In this entertaining chapter book, the first in a series, readers meet kind Sir Sidney and the gentle performers and hands in his circus. But Sir Sidney is tired and leaves the circus under the management of new-hire Barnabas Brambles for a week.
That Sir Sidney is beloved by all is quickly established, presenting a sharp contrast to the bully Brambles. The scoundrel immediately comes up with a “to do” list that includes selling the animals and eliminating the mice Bert and Gert. (Gert is almost more distressed by Brambles’ ill-fitting suit and vows to tailor it.) Revealed almost entirely through dialogue, the put-upon animals’ solidarity is endearing. The story, like the circus train now driven by the Famous Flying Banana Brothers, takes absurd loops and turns. The art is fully integrated, illustrating the action and supplementing the text with speech bubbles, facsimile letters and posters, Brambles’ profit-and-loss notes, examples of Gert’s invented vocabulary and more. Brambles’ plans go awry, of course, and he gets his comeuppance. With Bert and Gert acting as his conscience, along with a suit from Gert that finally fits and a dose of forgiveness, Brambles makes a turnaround. Sensitive children may doubt Sir Sidney’s wisdom in leaving his animals with an unscrupulous man, and the closing message is a tad didactic, but that doesn’t blunt the fun too much.
Most children will agree the book is “smafunderful (smart + fun + wonderful).” (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 7-10)