An interview with Betsy Bird
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with award-winning writer and librarian Betsy Bird about Long Road to the Circus.
Betsy Bird’s books include Funny Girl, an anthology of humorous stories; and the picture books Giant Dance Party and The Great Santa Stakeout. Illustrated by Caldecott Medalist David Small (Imogene’s Antlers), Long Road to the Circus is the story of a girl who rides an ostrich straight to her dreams. In this super fun chat, we discuss the story, the characters, and Betsy’s inspirations for writing it.
With her experience as the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library and the former Youth Materials Specialist of New York Public Library, Betsy also shares her answer to a wonderful question from a fellow librarian.
Listen to the Interview
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Betsy Bird. Welcome to the Growing Reader’s podcast!
I’ve been looking forward to our conversation because, honestly, I don’t know how you do it all. You’re the collection development manager of Evanston Public Library. You frequently blog at the School Library Journal site, A Fuse #8 Production. You write reviews for Kirkus and The New York Times on occasion. You have the weekly Fuse #8 and Kate podcast with your sister. You’re a mom of two kids, a wife, and you write books. So, I just want to know where you’re hiding the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future and where you stock up on your plutonium for the flux capacitor.
Betsy Bird: Exactly. It’s an excellent question. Yeah. Sleep is for the weak, as I like to say. Who needs it?
Bianca Schulze: Totally! Do you actually get any personal time?
Betsy Bird: Yeah, Friday evenings. That’s it—basically, Friday evenings. You know, I guess when I walk to and from work and when I’m cooking dinner. I don’t have a ton of free time. This is why I tell people why I love that my job is also my hobby in some ways, and I enjoy everything that I do. If I didn’t enjoy this stuff, I don’t think I’d do it all. But I like doing it so much that it’s just fun for me.
Bianca Schulze: That’s awesome. Like so besides the book world, which we’re going to talk a lot about in a minute. Do you have any interesting hobbies that you think we should know about? Like, I mean, do spin wool into yarn, perhaps?
Betsy Bird: Oh yes, I do. If I could get my hands on a spinning wheel. My mom has three, and I have zero right now. So, I am going to have to change the spinning wheel to home ratio at some point. Like, take one of my mom’s. But it’s really hard to sneak a spinning wheel out of your mom’s house. I could sneak books. Like for years, I would steal her books, and then she’d come to visit my house and be like, I wondered where that went. It is much harder to sneak out a spinning wheel. You can’t put it under your shirt. You can’t just jump on a plane with it.
Bianca Schulze: Well, so hopefully, if you do that, you have somebody with you that records that.
Betsy Bird: I could sneak it out in pieces. It would be like a mission impossible thing where like you take apart the spinning wheel, you put it into a, you know, a nondescript sort of suitcase and then you walk out like, what? They’d never know it was a spinning wheel all along.
Bianca Schulze: Right? Maybe that’s a picture book idea. How to Steal a Spinning Wheel.
Betsy Bird: Well, I like that title!
Bianca Schulze: Well, Betsy, I have so many random questions I’d like to ask you, but let’s talk about Long Road to the Circus.
As I was reading it and, of course, loving it, I found myself wondering how you’d even come up with such a story, and the characters are all quirky. But then I read the backmatter, and it all became clear. So, here’s a big question for you, and then I’m just going to let you talk away. So, will you share with the listeners how this story came to you, your connection to the characters, and why award-winning illustrator David Small had to be the one to create the artwork?
Betsy Bird: Absolutely. So, technically, this story begins, if we’re going to go chronologically, with my grandmother’s no-good uncle. This was a guy who came to live on the family farm. But he would skip out on his farm chores. And, if you’re on a farm, you got one job, people, and he would just walk miles to this other town nearby. The family’s story was that he would walk to this other town where this elderly circus performer named Madame Marantette was. He was going there to find out how to train the horses on his farm to do circus tricks. And we were like, Oh, that guy. But we didn’t believe that story.
Now, sort of fast-forwarding to the eighties, my local illustrator growing up was David Small, and he came to my fourth-grade class. And my mom worked in a local independent bookstore. She worked at Athena Books in Kalamazoo, and so she knew him, and he did book release things there. And it was a lot of fun. And one day, he offhandedly mentioned that he lives in the old Marantette house and that, fun fact, this old circus performer used to live there.
