“The Circus at the End of the Sea” by Lori R. Snyder is a heartwarming, delightful and joy-of-a-book to read. It’s a middle grade fantasy book (ages 8-12 years old) about magic on Venice Beach, California.
Although I read MG books extensively because I write in that genre, I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up a fantasy book about magic. But the main character, Maddy, gains a cephalopod sidekick in the blue octopus with yellow spots named Ophelia. I instantly fell in love with this charming, protective and lovable sidekick who sits on Maddy’s shoulder.
Ophelia is fashioned after the real-life mimic octopus, who “mimics” real animals to escape predators. It can become sea snake, lionfish, or flatfish to name a few. (Search “mimic octopus on YouTube for some fascinating videos!) Ophelia is an octopus living in a magical world, so she can squirt magical ink and turn into words!
The protagonist, Maddy, has seen magic in the ordinary world her entire life. As an orphan shuttled around different group homes, she has learned to keep this ability secret. Until one day she is drawn to the end of a pier in Venice Beach during the beginning of a storm, and she discovers Il Circo delle Strade, the Circus at the End of the Sea.
There she discovers a magical circus which boasts a number of unique characters including a muse and guide named Vanessa that gives her magical leg warmers. She embraces her magical abilities and begins to find out the mystery of the silver bracelet she can’t remove and was given to her by the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. She even learns why she has a heart condition she needs medication for.
Besides Ophelia, her best cephalopod friend, she meets her best human friend Skeeter, who is also a skateboarder. He wants to become a part of the circus but is too young. He too is an orphan. Skeeter and Maddy bond over that and being able to see the magic all around them.
I wasn’t expecting spiritual philosophy in a fantasy children’s book, but there’s a good balance of seeing magic in the ordinary, to finding out your true nature and discovering real friendships.
There is never a dull moment in Circus at the End of the Sea, whether it’s quiet contemplative moments, or a race on a roller coaster through the clouds. There is also the Bridge of Sighs that Maddy must cross and face her fears in order to reach the Heart at the End of the World. Most of all, this book is about about possibilities, and that our destinies are what we make of them.
I won’t give anything else away, but if you are intrigued, check out your local library or independent bookseller.
This is the Amazon link Circus at the End of the Sea. It comes out October 19, 2021.
The end notes are about the real Venice Beach, California, which is a character all onto itself in this book. I haven’t been there before but feel I have thanks to this book!
I know the author of this book, Lori R. Snyder, who is also a marine biologist and writer. She is the founder of the Writer’s Happiness Movement, which does free online writer’s retreats and has free yoga over zoom among many other wonderful things. I do her weekly 5 minute Writer’s Happiness Exercises as often as I can.
Wild Survival: Crocodile Rescue! By Melissa Cristina Márquez is a charming and entertaining middle grade (ages 8-12 years old, 3-7 grade) eco-adventure novel. The protagonist is 12-year-old Adrianna Villalobos, a spunky and intrepid explorer who’s quite clever. Her Afro-Latinx family includes her mother, father and adopted older brother Feye.
The Villalobos family owns a wildlife sanctuary and zoo. They are the new stars of a wildlife rescue TV show Wild Survival! The family is tasked with finding and rehabilitating an injured crocodile in Cuba. The show producer, Mr. Savage is also on the lookout for a fabled mega-croc to sensationalize on the TV show.
Adrianna has to prove to her parents that she’s not too young—or irresponsible—to be on camera. Soon after arriving in Cuba, Adrianna puts her brother’s life in danger while he is tagging a croc. She then has to regain her parents’ trust after being put back behind-the-scenes.
Her impulsiveness gets her into trouble, but she is clever and sometimes wise beyond her years to get herself out of any sticky situations she finds herself in. Readers will identify with her universal insecurities and root for her growing confidence. They might agree with Adrianna that her parents are being overprotective, but understand that it’s just for her own safety.
The relationship between Adrianna and her older brother is very realistic and they have their ups and downs throughout the book. One of the highlights of the book is when they go out on their own on a boat adventure. You’ll find yourself rooting from them to save something important, despite the fact they don’t have their parent’s approval. The parents are stern but understanding when they arrive back at the dock.
The antagonists are the poachers which make a brief appearance in the book, and in a way the show producer, Mr. Savage. He is always going for the sensational shot. This doesn’t sit well with Adrianna’s parents, who are rightly protective of their children as well as their own safety.
This middle grade novel has just the right amount of detail that you feel like you’re in Cuba for the first time with Adrianna and her family. The factual pages scattered throughout the book about animals, plants and habitats are short but sweet, and the back matter very informative. I like how there’s a glossary of Spanish terms spoken in the book in the order that they appear. I learned a lot of new Spanish words and phrases.
I like how Melissa Cristina Márquez’s own adventure with a crocodile made its way into the book, as it adds an air of realism to the story. I felt my heart pound when Adrianna had her fateful nighttime encounter with a croc.
There’s never a dull moment in Crocodile Rescue! Kids who like animals and nature will love the book, and those who think they don’t will be drawn into the Villalobos family’s thrilling adventures in Cuba.
The next book in the series, Wild Survival: Swimming with Sharks comes out July 6, 2021 and I can’t wait to read and review it!
I just watched “Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike deGruy,” a documentary about an ocean filmmaker, scuba diver, deep-sea explorer and entertaining storyteller. I had heard of Mike through the many ocean documentaries I’ve watched over my lifetime, and his infectious enthusiasm for the ocean is unforgettable. He may be recognizable to Shark Week enthusiasts as a host.
