Phillip comes from a circus family, but all he really wants is to be a regular kid. After persuading his parents to let him move in with his aunt and uncle, he winds up in Hardingtown, where everyone is wild about dodgeball. When he gets slammed in the face with a speeding ball in gym class, he decides to take the dodgeball bully to court. But can a circus boy take on the Unofficial Dodgeball Capital of the World?
This uproariously funny middle-grade novel carries an inspiring message about sticking to your beliefs, however unpopular they may be.
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Janice Repka is both a writer and an attorney. This is her first children’s book. She lives in south central Pennsylvania.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
You can’t stuff more than six clowns into a telephone booth. Eleven–year–old Phillip Edward Stanislaw had seen his dad try. But each time, a giant shoe or rubber nose stuck out, and the door wouldn’t shut. Why should today be any different?
“Welcome to the Windy Van Hooten Circus,” the announcer shouted. “Let the show begin.”
In the right ring, white–faced clowns, juggling rubber chickens, raced on unicycles. In the left ring, Helena’s Marvelous Miniature Horses balanced on their hind legs in hula skirts. Thrilled oooohs and ahhhhs poured through the tent, interrupted by thunderous bursts of applause.
Phillip yawned. He rested his head against the handle of his pooper–scooper shovel. He was standing in the exit aisle between two bleachers. If one of Helena’s horses had an “accident” during the show, it was his job to run into the ring, scoop up the mess, and dispose of it in a special trash can. That way, she wouldn’t slip.
The blended smell of elephants and hot dogs made Phillip’s stomach ache. To take his mind off it, he daydreamed about the birthday present his dad, Leo Laugh–a–Lot, had placed on the kitchen table that morning. The box was three feet long and wrapped in leftover Christmas paper turned inside out.
It couldn’t be new circus stilts, Phillip thought. They’re too long. Juggling pins are too short. A megaphone is too wide. Acrobat gloves are too small. There were no holes in the box, so it couldn’t be a new pet for an animal act. What else could it be? He stared at a muddy spot on the ground just under the right stand. A dirty ticket stub was squashed into it.
Suddenly, Phillip thought of something that almost made him drop his shovel. Once he had found a muddy baseball card underneath the stands. The player on the card was holding a long wooden bat, exactly the size of the box on his kitchen table. Was it possible that, for the first time, his parents were giving him a gift that wasn’t circus–related?
If only I knew how to operate a bat, he thought. I hope it comes with instructions.
Since the circus never stayed in one town very long, Phillip had never been to a baseball game. Because his family chose not to own a television, he’d never even seen a game. All he knew about baseball was from the card and from a poem he had read called “Casey at the Bat.” The poem was about a great baseball player who embarrassed himself by losing a big game. Phillip did not want to embarrass himself.
What I need, he thought, is to find a regular kid who can give me some tips.
Phillip scanned the crowded bleachers and spotted a boy wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, just like the cap worn by the man on the card. The boy ate cotton candy and watched Freckles spray Jingles with a bottle of seltzer water. Leo Laugh–a–Lot threw a bucket of confetti, and the boy laughed.
If the boy could stay after the show, maybe he could help. Phillip would have to get a message to him. He waved to get his attention, but the boy wouldn’t take his eyes off the show.
The clowns rolled out an old–fashioned telephone booth. The phone rang and BoBo rushed in, climbed to the top, and pinned himself against the ceiling. It rang again and Freckles followed, pressing himself against BoBo. Each time it rang, another clown would enter. The acrobat clowns, Versa–Vice and Vice–Versa, piled in. Cuddles and Jingles compressed themselves in the middle, a mass of twisted elbows and knees. Finally, Phillip’s dad squeezed in. He tried to yank shut the door, but his extra–large clown rump, complete with pink satin boxers, got stuck. The booth swayed, making the audience sway with it.
Whap! It tipped over. Clowns scampered out, bowing and curtsying to the cheers.
