When we reach author Cassie Beasley at her family’s home in rural Georgia, it’s 50 days until the release of her debut, Circus Mirandus . . . not that she’s counting.
Oh, let’s not be silly—of course she’s counting! On a huge calendar hanging on the wall: “I mark off the days and get more and more excited until I feel like I’m about to burst!” Beasley says.
Too late: Beasley has already burst onto the children’s publishing scene. Her magical tale for middle grade readers sold to Dial after a five-publisher bidding war, and a Hollywood production company has pre-emptively purchased film and TV rights.
“It’s been a whirlwind, and so much fun—everything that happens is a revelation!” Beasley says. It’s also the culmination of steady progress along a path to authordom that began in childhood.
“I loved books from a very early age and read everything I could get my hands on,” Beasley says. “But it took me a while to make the connection that I didn’t have to just read books, I could also write books.”
Beasley figured this out in high school, which led to her choosing an undergraduate writing program at nearby Georgia Southern University, followed by getting her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote the first draft of Circus Mirandus.
“Writing that first draft was very exciting and fun and all so new. . . . I loved it, loved it, loved it,” she says. “Then came the years of revision! That’s where the work comes in. But it can be really exciting, too, seeing it getting better as you progress. It’s so rewarding, now that it’s done, to see how far it’s come.”
All that work was certainly worth it. Circus Mirandus is an engaging, innovative tale that balances fantastical goings-on with an exploration of love, loss, friendship and the value of being open to the unexplainable. The latter has been part of Beasley’s mental makeup from an early age.
“I always gravitated toward fantasy novels,” she explains. “It’s probably my parents’ fault—they had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with fantasy books, so I was always imagining I could go to Narnia or Hogwarts. Even when I try to write contemporary books, there’s always some magic because I can’t help myself.”
Ten-year-old Micah Tuttle is wide open to magical thinking, thanks to the stories Grandpa Ephraim (who has cared for Micah since his parents died) tells him about the amazing, magical Circus Mirandus. There are talking animals, invisible tigers and otherworldly performers—not least The Man Who Bends Light, a magician who transports his audiences to places and times they can only dream or imagine.
When Grandpa falls ill and his sister, the awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis, comes to stay, she won’t allow them to talk about the Circus . . . or spend much time together at all. But Micah sneaks in to see Grandpa, and that’s when he learns something astonishing: Circus Mirandus is real! And Grandpa has written a letter to the Lightbender, because the magician owes him a miracle.
As if finding out magic is real and having a sick grandpa and a mean great-aunt isn’t stressful enough, Micah also has an important project due at school—and his partner, the super-smart Jenny Mendoza, is not going to be pleased when she finds out he hasn’t finished his part yet.
Micah wracks his brain to come up with an idea and decides to make an Incan quipu, a series of intricate knots that represent numbers, words and other information. It’s somewhat of a natural choice for Micah: “Grandpa Ephraim liked to say that Tuttles and knots went together like toast and cheese.”
It’s also a somewhat unusual story choice, in that knot tying is a bit of a lost art (and skill). Beasley was fascinated to learn about quipus in sixth grade, and the idea resurfaced as she wrote Circus Mirandus. “I like that knot tying’s a physical thing and not a super-powerful talent, so it’s subtle, in a way.”
And it’s a recurring element that showcases Beasley’s gift for conveying detail and sentiment in unexpected ways, whether Micah is contemplating a classmate (“A Nathan Borgle knot would be big and sturdy and not too good-looking”) or creating a harness for an airborne adventure.
That adventure is just one of many as Micah and Jenny team up to find the Circus and convince the Lightbender to give Grandpa his miracle—all while attempting to keep the grown-ups none the wiser (and to get their schoolwork done on time).
Circus Mirandus is an exciting and entertaining read, rife with inventive surprises, stories from the past and shiny hopes for the future, feats of derring-do and much more. There’s plenty of humor, too—from science-loving Jenny’s initial resistance to the Circus (“You must have a wonderful team of geneticists working with you to create bioluminescent bush babies”) to a wallaby who burps the Greek alphabet to nearly everything done or uttered by Chintzy the tart-tongued messenger-parrot.
It’s also an excellent testament to the upside of believing in magic. After all, as Grandpa Ephraim tells Micah, “Once in a while, it’s good to be ridiculous and amazing.”
Words to live by. And—especially if you’re Beasley, who will soon be on the road sharing the Circus Mirandus magic—it’s probably a good idea to practice your half hitches and your square knots, too