Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: 'Bluffton: My Summers with Buster' by Matt Phelan

✰✰✰✰✰ Imagine a simpler era before smart phones, FaceBook, and YouTube swallowed up our time. Henry Harrison, a ten year old resident of Muskegon, MI in 1908, is intrigued when Vaudeville performers arrive with an elephant and zebra in tow. Henry dreams of the show biz life and takes every opportunity to visit nearby Bluffton, where the performers have set up the Actors’ Colony. Among the performers is a boy named Buster Keaton, who was billed as “The Human Mop.” As the two become friends, each boy longs for what the other has. Buster is a natural comedic actor who can perform physical comedy and stunts without ever cracking a smile. During his summers at Bluffton, all Buster wants to do is play ball, swim, and enjoy some free time. However, given the opportunity, Buster would someday like to be a civil engineer. Meanwhile, Henry is a small town boy who yearns for the limelight. Instead of going to school and working in his father’s hardware store, Henry longs to learn stunts and falls. As time passes, the boys grow up and go their separate ways, each following their own path in life. Using soft watercolors supplemented by text, author and illustrator Matt Phelan tells the magical story of a young Buster Keaton who had hopes and dreams just like everyone else.

The Bottom Line: This very quick read is a great introduction to both historical fiction and Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton’s family did indeed spend summers in Bluffton before his silent film days. Phelan’s artwork is beautiful, nostalgic, and reminiscent of a time long past. Through Phelan’s gentle storytelling, a new generation of Buster Keaton fans will appreciate this fictional look at the childhood of one of the greatest performers of all time. Highly recommended for kids in grades 4 – 8, but younger readers may also enjoy this book, especially the illustrations.

Details: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster by Matt Phelan. Hardcover published by Candlewick Press in 2013. 228 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-5079-7 Note: I received a free copy from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

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