Phillip searched the bleachers. Where was the boy? People, shaking with laughter, blocked his view. He dropped his shovel, climbed onto the bleachers, and awkwardly made his way through. Three times he had to apologize for stepping on toes. Finally, he made it to where he had seen the boy.
“Where is he?” Phillip asked a girl with braided hair. “The boy who was sitting next to you.”
“What boy?” She eyed Phillip like he was an alien.
He wondered if the boy had been part of his daydream.
“Sit down,” said a woman from behind him. “I’m trying to watch the horses.”
The horses! He had forgotten. Phillip glanced into the left ring. Helena held a hoop, and Wonder Star jumped through. Behind them, a brown blob steamed. A couple hundred children were between Phillip and his shovel.
“I’m sorry. Pardon me. Coming through, please,” he said, shuffling over peanut shells and empty cups. He bumped a man whose lemonade splashed down Phillip’s shirt. Startled by the sudden cold drizzle, Phillip backed into a freckle–faced girl with a caramel apple.
Smack! The gooey ball hit him in the head and stuck to his hair.
“Gimme back my apple,” the girl demanded. She grabbed the stick and pulled.
“Ahhhhhhh!” Phillip cried.
The girl tried to twirl the apple out, but this only made it stick more.
“Give her back her apple,” said a teenage boy holding a bag of popcorn. Phillip darted out of the way as the teen lunged for him. The popcorn flew in the air and became rain. The kernels stuck to the gooey caramel.
In the left ring, Helena walked backward as Wonder Star led a dance line, each horse’s front legs balanced on the horse before it. All were unaware of the slippery land mine ahead.
Helena’s foot hit the blob and skidded out from under her.
She landed on her tush.
Her arms flailed back into a pile of hoops, sending them flying. Wonder Star swerved and knocked over a rolling shelf loaded with props. The horses scattered as the props clattered to the ground.
The sounds of “Stars and Stripes Forever” filled the circus tent. Half the clowns chased after the horses, while the other half ran over to Helena.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the circus announcer shouted. “Please look to the skies for the death–defying Angela the Amazing Acrobat.”
While the crowd diverted its attention to the high–wire act, Cuddles and Jingles helped Helena stand. Leo sprayed her backside clean with seltzer water. She looked like a stuffed doll limp from too many washings.
Phillip scurried to the edge of the bleachers. He fell and did a belly flop onto the ground. Peering up, he saw Helena leading Wonder Star out of the ring. She headed straight for him. He darted under the bleachers. The smell from Helena’s boots made him pinch his nose to keep from gagging.
At least she doesn’t see me, he thought.
Something pulled his hair.
“Ouch!” he cried.
Wonder Star yanked out a hunk of the gooey caramel apple.
“You!” Helena pulled Phillip by his ear. The horse balanced on her hind legs, begging for another bite.
“I’m out there slipping in poop, and you’re taking a nap?” she snapped.
“I wasn’t taking a nap,” Phillip said, trying to escape from Wonder Star’s appetite. Each time he moved, the horse moved, too. It looked like they were dancing. Helena grabbed Wonder Star by the bridle.
“Why were you hiding under the stands?” she demanded.
“I wasn’t under the stands,” Phillip said. “I was in them.”
“In them? During the show?”
Phillip wanted to explain about his new bat and the boy in the baseball cap, but he doubted she would care. Helena wrested a piece of caramel apple stick from Wonder Star’s mouth.
“You’re a circus boy,” she reminded Phillip. “You don’t belong in the stands with the regular folks.”
Phillip’s eyes stung. He pulled up his T–shirt and rubbed his sweaty face. A piece of popcorn stuck to the lemonade stain scratched his cheek.
“Your mother will hear about this,” Helena said. “Now go clean up that mess.”
Phillip grabbed his shovel and raced out to the left ring. Why did things always go wrong for him?
Tiffany the Bearded Lady once told him that kids from the regular world dreamed of running away to join the circus. As he scooped away the afternoon’s humiliation, Phillip wondered if he was the first kid who dreamed of running away from it.
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