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by Avi & illustrated by Emily Lisker

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: April 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0380729806

In a dark tale like the verso of one of Sid Fleischman's comic adventures of traveling performers, Avi explores the idea that great clowns derive power from a profound sense of the tragic. Impresario Joe McSneed has died, leaving Mrs. McSneed, an acrobat who imagines herself to be "The King of Tipperary's Widow"; her daughter Judy, 15, now in charge; a dispirited crew of other performers; and dogsbody Punch, 12, taken in by McSneed in hope that his barely glimpsed talent might blossom. But now the group's performances are devoid of humor, a lack intensified by their loss, and they're outraged when Punch and his beloved pig inadvertently provoke the kind of laughter Judy now suggests may restore their fortunes. She's proved right; but before most of the men desert, Judy betrays Punch's timid affection by marrying another, and the group is hounded by a grim sheriff trying to take him in custody as an orphan. He agrees to let Punch go free if the group can make him laugh, which they manage to do with a live Punch-and-Judy show--in which Punch nearly dies when Judy's slap-stick begins to deliver blows that are all too real. Midway, one character clearly outlines the varieties of humor, but, curiously, despite a cast and setting proclaiming farce, there's little here. Rather, it's a touching but somber tale, enlivened by idiosyncratic characters and pungent descriptions, of an undervalued, overly modest boy finding his talent and his true friends. Lisker's incisively sketched figures lighten the format. (Fiction. 10-14)