OWTK KidLit + Comics

Kid’s Book Review: Betti On The High Wire

It’s fun to think about what you’d do after winning the lotto.  With millions in the bank, what would you buy first: cars, houses, a personal submarine?  For years, my post-lottery wish list included season tickets to Michigan State Men’s Basketball & Football, and to the Detroit Red Wings @ Joe Louis Arena…as well as a Marquis Jet membership (naturally) to fly back and forth to all of those games.  Last week, I added something new to my list: buy the movie rights to Betti on the High Wire.  This new book by Lisa Railsback (Noonie’s Masterpiece) would look marvelous on film.

The story centers on Babo, a young girl, 10-ish, who’s adopted, against her will, from a dilapidated circus camp in an unnamed war-torn country.  The bulk of the action focuses on Babo’s assimilation into her new name, Betti, and into our “crazy American” culture; filled with the prison of TV (a brilliant play on the mind-boggling sensation of television), plastic dolls and drooling dogs.  What Betti on the High Wire is really about is love and friendship, and holding on to your uniqueness while attempting to write a one-of-a-kind future in an often scary, confusing, increasingly homogenized world.

Just as with the title character in Noonie’s Masterpiece, Betti has convinced herself that her mom & dad will be swooping down to save her and restore order in her life.  The reader, and everyone in Betti’s life, knows that this isn’t possible.  And, just as with Noonie, Railsback gracefully weaves sadness with humor, despair with hope.  The author clearly has a knack and a penchant for writing 3D young female characters, ladies who exist on more than a single plane – they are not simply smart or bold, and can’t be pegged as just delusional or awkward.  Instead, a young female reader will likely see a lot of themselves in Betti, in the way she longs to escape the conventional, defy the expected, and yet still wants badly to be loved, held and kept safe from this bizarre world that never stops spinning around them.

It’s hard to read about someone’s anguish for extends periods, but the lengths that Railsback takes to convey her heroine’s emotional state upon landing in America during the middle sections of Betti on the High Wire is essential to truly empathize with her.   The pace of the book speeds up and the tone becomes a bit more joyous once Betti meets someone similarly displaced and on the fringe.  By the time the former star of the circus reclaims her throne as queen of the high wire, you’ll be hooked, smiling and ready for the happiness that follows.

Betti on the High Wire is an often humorous look at what it means to be a member of a family, to be loved and accepted as different without being asked to compromise who you are or purge your unique history. Hopefully, someday, we’ll see Babo become Betti on the big screen. The tender, funny flick could be a big hit with young audiences.

Girls age 8-14 are likely to enjoy Betti on the High Wire the most.  But, clearly, 34-year old dads may love it as well.

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