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Ephemia Rimaldi: Circus Performer Extraordinaire

by Linda DeMeulemeester

Abandoned at birth by her father Phineas, “a scoundrel, a flim-flammer, and worse, circus riff-raff,” Ephemia Rimaldi (Effy) has found a comfortable home with her great-aunt Ada, a committed campaigner for women’s rights. Determined that Effy should have an education, Aunt Ada has established a trust fund for her. But when Ada dies suddenly, Effy’s relatives descend like vultures to steal the money. Effy’s only hope is to find Phineas, who is still her legal guardian. She journeys alone to locate his circus, and finds an exotic new world of talented women and men who earn a livelihood through their unconventional skills. Phineas is stubborn and unwelcoming, preoccupied with keeping his circus afloat. But Effy quickly becomes enmeshed in circus life, determined to show her father that she can be a performer too. She is also intent on saving the gentle elephant Balally from being auctioned off. As she makes friends and wins over her father, Effy realizes that true equality must include people of all classes and races, and even animals. 

Ephemia Rimaldi: Circus Performer Extraordinaire is an engaging historical adventure story set at the turn of the 20th century, when circus performers were demanding equal pay for equal work. Effy is a beguiling protagonist, both foolish and brave, always willing to improvise at a moment’s notice, whether by swinging on a trapeze or helping to trap an angry tiger, in her quest to impress her father. Her judgmental attitudes toward some performers, like the fortune teller Madame Vadoma and the young trapeze acrobats, slowly give way to a growing empathy for these eccentric outsiders. Her bond with Balally and the boy who cares for her leads to Effy’s role in selling a “cursed” sapphire to save the elephant. Through a vividly drawn cast of characters, DeMeulemeester skillfully brings the time period to life, incorporating words like “flim-flamming” and “twaddle” into the dialogue while still keeping us emotionally close to Effy throughout her journey of understanding. A historical note and a brief author interview are included at the end. This novel provides a lively introduction to issues of diversity and social justice through the eyes of a feisty heroine.


Reviewer: Joanne Findon

Publisher: Red Deer Press


Price: $14.95

Page Count: 180 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-88995-729-9

Released: September

Issue Date: August 2023

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Kids’ Books

Age Range: 8–12