Sonderbooks Book Review of

Watch Out for Flying Kids!

How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community

by Cynthia Levinson

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Watch Out for Flying Kids!

How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community

by Cynthia Levinson

Review posted June 25, 2016.
Peachtree, Atlanta, 2015. 216 pages.
Starred Review

I booktalked this book in local elementary schools this year. It's a story about real kids, with a large format and lots of pictures -- and everything in it is true.

A section of the Prologue neatly explains why this is an important book:

Watch Out for Flying Kids spotlights a little-known corner of this universe: youth social circus.

As the first word of the name suggests, "youth circus" refers to programs in which the performers are children. The nine performers featured in this book are teenagers.

The word "social" refers to the mission of bringing together young people who would not ordinarily meet -- or, if they did, might fear or oppose each other. The two organizations portrayed in this book -- the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus -- bring together young people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures through training in circus arts. The goal of both groups is to replace fear with respect and opposition with trust, changing the world one acrobat, contortionist, and flyer at a time.

Why wouldn't these kids meet if it weren't for circus? Why might they even fear or mistrust one another? The three white and two black troupers who are Arches live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools in St. Louis, Missouri, a city that is segregated by race and income level. The two Arabs and two Jews who perform with the Galilee Circus in northern Israel live in towns segregated by religion, ethnicity, language, and history. They represent groups that have been violently at odds with each other for hundreds of years.

Watch Out for Flying Kids shows what happens when all of them get together. That is, it demonstrates how they learn to juggle their responsibilities, fly above the fray, balance schoolwork and circus work, unicycle circles around people who doubt them, tumble gracefully through life -- even when injured -- and walk the tightrope of politics and friendship.

This book looks at the two circuses, the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus, over the years 2005 to 2014. Nine kids in particular are highlighted and their journey described.

Performing in a circus is tremendously difficult, and the hard work and dedication required is conveyed well. The two circuses got to visit each other's countries and perform together, and the book also shows us the challenges of working together across cultures.

This is a wonderful, inspiring and informative book about a group of kids working hard, forming a community, and putting on a great show.