My mom starts connecting all the dots, and she’s like, Wait a minute. She looks into it, and sure as shooting there was a Madame and that she did live in the Marantette house and we’re like, oh my gosh, it’s not that far from Burr Oak, where he would have been on the family farm. Crazy. So, she tells me all this—I kind of tuck it away in the back of my mind. A couple of years went by, and then I started thinking to myself, like, wait a minute, David lives in the house that my grandmother’s no-good uncle used to visit. What if I wrote a picture book about this whole story with a circus performer and that no good uncle? This could be really fun.
So, I wrote the story as a picture book, I sent it to my agent, and we both forgot about it. And then a little later, there was a book expo thing, and David was promoting a book. Then someone came back to me saying, wow, he’s not looking good. And I was like, ah, David Small is going to die, and he won’t have done my book yet.
So, I started poking my agent to send him the book. And so, he sent him the book, and David loved it. He had me come out to the farm to see it. We stopped by a historian in the area. She hands me all the information you could ever want on the Madame. Granted, I’m talking like a thick old packet of info and just gives it to me, and she’s like, here you go. And I was like, oh, thank you. Research is easy. You want to know what Madam Marantette’s grandparents did for a living. I got that info for you.
But then David tells me, I don’t see it as a picture book. I see this as a novel. And I was like, oh no, I’ve never written a novel, but I wrote it as a novel. Of course, I had to expand it. And so, I was thinking like, well, I better fill this thing with my relatives. So, this thing is chockfull with my family. If there’s a kooky character in there, it’s probably based on an actual family story.
Bianca Schulze: So now I have this question for you. You have experience writing picture books, and obviously, you imagine this as a picture book. When I read it, it felt like you’ve been writing middle-grade novels forever, Betsy. I mean, it does. I was blown away. And so, for me, how different was it filling in all those extra words that don’t fit in a picture book?
Betsy Bird: Exactly. Yeah, that was the thing I said to David. I was like, I don’t know how to write a novel. I mean, I’ve tried. I certainly have many working novels that I’ve been working on, but David was like, I believe you can do it. And I was like, well, why do you believe in me? That’s kooky. But yeah, so it was weird.
Some books that I try to write, you know, it’s like going uphill in the snow. It’s just a struggle. This one was like water flowing out of my fingertips. The words just came. I don’t know what it was, but I think it was the connecting it to my family that did it. I had a very clear sense of each character in this book, their motivations and where they were coming from, and what their lives were like. Partly because I had, when I was younger, got quite obsessed with this part of my family just trying to figure out their history personally, and a lot of that personal history got in.
So, when my editor would come back and say, I think we need another chapter here, that wasn’t an issue because I was like, oh, well, I can include this information about where the mom was when she was growing up. This character is technically my grandmother, and I can put her in there. I feel like it should have been harder than it was, but it came to me very naturally.
Bianca Schulze: Well, it reads very naturally. Well, since we’re on all these characters now, let’s talk a bit about Suzy. She’s the main gal. She’s very strong-willed, determined, and it’s so admirable. And as I was reading it, I was like, I feel like Betsy knows this girl. And so, I’m wondering, do you think Suzy is partly you?
Betsy Bird: Oh, yeah, yeah. And which is so funny because I didn’t grow up in Burr Oak, Michigan. That’s a great place. It’s a teeny tiny town. I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is not a teeny tiny town. It’s a good-sized town. It’s got a university; it’s got a college. And yet, when I was young, I was like, I would live here in Kalamazoo for the rest of my life. This town has everything. And then I got older, and I was like, I must get out of the state. I went to Indiana, so I didn’t go far. But, you know, I was just like, No.
So that urge to leave. It’s a bit younger in Suzy, I’ll say, but I think it’s because she’s in a much smaller town and she has a lot fewer options. I mean, she’s a girl growing up in rural Michigan, like 1920 about, people aren’t coming to her door knocking and saying, hey, here’s a life for you. What she sees as her life is the life of the other women in the town. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the life she wants. And, you know, I think there’s a bit of like she sees her mom got out of Oklahoma, and, you know, she sees that there there’s ways to travel, but she just she wants more. And yeah, I do identify with that.
