In this novel for middle-grade readers, a Pacific Northwestern boy searches for an escaped circus elephant with help from his eccentric uncle and a friend.
It’s 1942 in Bellingham, Washington, and the circus is coming to town. At the fairground, fourth-grader George is dazzled by the lights, noise, and excitement—“every sense was boiling, a million times over.” Even so, George “wondered how it would be for an animal,” like Roosevelt the elephant. That night, he dreams of Roosevelt escaping and finds that it’s true when he returns to the now-empty circus fairground. A circus clown left behind to search for Roosevelt (who has a habit of getting loose) gives George an elephant calling horn so he can help look. Meanwhile, George’s brother Andrew has just been called up to the Army, and the town makes homefront preparations. With his friend Kristine and some supernatural aid from his uncle Robert, George helps Roosevelt, while Andrew makes his own escape. With his fine, poetic imagery, Frost (5 Novels, 2015, etc.) captures the magic not just of the circus, but of friendship, animals, summer days, and special moments: “The clicking clacking of the railroad tracks sewed up the night”; “music, laughter and voices linked together like a paperclip chain tied from house to house.” Characterization is deft and effective, as when George notices an aphid on Kristine’s arm and likes “the way she noticed it too and put her fingertip near it, and let it climb on so she could give it a big leaf to live on.” Though Uncle Robert’s magical solution is too easy, he’s an interesting figure, with his top hat and daytime moviegoing. Frost also ably brings in historical details, as when a showoff kid skids his bike wheels and George isn’t impressed: “Everyone knew you weren’t supposed to waste rubber.”
Delightful, with appealing characters and a serious edge.