At 10, Babo is the oldest in a camp of “leftover kids” who have lost their parents to war. She helps Aunt Moo care for the littler ones and likes to tell stories of her mama and dad who were in the circus. When families from America adopt Babo and her friend George, she worries that if she leaves, her parents won’t be able to find her when they come back. Babo, now Betti, finds her new home confusing and has trouble fitting in. She wants to go back to her home country, but each day she finds another reason to stay just a little while longer.
Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback is a look at the tragedy caused by civil strife through a child’s eyes. In her home country Babo is innocent and war-savvy at the same time. She believes the circus stories told about her parents and other performers, but she knows how to hide and protect those around her when the soldiers come. Railsback deliberately doesn’t name the place where Babo is from because there are so many places in the world that are just like the one described in the book.
In the U.S., Betti is out of her element. No one depends on her for protection and she’s free to be a child without worries. Yet because she doesn’t understand the difference between her new life and her old, she worries about everything—having enough food to eat, staying safe from the police and even sleeping in a quiet house.
Betti on the High Wire is a great way to introduce younger readers to life in war-torn countries. It’s enlightening without being too graphic or despairing. Betti has hope, and she learns how to help make a difference in her new world and her old one. As she tries to make sense of the world around her, she’ll break your heart then put it back together again. I highly recommend Betti on the High Wire for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.