She is based on my grandmother’s sister, Suzy, who did get out, but she went to Detroit, the big city, and then took my grandmother with her. And then they lived a big city life. So, you know, that’s an option. Ostriches, sadly, are not in my family history. It would be cool if there were.
Bianca Schulze: Well, since you said ostriches, let’s get into the ostriches right now. So, Suzy wants to learn to ride an ostrich. And I just have to say, you wrote the ostriches so well, particularly Goucho. And I have to say that I know this from a firsthand experience of literally being chased by a flock of ostriches.
Betsy Bird: Oh no. Where was this?
Bianca Schulze: We were in California, and it’s like a wildlife reserve. And we thought it would be a fun activity to take our then four-year-old. So, we’re in this Jeep vehicle, and I was sitting in the very back, and it was open-air, and we’re going through the field, and the ostriches were in their flock just standing around, and we’re just driving along. And then they suddenly started chasing us, and the Jeep driver was like, this is serious, we got to go, and he floors it, and I’m in the back, and the ostriches were getting closer and closer
Betsy Bird: It’s like Jurassic Park.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, it was. The rest goes blank for me. I can’t remember what happened, but I was safe, and I am here to tell the story. But man, those things are so fast.
Betsy Bird: Dinosaurs! That’s what they are. They are modern-day dinosaurs.
Bianca Schulze: They totally are. And so, I hope you don’t mind, but I want to read a little paragraph.
Betsy Bird: Oh, go ahead.
Bianca Schulze: This to me was like, oh, it feels like Betsy has lived with ostriches. Anyway. Ok, here goes:
I counted twelve. Twelve full-grown ostriches walking about. I’d always lived with chickens. Chickens get ruffled at you sometimes, and you can’t really blame them for it. Their own dang fault for being so tasty, really. But you don’t worry about them. You don’t stay awake at nights pondering whether they’re going to gang up on you or anything. But staring now at these monsters, it was like I was seeing nature’s revenge on behalf of poultry. They were huge.
Anyway, I loved that paragraph.
Betsy Bird: Oh, good. I enjoyed writing that. I have to credit my editor because she was like, ok, we need more ostrich stuff, more ostrich stuff. So, yeah, anything, particularly ostrich, I credit her.
Bianca Schulze: Well, right. And there’s like little facts in there. Woven throughout that were quite interesting. I loved learning a little more about them. I like the way that little non-fiction stuff was woven in a fictional way.
Betsy Bird: Oh yeah, yeah, thank you. I did a lot of ostrich research.
Bianca Schulze: Let’s talk about Granny.
Betsy Bird: Yeah, sure. Granny is real. One hundred percent real. Mariah was her name. She was my great great grandmother. The first thing I ever learned about her was when she was three. She shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln because his train happened to stop in Burr Oak, Michigan, while he was on a tour of the United States at one point. This was before he was president, but Granny was, as my great grandmother used to say, it took me years before I realized that Mariah wasn’t mad at me.
The story that we have in Lon Road to the Circus of her cutting herself and just bleeding all over the place and her daughter-in-law being like Mother, you have to bandage that up, or you’re going to bleed to death. And her response being, I ain’t got enough blood to bleed to death. That’s again, family lore right there, straight up. I just copied it onto the page. Nothing original there, but yeah, her personality was set in stone when this thing began.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I mean, granny was such a great character because it’s exactly what you said. You couldn’t tell if she was a happy person, but then at the same time, you also knew that she loved everybody.
Betsy Bird: She shows it by whacking you. Yeah, she whacks you a little bit if she likes you, and then she really whacks if she doesn’t like you. So, yeah.
Bianca Schulze: That’s funny. I have one of those sorts of dreaded favorite-type questions that authors love. I’m not going to say, What’s your favorite book, Betsy? But I am going to ask, do you have a favorite character from this book?
Betsy Bird: Oh, that’s an excellent question. Unfortunately, I have to go with the ostrich Gaucho again. I don’t know what it is about this book. This book is just chockful of ordinary people. It’s like I went through and found all the ordinary people. Amazingly, Gaucho and Granny don’t meet. I think they’d kill each other if they ever did. They never meet in the book, but their personalities are closely aligned. If Granny were an ostrich, she would be Gaucho, and Gaucho is, I mean, that’s his personality to a tee.
