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Genre: Historical Fiction (Graphic Novel)
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Summary: The year is 1908, and a vaudeville troupe has arrived in sleepy Muskegon, Michigan to summer in nearby Bluffton. Henry—bored of the everyday sameness of Muskegon and working in his father’s shop—is fascinated by the animals and performers, but mostly with a slapstick comedian his own age named Buster Keaton. Henry quickly becomes a fixture in Bluffton, palling around with Buster and another boy traveling with the troupe. He yearns to perform like Buster, but all Buster wants to do is orchestrate pranks and play baseball.
First Lines: "Life in Muskegon, Michigan, was quiet. Ordinary."
Tracy's Thoughts: With gentle nostalgia, humor, and perfect pacing, award–winning graphic
novelist Matt Phelan brings to life a bygone era in this compelling
fictionalized account. Watercolor washes bring the place and period to life through soft focus, and yet the characters' actions and emotions—from Buster's pranks to Henry's envy—are powerfully visualized. Like the illustrations, the story is a quiet one, but dynamic just the same. There are plenty of laughs (some of Buster's pranks will delight and inspire mischievous kids) and there are many small, though-provoking moments of note. For example, there are small subplots about child labor laws and a romantic rivalry, but moral judgements aren't overt; instead, readers are left to examine their own beliefs and draw conclusions of their own.
Despite its historical setting, many of the events and situations of the book have a timeless feel and are perfectly relevant to today. It might be tough convincing kiddos who have no idea who Buster Keaton is to give this book a try, but then the book isn't really about Buster. It's about Henry, who in his summers with Buster is encouraged to think more widely about the world, but also learns to appreciate the world closer to home. It's a coming of age story about taking the things you love and becoming the person you are meant to be in adulthood.