And Then I Read: THE MYSTERIOUS CIRCUS by Jane Langton

Cover art by Peter Malone

Jane Langton had a long and busy career as an author of novels for children and mystery novels for adults. In 1962 she began a series of fantasy novels called the Hall Family Chronicles with The Diamond in the Window. They take place at #40 Walden Street in Concord, Massachusetts, not far from where Langton actually lived. In each book some kind of magical device brings adventures to the Hall family: father Freddy, mother Alex, son Eddy and daughters Eleanor and Georgie. As the series went along, other friends joined them in the adventures. An Uncle Krishna in India is often the source of the magic items, and each book has one or more villains who plot to destroy the Hall family and the things they love, which include the natural wonders of their home area and the beloved work of Henry Thoreau. I read and enjoyed most of the seven Hall Family books as they came out, but recently learned there were two later ones I hadn’t read yet. This is the first of them, book six. Of course it would be best to start at the beginning, but each book stands on its own.

Uncle Krishna calls from India to say he is sending a cousin to visit them, one they’ve never met. When Andy arrives, the Halls learn he is obsessed with circuses. He wants to be in one, and he has some real magic powers that could make him a fine circus performer, if only he had a circus to join. Before long the Hall children and their friends have taken up his cause and are planning a circus of their own on a vacant lot nearby, where Andy magically sets up a circus tent and reveals the first of Uncle Krishna’s gifts, a real elephant.

While the children are enjoying learning to be circus performers, a lady named Matilda MacIntosh has very different plans for the wild Mill Brook Meadow across the street from the Hall house. She’s decided to make it into a Henry Thoreau theme park, complete with an animatronic Henry and a fake Walden Pond and cabin. She pushes her plan through the town council, despite the objections of Fred Hall, and soon bulldozers arrive to begin clearing the natural landscape to make way for the artificial one. Now the children have a new cause, and they rally to it, but what can even Andy’s magic do against bulldozers?

A fun read, though lightweight and rather predictable. The story arc of all the books in the series is about the same. Still, the characters are appealing and the magic is creative. Recommended summer reading.

Jane Langton on Wikipedia.

The Mysterious Circus by Jane Langton

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