I have newspaper clippings that ask that people avoid the ostrich paddock. Today, the bird is in a vicious mood. And he did escape once, and he almost kicked a man to death while they were trying to capture him. Like three guys had to gang up on him and try to get him. And I did not include how they could finally get him because the only way you could stop him was to cut off his air, which was to grab his neck and cut off his air, which is animal cruelty. Not great in the kid’s book. So, I wasn’t going to be including that.
There were a couple of moments when Suzy was really gripping his neck, and the editor was like, Yeah, let’s have her grip a little less tightly. Gaucho never asphyxiates at any point in this book, I will reassure people, but he’s my favorite character. Without a doubt, he’s dumb. I mean, their eyeballs are bigger than their brains. If they see a lion, they will simply run in circles. They can’t deal with it. That’s the level. But he was canny. You can be stupid and canny, and he was canny. He was as smart as an ostrich could possibly be. I think it is fair to say.
Bianca Schulze: I would agree with that. So, I think had I had not had that experience of being chased by ostriches, I might have had more feelings for Gaucho. But I was wary of him.
So, for me, I have to say I loved Suzy’s strength and her desire to be worldly and to leave Burr Oak, Michigan. As much as she wanted to escape, your writing also honored the importance of family connections and the idea of home. I also loved how you managed to sneak in some wise snippets of wisdom, such as the importance of not participating in gossip.
Betsy Bird: Oh yeah, yeah, I love that David Small began that chapter with a group of chickens because I did name each of those women after a different kind of chicken. And I had been asked at one point, should we take that chapter out with the women gossiping in the town? And I said, no, we need it because we need Suzy to see what she would become if she stayed.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. That chapter belonged for sure.
Betsy Bird: Oh yeah. Good, good. Good. Yeah, yeah. And it’s funny because to this day, many people in Mendon, Michigan, still speak very disparagingly about Morantatte. They do not like her memory.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, that’s so interesting.
Betsy Bird: Yeah, so they’re still around those people.
Bianca Schulze: Well, I feel like it’s so easy to get caught up in gossip. Like, there were so many stories about her that people believed, but Suzy got to see the different side to her and to understand why it’s important not to participate in gossip. So, I liked that.
All right. The other little nugget that you put in there, that for me as an adult reading it, I was like, wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard this little wisdom nugget before. Never confuse gratitude for debt.
Betsy Bird: Yeah, I don’t know where that came from. Sometimes you’re writing, and I don’t know. You tap into a part of your subconscious that just comes up with lines, and then you reread them a little later, and you’re like, that’s a good line. I wonder who wrote that because it sure doesn’t sound like me.
Bianca Schulze: I feel like I felt that one in my gut. When I read it, I was like, that just made sense to me, and I loved the way any little bits of wisdom in there are not preachy in any way. The reader will either get some of those little snippets of wisdom and understand it themselves, or maybe because they’ve read it in your book, they’ll come to understand that meaning later, and they may not remember that they read it in your book, but you’ve planted a seed now—a way of thinking. And I liked it.
Betsy Bird: Well, that’s what I like about kids’ books. You have no idea. Basically, ideas from my brain have been put on a page, and now my ideas from my brain are going to make it into your brain somehow. Now, if your brain is growing and is young, then who knows what implications that has. I mean, that’s a huge responsibility. And it’s also just absolutely fascinating because we have no idea. Like, you can read a book when you’re ten and then years later still recall a passage or not, and then go back and read it, and you’re like, oh my gosh, that’s where that’s from. Yeah, you have no idea what the implications are when you write a book for kids.
Bianca Schulze: I want to go on a quick tangent here because I always wonder about this. So, you have read a lot of children’s books in your life. When I read, sometimes I’ll have trouble months later recalling precisely what a book was about, but I always remember how a book made me feel. And so, I’m wondering for you, do you have the kind of brain that can sort of, you know, run off a book synopsis and tell everybody exactly what that book is about? Or are you more like months later, like me, where you may have to read the jacket flap, but you could have identified how you felt?
Betsy Bird: It depends on the kind of book.
So, a picture book, you know, there are so many picture books published in a given year. I read about five of them a day, of new ones, just to keep up with everything that’s being published. When you read that many picture books, what stays with you? It’s very sensory. You may remember the plot perfectly, or you may not. I mean, there have been books where I’ve read them early in the year, then I see them on a list somewhere later, and I’m like, oh, I should read that. I start reading them, and then wait, wait, wait, I read this one. I read this one. This is why I keep a spreadsheet of every book I read so that I can go back and be like, yep, nope, I did read that one. Ok, you don’t have to finish that one. Ok, good.
