Fizzlebert Stump and the bearded boy by A.F. Harrold
Fizzlebert Stump series bk 2, Bloomsbury, 2013. ISBN:
9781408835210. 267 pp.
(Ages: 9-12) A. F. Harrold is an English poet and his love of words shows in this well-written novel with a fantastic flow. Told in first person narration by a non-present character the story is centred on young Fizzlebert Stump and his life with a travelling circus in Britain. The age-old charm and eccentricity associated with travelling circuses is captured and mixed in with a great dose of wit and unpredictability. The acts that travel with the circus really are one big strange family made complete by Fish the sea lion who despite his spangly waistcoat doesn't actually do anything in the circus. In fact he spends his whole time eating and being disappointed that what he has eaten is not fish.
Fizz lives in the circus with his clown mother and his strong man father and takes pride in his own act which he performs with the circus' resident lion. Life is simply fantastic. It even looks like Fizz has got a friend his own age when the bearded Barboozul family join the circus with a young son named Wynstan. But then things start going wrong. His mother loses her nose and as I'm sure everyone knows a clown is not a real clown without her nose. The bunny in Dr Surprise's magic act has come down with a terrible case of diarrhoea. Even Fizz's own act has been compromised. Not to mention the British Board of Circuses inspector is due at the circus to decide on its fate. Will the circus be closed down? Will Fizz have to live in a brick house with the same view from the window every day and eat boring cabbage and fish fingers for dinner?
This is a charming story with vivid imagery and creative twists and turns. I really enjoyed the way the author was talking directly to the reader as if I was sitting in a real-life storytelling session with A.F. Harrold. This may be reflecting his performing personality. At times the narrative is directed obviously at the reader such as 'This particular boy's called Fizzlebert. It's a silly name, I know' while at others it is included through additions or bracketed after thoughts such as ('Nobody knows why tiptoeing people hold their hands up like little paws, but it always seems to work better that way'). This is a book which celebrates story-telling as an art. A very fun setting with characters that burst with possibility for future humourous adventures. I have no doubt we will see more of Fizzlebert in the future.