April 28, 2014

The Circus Dogs of Prague: Blog Tour

by Rachelle Delaney
Puffin Canada
192 pp.
Ages 8+
For release April 2014

When author Rachelle Delaney introduced the lovable JR, a Jack Russell terrier, in The Metro Dogs of  Moscow (currently being read as a Silver Birch Fiction nominee), she created a new canine hero with a multitude of opportunities for travel and adventure via JR's Human, George, who works for the Canadian embassy.  In this new book, The Circus Dogs of Prague, JR extends his Europe-hopping tale when he and his embassy friends, both canine and human, head off to Prague to visit the family of Nadya, George's girlfriend.

You'd think with George and John Crowley, the Australian ambassador to Moscow, and four dogs–JR, the keenshond Beatrix, and shepherd brothers Robert and Pie–that the apartment that they're staying in would feel full enough to Nadya.  But when she spots a fluffy, long-haired gray cat that reminds of one she knew as a girl, Nadya is determined to adopt Kisa.  Sadly, the dogs, except for Pie, are happier to give chase and treat Kisa with disdain, if not worse.  When JR begins to shake when tormented by some stray cats, he would answer George's question about what he'd seen, if he could, with
"Our future, you lunkhead.  And it's terrifying." (pg. 52)
While the group does some touristing around Prague,  their primary purpose is to visit with Nadya's older brother, Niko, a trapeze artist for Circus Sergei, and his ten-year-old daughter, Masha.  While Niko can do some extraordinary tricks beyond the trapeze, the circus director, Sergei, will not abide change.  Those who want something different have been lured away by the splashy and profitable Circus Magnificus, including Masha's mother and Niko's ex-wife, and now they want Niko too.

When Pie, a budding spoken "word" artist, runs away to join Circus Sergei, JR et al. learn how unhappy the animal performers are, having no free will of their own and doing tricks they cannot do well.  Together the dogs and the circus animals concoct a plan to put on a show where everyone gets to do what they like, with some guest spots with Pie, Beatrix and Kisa, and directed by JR. 

Meanwhile, the home front is less than content with George constantly revealing new phobias, Nadya feeling hampered by George's reluctance to visit those attraction in which she is interested, and Kisa trying to be friends with the dogs but somehow managing to get them blamed and punished for her actions.  Will George and Nadya break up?  Will Kisa come between JR and George and Nadya?  What will happen to Circus Sergei and the animals Masha loves so dearly?

The Circus Dogs of Prague is like a playful romp through an old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie where a bunch of friends see someone or organization that needs help and decide to put on a show to make things right.  The dialogue is brisk and flavourful, as "Biscuit Brains" (JR) or the furball (Kisa) would know.  And the details rich, like the contortionist duck known as The Rubber Chicken and the vanity of Beatrix, whose glare translates into scorn, when called "fluffy".
"Fluffy?" Beatrix shot him a glare.  "Pomeranians are fluffy.  We keeshonds are voluminous." (pg. 13)
While illustrating the story with Prague's Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Kafka Museum, the Bone Church (ossuary), and a sweet cake shop (cukrána) or two, Rachelle Delaney provides fodder for George's reluctance to engage in anything that he deems unusual.  Sadly, those venues or activities seem to be all those Nadya is interested in seeing.  But the friction between George and Nadya, just as it is for JR and Kisa, is ephemeral, lasting only as long as they forget how much they are hurting someone for whom they care.  And, with the acceptance that change isn't always a bad thing, whether for a circus, a dog, or a stubborn human, Rachelle Delaney is still able to lace the humourful plot of The Circus Dogs of Prague with a lesson or two, even for those who fight like cats and dogs.

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