When it comes to novels, I read fewer of them, but I do read a lot of them. Those I do remember well. Sometimes I don’t remember their titles, but I try to remember the authors. I will remember their plots, and I usually try to remember a way to find them later. When somebody says, oh, I’ve got this book idea that takes place in the future in England, but everything’s underwater, I can be like, oh, ok, we’re going to try to find those for you so that you can kind of look at those and compare it to the new one that just came out. That’s the kind of thing my brain does. It catalogs things into different categories so that then I can go back and look at them later.
Bianca Schulze: That’s genius. See, that’s why you’re an amazing librarian. So, back to your book. What impact do you hope it has on readers?
Betsy Bird: I hope they have fun with it. That’s what I’m going to say.
You know, some books are very meaningful, and I got nothing against meaning, but my primary hope is that this is just a book that someone enjoys reading and can go back to later and reread. I mean, that’s what I want for it—just for people to have fun with it. More than anything else, I don’t want it to be a slog. I don’t want anyone to be like, oh, that chapter. Oh, I hate that chapter. That chapter takes forever to get through. I don’t want that feeling at all. I just want a book when you’re like, Man, I just need a ridiculous book where a girl rides an ostrich. Bam! Here’s your book.
Bianca Schulze: So, would you say it’s fun that drives you and guides you in creating children’s books?
Betsy Bird: Oh, absolutely. I was the kid who’d be in the school library, and I’d see Island of Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves and Bridge to Terabithia. And I’d be like, oh, I want the book about the girl with the silver eyes who has psychic powers. I want the book about the girl who owns tiny dragons. You know, those were the books that I gravitated towards, and admittedly, those were more fantastical. But no, I loved All of A Kind Family. I didn’t want to read books that were award winners, which feels bad because I like award winners now. But at the time, I was like, oh, a shiny gold medal on your cover. Somebody’s going to die. Not interested. I am going over here now.
I think it’s safe to say, and I don’t know this for a fact, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that nobody ever really will die in my books because I just don’t want to do that. It’s not my thing.
Bianca Schulze: I think you’re a fun person yourself. So, it would make sense that that’s what’s in your books. Growing up, I loved Bridge to Terabithia, but I think one of my all-time favorite books was Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.
Betsy Bird: Oh, I loved Roald Dahl as a kid. Exactly. I was like Roald Dahl, if anyone dies, it’s in a really wacky and gross way.
Bianca Schulze: I was into, you know, people covered in boogers and trash and all that stuff.
Betsy Bird: Boogers and trash all the way forever.
Bianca Schulze: All right, Betsy. Well, here’s my question that I like to ask everybody. They say, to be a writer, you need to be a reader first. So, was there a pivotal moment in which you considered yourself a reader?
Betsy Bird: I’ve been asked this question before, and my standard answer is it’s like asking me, was there a point in your life when you started breathing air? I should do that. No. Because I grew up in a house of books, reading was simply part of the air. It was what you did. If you have bookcases in every single room, you don’t even consider the option of not reading.
In third grade, I learned to read on my own, and then I just sort of went from there, and it was never a case of not reading. It was only in adulthood when you get super busy and have to make time for reading that was different, but no, reading was just always a part of the DNA.
Bianca Schulze: And so, it made sense that you just followed your heart and became a librarian. Or was there ever a time where you thought you would be something else or
Betsy Bird: Yeah, no, there was. So, you know, I grew up and I was a kind of kid who, when they were six like their parents, jokingly said, well, once you’re out of college, you can’t come back home. Ha-ha-ha. And in my brain, I was like, oh my gosh, when I get out of college, I can’t go back home, and I must have a job. I must get a job. And so, librarian seemed a nice, safe job. So, from a very young age, I was like a librarian; that’s what I’ll do.
And to be fair, I alphabetized all the family’s books in the dining room, and when we got VHS tapes and they had … remember you got a blank one and they had like the letters and number stickers I would put them on. And I made an organizational system for all our VHS tapes. I got our National Geographic magazines, and I made subject heading lists for them for fun in case I ever had to do a report on capuchin monkeys, which I didn’t.