The documentary is thourough, starting with Mike growing up exploring the bayous of Mobile, Alabama with his 3 brothers. They were all springboard divers, and Mike’s father’s movies of them diving was one of the many ways Mike was introduced to filmmaking.
He was daring and brave to dive in some of the places he did, like Antarctica and during a white tip reef shark feeding frenzy despite being attacked on the arm by a shark earlier in his life. Mike even dove into the deep sea in deep submersible subs and suits. He was a true explorer who championed for all that is in the ocean, new and old.
Mike was upset that more people didn’t share his enthusiasm for all things ocean, and that corporations would choose profits over exploring. For example BP and the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was in his childhood backyard so to speak, and he was very angry about the oil spill from when it happened to years later when we still don’t know the effects of the chemical dispersants used due to lack of scientific funding.
Mike deGruy died in a helicopter crash (February 4, 2012) while going to film James Cameron’s world record setting dive down to the Marianas Trench. An amazing life was cut short but his 30 years of film documentaries lives on.
I saw “Diving Deep: the Life and Time of Mike deGruy” through the International Ocean Film Fest, running through August 9, 2020. It’s available to watch by donation.
Escape Galápagos by Ellen Prager is a middle grade adventure novel. It’ll appeal to most nature and animal lovers, but because the protagonist is fearful of wild animals and being in nature, it also has a wider appeal.
It’s like taking a virtual trip to the Galápagos Islands, which are located west of Ecuador in South America. These are the islands made famous by the naturalist Charles Darwin, who came up with the theory of evolution.
The protagonist, Ezzy, is afraid of wildlife and dislikes being in nature. Her dad (never named) and her younger brother, Luke, are the total opposite. Ezzy and Luke’s mother (an adventurous woman) passed away and their family is on a quest to complete her “wonder list,” a bucket list of places she always wanted to travel to. The Galápagos Islands were first on that list.
Ezzy’s fears of wild animal poop, and of being attacked by wildlife are addressed with humor realistically. A major portion of the book is a hike through one of the smaller islands, Española. It was like I was on the hot and sweaty hike through the island. Animals I had heard of, like blue-footed boobies and Galápagos tortoises, were mentioned as well as those I never thought of being there like locusts (described as huge grasshoppers).
The excitement in the books starts about halfway in when the small cruise ship Ezzy’s family is on gets hijacked. I’ll leave it a surprise why they were hijacked, but it’s for plausible reasons.
It leads up to the climax where Ezzy, Luke and Aiden (a boy Ezzy’s age), are in a race against time to cross one of the islands. Their father is stuck on the boat with the hijackers, and to boot, a volcano on the island has just erupted.
The ending was exciting and a good end to a great middle grade novel. I would recommend this book to any lower middle grader (grades 4-6), especially those that like adventures and/or natural wonders.
Will the Galápagos Islands be on your bucket list after reading this book? They are still on mine!
Ellen Prager has also written another series of books called, “Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians.” The first book is called The Shark Whisperer, which is about a boy who can “talk” to sharks. He ends up at a camp for those with special sea abilities (like camouflaging). I will review that book in a future post!
I just watched Sharkwater: Extinction (2018) a documentary that stars shark and ocean conservationist Rob Stewart. It’s the sequel to Sharkwater, which came out in 2007. According to the Sharkwater.com biography on Rob, his documentaries along with his activism, has saved 1/3 of the world’s sharks.
But sadly, I learned that 150 million sharks are killed a year, double the 73 million sharks a year number I heard many years ago. Sharks are killed not just for the shark fin trade anymore—shark can be found in cosmetics as squalene or squalane, in pet food or livestock feed and in the “fish” sold in stores and restaurants. Much of the fish in sold in stores is mislabeled, or in the case of shark intentionally mislabeled (maybe by the distributor or fisherman) so consumers will buy the product. It’s dangerous to eat shark because they are full of toxins like mercury. It’s recommended that pregnant women and children don’t eat shark because of that.
Rob and his cameraman got great footage of two sharks still alive in a gill net, but about to meet certain death. They were not able to save the sharks, but their footage helped convince legislators in California to ban gill nets in 2018. Gill nets can be miles long and are made of a clear monofilament that practically disappears underwater. Large animals such as sea turtles, sharks, whales and seabirds swim into the net and get stuck. All the above animals, except most sharks that need to keep swimming to get oxygen, need air to breathe. These caught animals drown before the fishermen pull the nets up.
Gill nets are used in target fisheries, such as for swordfish. Anything not a swordfish is considered bycatch. According to Oceana, an ocean conservation non-profit, up to 63 billion pounds of bycatch is caught every year and thrown back into the ocean. When Rob made Sharkwater: Extinction in 2016, it was only estimated to be 54 billion pounds. Sadly bycatch numbers are up. As is the sobering possibility that by 2050, there will be more plastic and trash in the ocean than fish.
It’s a sad documentary to watch in general, because much of the documentary is footage of shark fins or dead sharks. But there is enough footage of Rob swimming with sharks to be inspiring. The end is sad because Rob passed away before the documentary was complete, and his death completed it. He had been using a rebreather, which is advanced diving, while scuba diving off of Florida. He was looking to film a sawfish in the wild. A rebreather is great for filming wildlife because it produces no bubbles. Instead the carbon dioxide you breathe out is scrubbed out and you breathe in clean oxygen.
The ending montage made me cry, and not just because Rob had died. It’s his moving words that are inspiring. Thanks to his documentaries, his legacy will live on in shark conservationists worldwide. Please visit Sharkwater.com and read, 10 Easy Ways to Save Sharks and watch on Amazon Prime for free (if you’re a subscriber).