Really mean characters are not so common in children’s books. There might be a laughably evil villain who’s a little stupid, or a bully, or a grouchy or bitter older person who gets stuck with a kid and then transforms into something nicer by the end. But someone who’s really mean? Roald Dahl does it well, but in other hands, it can feel a little predictable and routine.
Great Aunt Gertrudis is the Roald Dahl kind of mean, and Circus Mirandus gives a character like her a lot to work with. Sure, she might have a reason for being so nasty, but having a reason doesn’t make her any nicer in the end. She hates everything to do with magic and doesn’t want to be reminded of anyone else’s happiness because of it. She’s exactly the kind of mean kids love to hate.
But the story’s not really just about Great Aunt Gertrudis, although she definitely leaps off the page at you. Grandpa Ephraim took Micah in after his parents died, loved him, and told him magical stories — stories Micah didn’t realize were true. Micah convinces himself that if he can find the Circus Mirandus and talk to the Lightbender, he will be able to keep his grandpa from dying and turn everything around. A new friend, a parrot, his long-lost grandmother, some circus folk and a few well-tied knots all figure into the conclusion. Great characters, lovely story, and a nice dose of Great Aunt Gertrudis. Well worth a read.