Just another six days until November 12. That would be the third time Winnie, her sister, Lizzy, and their father had celebrated Mrs. Willis’ birthday without her. (She died in an auto accident)
Winnie assumes they’ll observe the day as they had the previous two years—watching Lady and the Tramp and eating a spaghetti dinner. But, Lizzy has other plans, and Mr. Willis has been invited to an inventor’s convention in Chicago.
When Mr. Willis tells the girls he’s flying to the convention, Winnie fears he will die in a plane crash. There are frequent references to death in the book—remembering her mother’s death and fearing her father is going to die. The circus owner is an old war veteran whose fellow soldiers continue to pass away year after year. Before the circus, he receives word that the last three men have also died, and they drink a toast to them.
The equine focus is on a horse named Midnight who is part of a circus act with his young rider, Ramon. When the circus performs at various towns in the vicinity, Winnie notices something is wrong with Midnight. He acts frightened and misbehaves during his performances. She gives Ramon advice on how to handle him. It appears that someone is deliberately trying to sabotage the act, and Winnie thinks she knows who it is.
Winnie takes Nickers (Wild Thing) to the circus where she performs tricks like answering yes and no, pawing out answers, etc. I imagine a high-spirited Arabian, like Winnie’s horse, would have a hard time adjusting to the commotion of a circus—but Winnie and Nickers take it all in stride.
Nickers is a fast learner. I’d taught her half a dozen tricks in under two weeks. p. 1
Wow, that’s impressive. My claim to fame in trick training is teaching my horse, Ginger, how to retrieve. I’d throw a small orange cone, like the ones used to mark boundaries on a soccer field. She would walk over to it, pick it up with her teeth, and bring it back to me. It was great fun. I think Ginger enjoyed it as much as I did. But, teaching that one trick took longer than two weeks. And, it’s one thing for a horse to perform a trick at home in a controlled environment where they’re comfortable. Take them anywhere, let alone a circus, and most horses are highly distracted and often seem to forget everything they’ve learned.
This book has the least horse content of the first four. A lot of the story revolves around Winnie thinking her dad and sister don’t care about their mother anymore because they don’t want to observe her birthday the way they’ve done it in prior years. Winnie is also trying to solve the mystery at the service. The snobbish Summer Spiddell, Winnie's rival, is worried about gaining a few pounds (7th grader). Winnie suggests that there's a role at the circus open for her—the fat lady.
Her father returns early from the convention, so he will be home for his wife’s birthday, but he brings a “friend” with him, a fellow inventor, Madeline Edison. Mackall just couldn’t resist throwing that Edison name in there as if an inventor couldn’t be named anything else. :) (Catman, Barker, Hawk, Lizzy, Winnie - if you haven't read my other reviews)