A teenage near-orphan comes of age in a Depression-era Chautauqua—a “week-long extravaganza of entertainment and educational enlightenment” that traveled to towns that could cover the cost of putting on the programs.
When his father dies and his mother is severely injured in a car crash, 14-year-old Leroy “Doodelbug” Barnstable goes off to live with his Aunt Alvina and his cousins Virgil and Albert. But his cousins are abusive, and Leroy soon runs off. Leroy had lived a pretty ordinary life until that “topsy-turvy year,” and that Chautauqua summer is a life changer. Musicians, magicians, storytellers, comedians, actors and actresses perform all day long, and Doodlebug earns his keep by putting the artistic skills that are the source of his nickname to work in entertaining the little kids who arrived each day. Doodlebug gets to travel, meet new people and fall in love. The first-person narration lets readers in on his new experiences and feelings, and soon Doodlebug feels like an old friend, and the world of the Chautauqua circuit comes alive. Intrigue, romance and fun leaven this tale of a good-hearted runaway boy beginning to find his way in the world.This likable protagonist makes for a fine introduction to an era before movies and radio caused the Chautauqua to fade away. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-14)