April 13, 2015

The Traveling Circus

by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel
Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
152 pp.
Ages 7-11
For release April 2015

Charlie and his younger brother Max are going traveling with their parents again, though as Charlie recognizes,
Sometimes I wonder why people want to travel.  It can be so much effort! (pg. 20)
The family first hit the road in Travels with my Family (Groundwood, 2006), before going On the Road Again! (Groundwood, 2008) and then staying for a Summer in the City (Groundwood, 2012).  This time, they're heading to the former Yugoslavia to visit Fred, an acquaintance of their father's, and his wife Gordana.
Oh boy!  A country broken up by a war, where people spoke a language with no vowels and that no one could understand.  The perfect place for a vacation! (pg. 14)
From a start in Padua, the home of Saint Anthony, where Max goes awol, the family heads through Slovenia to Croatia, almost losing the boys to an ill-placed pee at the border (!).  The family meets up with Fred and Gordana, grandson Libero and another couple, Bobo and his wife Silvia, to take their first ferry ride and head to Cres, where they learn that vacations are for being close to people, before continuing to their ultimate destination, Vrgada, "a tiny sleeping island with no cars, where nothing every happens." (pg.110)

"The Traveling Circus" is what Charlie begins to call the motley band of vacationers with their cases and picnic baskets and bags as they parade onto and off of ferries, along streets, in cars along mountainous roads and following the women of Vrgada and their wheelbarrows.  As narrator, Charlie makes it clear how much he would prefer avoiding these family adventures, and not having to always watch over Max, and having some alone time to ponder and explore.  But it is his ponderings and the way he sees his family and friends, and the places they visit, and the circumstances of their visits that make The Traveling Circus the insightful and funny adventure that it is.  

Although Charlie never fails to acknowledge his respect and love for his family, he can see the ridiculousness of some of his parents' attitudes and actions.  
Sometimes my parents just didn't take things seriously.  I mean, how would they have explained that to our friends back home and especially to my grandmother? "Oh, we had to leave the boys in a prison in Croatia.  But don't worry, they'll be out in a couple of years." (pg. 49)
The same goes for little Max, whom Charlie reassures when one disaster or another befalls the little boy.  But, it's Charlie's insights into the people of the former Yugoslavia and the impact of war that are the most poignant.  It's an eye-opener to him and will be for young readers too.
No one had won this war.  One side lost their houses and had to leave.  The other side left, too, because they were ashamed of what they had done.
     There was nothing left but an empty village, full of land mines, where no one could live.
(pg. 101) 
The Traveling Circus may appear to be a farcical family trip but it's an endearing voyage of discovery into a world ravaged by war that can still amaze with its beauty, people, and affection.  I don't know whether this adventure is based on one Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel took with their own children but I still thank them for sharing the colour and animation of The Traveling Circus with us, fiction or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment