Homel. Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2015.
143 pp., hardcover & ePub, $15.95 (hc), $14.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-420-6 (hc), ISBN 978-1-55498-784-9 (ePub).

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Saeyong Kim.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


“You want to go to K-r-k?” Max asked. “How could you go if you can’t even say the name?”

“I’ll learn!” my father answered.

When he starts getting his enthusiastic voice, and my mother gets her dreamy, faraway look, I get my familiar sinking feeling.

Another family trip to an impossible destination is on the horizon – this time to a place whose name no one can even pronounce.


Mission accomplished. We were in Vrgada.

Now what?

Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Then I realized there wasn’t a single car or truck or tractor.

There wasn’t even a road.

I jumped out of the boat and looked down the dock. You’ll never guess what I saw.

An army of old ladies was moving in our direction. And they were all pushing wheelbarrows!


The Traveling Circus is the fourth title in a series about a quirky, adventuresome family that enjoys going on vacations off the beaten track… with the exception of one member who would really rather stay at home. Charlie is the snarky, observant protagonist who seems to be merely tagging along, being dragged around by his zany parents and overenthusiastic younger brother, Max. However, Charlie’s reluctant interest in the events and people he observes around him, and his sense of responsibility for Max (the “human vacuum cleaner,” who has a talent for getting into trouble) means that he ends up having many more adventures than his parents do.

     This time, a postcard from an old friend takes them to an island in Croatia, via Italy and (briefly) Slovenia. The family visit Saint Anthony, cross the Croatian border without passports, witness an eerily halved ghost town, get very close to a number of goats, and receive some very good postal service. Charlie ruminates on war and its lasting effects, gendered labor, grandparents, and international friendships.

     As before, the story is organized into short chapters labeled “My Adventures”, which focus on one or two aspects of the places Charlie visits. While each of the vignettes is vivid and contains keen observations of both the locale and the family that travels through it, the brevity of each gives a feeling of having only just touched the surface of a complex and beautiful subject. As that is how trips are in real life, it may be unfair to count this against the title. An enjoyable read that could also trigger discussions of culture, history, ethics and politics.

     The text is interspersed with lively, expressive black-and-white illustrations.


Saeyong Kim is studying for a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia, BC.

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

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