Miles Wednesday, orphaned, unwashed and living in a barrel, has never been to a circus before—but then the Circus Oscuro is no ordinary circus. There's a strange beast called The Null and an array of sinister-looking clowns, and when an unusual little girl with wings falls from a tower during the performance, Miles's life is changed forever. As Miles and Little embark on an extraordinary journey to rescue two friends who have been captured at the Palace of Laughter, they discover nothing less than the power of friendship and the gift of family.
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About the Author
Jon Berkeley was born in Dublin when TV was black-and-white and airplanes still had propellers. He was the worst football (um, soccer) player in the entire parish, and his favorite food was spaghetti bolognese. Some things never change.
Jon has worked as a freelance illustrator for a quarter of a century and more recently has taken to writing. He is the author and illustrator of chopsticks, a story about the friendship between a mouse and a dragon, and has illustrated several books by other authors.
He is the author of the Wednesday Tales series—The Palace of Laughter, The Tiger's Egg, and The Lightning Key, which have been praised for their vivid storytelling, humor, and one-of-a-kind characters. Publishers Weekly said of the palace of laughter: "Berkeley weaves painterly details into his depiction of this night-shaded world but also injects an ample measure of humor."
Brandon Dorman lives in Puyallup, Washington, and is the creator of Pirates of the Sea! and Santa's Stowaway, and the illustrator of Jack Prelutsky's Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face, as well as Halloween Night, by Marjorie Dennis Murray.
Read an Excerpt
The Palace of LaughterThe Wednesday Tales No. 1
By Jon Berkeley
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Jon Berkeley
All right reserved.
A Boy in a Barrel
On a blustery October night the Circus Oscuro came to town. It was clear from the start that this was no ordinary circus. It did not roll into town with fanfares and cartwheeling clowns. No one handed out flyers or announced the show through squawking loudspeakers. Instead, the circus came in the dead of night, when all the townspeople were asleep. Its wagons crept and rumbled down the winding road and across the old stone bridge while the town's fat mayor, who normally had to give his permission before anyone could set up as much as a fruit stall, was snoring in his bed. The circus wagons turned in to the long field at the bottom of the hill that overlooked the town of Larde, and creaked to a halt in neat rows with barely a sound.
From the wagons and trucks a strange crew emerged into the moonlight--great muscled men with sun-darkened faces, a tattooed giantess with a booming voice who could lift three of the men at once, small wiry boys dragging coils of rope and buckets of sawdust. They began to set up their enormous tent there and then by the light of flickering lanterns, with the wind whipping at the stripy canvas and cracking the ropes across the men's hairy arms. Their shoutsand curses were snatched from their throats by the wind and flung up over the hill. Two elephants were led from one of the wagons and set to work, lifting wooden poles into place and pushing them upright with their stubbly foreheads. Acrobats ran up the swaying poles like monkeys, fixing ropes and leaping from point to point as though they were only inches from the ground, gripping lanterns in their strong teeth. A thin man on stilts 20 feet high checked blocks and pulleys and shouted orders to the men below. Slowly the huge tent rose from the grassy field like a great beast awakening, and still the townspeople slept, and the fat mayor's snores ruffled his walrus mustache and rumbled through his wife's dreams.
There was just one witness to the arrival of the circus. A small boy, huddled in a large wooden barrel high on the side of the hill, watched the raising of the big top, awakened from his sleep by the shouts of the circus people and the occasional trumpeting of the elephants. The boy's name was Miles, and the barrel was his home.
Now if you are picturing a shivering boy standing knee-deep in slimy rainwater in an upright barrel, you will need to turn that picture sideways and let the water run out for a start. This barrel lay on its side under a low-spreading pine tree, which provided shelter from the wind and the rain. It was an enormous barrel that had once held a fine vintage wine, and Miles could almost stand upright in it, although he was nearly eleven. It was dry and warm inside. In the barrel was an old mattress that had been thrown out by Piven, the baker, and which still gave out a cloud of fine flour when you sat on it. A candle stub in a fat bottle served as a lamp, and an old biscuit tin with the paint worn off as a larder.
Miles had lived in his barrel on the side of the hill since escaping (for the seventh time) from Pinchbucket House, the county orphanage. He shared his wooden home with a small stuffed bear named Tangerine, no larger than a tall man's hand. When Tangerine wasn't out and about with his owner, he lived in a deep pocket of the old overcoat that Miles used as a blanket. Some of Tangerine's stuffing had escaped, which made him a little floppy. His fur, which had once been the color of a tangerine, was now a kind of orangey gray. His mouth wore a crooked smile, and although he never said a word, he was a good listener.
Under a silver moon Miles, curled up in the mouth of his barrel, watched as the circus tent grew fatter and taller and the thick ropes that anchored it grew tauter. The hypnotic ringing of sledgehammers on iron pegs and the snatches of strange music that floated from the trailers made his eyes heavy and his head nod with sleep. He pulled the old overcoat tighter around him, and closed his eyes for a moment.
When he opened them again he did not know how much time had passed, but everything seemed strangely still. Not an owl's hoot or mouse's rustle broke the silence, and the pine tree stood silently, undisturbed by the faintest breeze. Miles rubbed his eyes and looked out to see if work on the circus tent had ceased, but his eye was caught by something that had not been there before. A large shape crouched in the grass not twenty paces from where he sat in the mouth of his barrel. A shape with a huge head, enormous paws and a long striped tail. It was a fully grown Bengal tiger, stretched out motionless except for the tip of his tail, which twitched from side to side in the silvery grass.
The tiger was so close Miles could almost count his whiskers. His inky stripes seemed to shift and breathe as the thin clouds swept across the moon. Miles held his breath. It was no use crying out; no one would hear him. He had never been face to face with a tiger before, but he was pretty sure that to the magnificent striped beast who sat a stone's throw from his barrel, he must look like a sandwich whose bread had fallen off.
The tiger yawned, his teeth like yellow knives in the red cave of his mouth, and gave a loud but oddly human sigh that made his whiskers shiver. His massive head turned and he stared directly at Miles with . . .
Excerpted from The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley Copyright © 2006 by Jon Berkeley. Excerpted by permission.
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