Then when I got older, I was like, oh, librarianship, that’s boring. No, I don’t wanna be a librarian. I have got to be a photographer. That’s a sexy job. That’s a job I want to do. I’m a terrible photographer. I should tell you; I’m not good enough to know what’s good. I am not good enough to make what is good. I tried every kind of photography. I tried portrait and studio and architecture and sports, and you name it. I did photojournalism, but I quickly realized that I’ve got a slow shutter speed catch. I don’t understand f stops very well.
So, then I was like, ok, back to librarianship. I had hedged my bets. I got a double major in both photography and English, and so I went to library school. But I was like, But I’m not going to be any old librarian. I’m going to be a conservator. I’m going to conserve books. It’s going to be awesome. I went home one day, and my husband pointed out, You’ve put your coffee cup on your book on how to preserve books. And I was like, It’s a sign.
I took a kids’ book course on a whim. And discovered that it was like lightning striking; it was what I was meant to be. I was like, oh my gosh, because I’d already been reading kids’ books for a really long time. In my junior year of college, I’d gone to England and my mom had me pick up the second Harry Potter book. It had just come out there, and it wasn’t even a thing in America. I don’t even know how she’d heard about it, but I started reading it there, and I was like, this is really good. And then when it hit in America, I was like, well, duh. And I just was reading kids’ books ever since just for fun. Then when I realized I could make a career out of it, I was like, oh my gosh, why have I been resisting this all along?
Bianca Schulze: I feel like I have the perfect last question to follow up after that, Betsy because we have a call in from a librarian in Canada.
Johanna Ahn: Hi, Betsy. I’m a children’s librarian in Vancouver, Canada. My question is: What’s the one thing that I should try to impart to the parents who bring their children to the library? Thanks!
Betsy Bird: It’s a good one.
Bianca Schulze: It is! She has the nicest little voice, too.
Betsy Bird: Yeah, she does. She has a radio voice. I would listen to that podcast.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely!
Betsy Bird: Oh, the one thing you should impart to your children when they come into the library? I mean, that depends on their age, right? We’ve seen so many parents who haven’t gotten their babies’ library cards or don’t read to their babies yet, and we’re like are you reading to your baby? Well, no, because they don’t understand words yet. It’s like, well, no, that’s the whole reason. That’s why we have board books. You read to get them into reading at a very young age, so it is natural, like breathing. Make cozy time, make parent time, cuddle time, reading time. And they will instinctively love the reading.
And if their kids are older, let the kids read what they want to read. If that kid wants to read comics, by gum, some amazing comics are coming out right now. If the kid only wants to read shark books, I will give you every shark book in this library: sharks, sharks, sharks, sharks. Let them read shark books. Let the kids read what they want to read. There’s good stuff to be found, and even if you hate whatever they’re reading, well, you have the right as a parent to control what they’re reading, but, you know, give it a chance. Read it with them, discuss it with them. You know, Dog Man books are shockingly smart—they don’t look it, but they are really wise little titles. So yeah, that’s what I’d say.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. Perfect answer, Betsy. Well, thank you so much for spending your time with us and for writing such a fun book. I literally never thought I would read a book about a girl who learns to ride an ostrich. So, thank you.
Betsy Bird: Thank you for having me. This was so fun.
The transcription of this interview with Betsy Bird has been condensed and edited for readability.
About the Book
Written by Betsy Bird
Illustrated by David Small
Ages 10+ | 256 Pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | ISBN-13: 9780593303931
Publisher: The story of a girl who rides an ostrich straight to her dreams from the award-winning writer and librarian Betsy Bird, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist David Small.
“Beautifully told by one of our best librarians.” —Jon Scieszka, First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature
Twelve-year-old Suzy Bowles is tired of summers filled with chores on her family farm in Burr Oak, Michigan, and desperate to see the world. When her wayward uncle moves back home to the farm, only to skip his chores every morning for mysterious reasons, Suzy decides to find out what he’s up to once and for all. And that’s when she meets legendary former circus queen Madame Marantette and her ostriches. Before long, Suzy finds herself caught up in the fast-paced, hilarious world of ostrich riding, a rollicking adventure that just might be her ticket out of Burr Oak.
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