December 3, 2021

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Ostriches Don’t Really Bury Their Heads within the Sand

Ostriches Don’t Actually Bury Their Heads in the Sand

LONG ROAD TO THE CIRCUS
By Betsy Chicken
Illustrated by David Small

Fast: What’s the one factor you already know about ostriches? In all probability that they bury their heads within the sand. Really, they don’t; they’re simply checking their eggs. However I used to be in the identical ostrich-ignorant boat till I met Gaucho, the avian sidekick in Betsy Chicken’s charming, galvanizing and barely wacky novel “Lengthy Highway to the Circus,” a couple of 12-year-old farm lady, Suzy Bowles, who, in the summertime of 1920, units her sights on ostrich-riding as her ticket out of sleepy Burr Oak, Mich.

Earlier than I educate you about these “eager, kooky, modern-day dinosaurs,” let me introduce you to Gaucho’s co-star. Suzy is the second-youngest of 5 youngsters and the daughter and granddaughter of hardworking people who do their chores, get to church and infrequently get pleasure from a scrumptious-looking home made apple pie. (You haven’t seen a lattice crust till you’ve beheld one illustrated by David Small.) Suzy loves her household, however the very last thing she needs to do is change into a neighborhood biddy gabbing outdoors the library (“a lady who sees gossip extra like air than meals”).

One morning she follows her “lag-about,” ex-cowboy uncle to a farm owned by the regal and refined Madame Marantette, previously of Ringling Brothers (earlier than their merger with Barnum & Bailey, apparently). There, Suzy meets Madame’s herd of ostriches, certainly one of whom — the ornery Gaucho — has been conscripted to drag a surrey on the nation truthful. His proprietor has designs on a world file, and Suzy needs in on the plan. When you’ve ever learn a e-book involving a plucky lady who falls below the sway of a reclusive outsider, you received’t be stunned to be taught that preparations embrace not solely Gaucho’s coaching, but in addition the training of Suzy, who will get a crash course in poise and tenacity. Wrangling an ostrich is not any simple feat, and neither is making ready for the world she glimpses in Madame’s picture albums.

However about these birds. Props to our aptly named creator, a librarian who purées factual info into her story and not using a trace of spinach aftertaste. Right here’s what I discovered whereas rooting for Suzy and getting my bearings in Burr Oak: Ostriches weigh round 320 kilos, the identical as two sheep. They will run 40 miles per hour. They don’t sweat, they pant. And their eyeballs are larger than their brains. Suzy describes Gaucho’s neck as a freaky hybrid of an elephant’s trunk and a snake. “Identify me one factor on this good nice world vital sufficient to justify a neck like that,” Chicken writes. “One factor. Can’t be executed.”

Sometimes we encounter language that’s out of step with the time interval — as an example, I don’t assume a “woman-owned” pictures studio would have meant a lot to a 12-year-old in the course of the Woodrow Wilson administration. However the look of, say, “actually” and “deal” of their trendy incarnations could assist acclimate history-wary readers. (“Olden occasions? Neglect it,” a detailed relative as soon as mentioned of the Little Home books.)

Small’s illustrations may also pull in reluctant varieties. A comfy home at dawn, a gaggle of feisty chickens, a scarecrow minding a discipline — these drawings made me homesick for the Bowles place after I left. We be taught that the setting was impressed by Chicken’s grandmother’s farm, which wasn’t removed from the house of the real-life circus performer Madame Marantette — which occurred to be the identical home the place David Small lived when Chicken was rising up in Kalamazoo, Mich., within the Eighties. (He got here to talk at her faculty.)

Much more wonderful is the frenzy that comes from racing throughout a discipline on the again of an ostrich, braids flying, Queen Anne’s lace rushing by in a blur. With its timeless messages about massive goals and the beloved individuals who make them attainable, “Lengthy Highway to the Circus” takes you there. It’s — sorry not sorry — a brass ring to seize with each fingers.

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