(Anne Farrar/The Washington Post)

The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie

By Jacqueline Resnick. Ages 8 to 12.

Mr. Mumford has an odd assortment of farm animals. Instead of the typical cows, sheep or chickens, there’s a fussy white rabbit, a dog that looks like a mop, a furry creature that loves to dig — it’s called a wombat — and a small bear with a very long tongue.

And what do these animals do? They don’t work the fields or produce food. They play games that bring townspeople to the farm to cheer them on. This “Misfit Menagerie” is irresistible to watch because the animals have so much fun together.

Smalls, the bear, is the star of the show, but that hasn’t made him self-centered. Other than his nightly bowl of honey, the thing he enjoys most is playing games with his friends. Tilda the rabbit, Rigby the dog and Wombat the wombat happily join in whatever game Smalls invents.

The fun ends soon after Claude Magnificence discovers the Misfits. The mean old man needs a new act for his tired circus. He tricks Mr. Mumford, and soon the animals are his.

Circus life is a shock to the Misfits. They must live in cramped cages, eat slop and learn new tricks or suffer blows from twins Lloyd and Loyd, Claude’s assistants.

Even longtime circus animals don’t welcome the Misfits. “There’s no such thing as friends in the circus,” Lord Jest, the elephant, tells Smalls. “Here, ya just do what ya gotta do to survive.”

But friendship is one of the few things keeping the Misfits alive. They care about one another and have a growing attachment to a shy boy named Bertie (Claude’s nephew) and a young acrobat named Susan. Those kids are also Claude’s prisoners.

Bertie, Susan and the animals consider escape, but no one wants to try it alone. If a plan is to succeed, the kids and animals must face their fear of Claude and decide whether they can truly trust one another.

Christina Barron