Bluffton My summers with Buster

Matt Phelan

Book - 2013

The year is 1908, and a troupe of vaudeville performers has arrived in sleepy Muskegon, Michigan to spend the summer. Young Henry Harrison is fascinated with the animals and performers, but mostly with a slapstick performer his own age named Buster Keaton, who is also a master prankster and loves to play baseball.

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Subjects
Genres
Graphic novels
Published
Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press 2013.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Item Description
"The illustrations were done in watercolor"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
223 pages : chiefly color illustrations, color map ; 21 cm
ISBN
9780763650797
076365079X
Main Author
Matt Phelan (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Henry lives in sleepy Muskegon, Michigan, where nothing much happens until the summertime, when a troupe of vaudeville performers—complete with elephants, zebras, and the Three Keatons—comes to spend the sweltering summer at a lake resort in nearby Bluffton. Henry is fascinated by his new friend, Buster Keaton, and consumed with jealousy over his thrilling life of performance on the road. But by the time Buster gets to Bluffton each year, all he wants to do is play baseball and prank his friends, much to Henry's eternal frustration. Henry idolizes Buster and his exciting life of stardom, but Phelan (Around the World, 2011) doesn't shy away from depicting the hard parts of Buster's life—his bitter, alcoholic father; controversy over the Three Keatons' slapstick act; and the demanding reality of life on the road. Phelan's soft, pastel watercolors perfectly depict the idyllic lakeside summer as well as the riotous circus antics and elaborate pranks Buster and his family pull, both on and off the stage. There's enough background about vaudeville, Buster Keaton, and the real-life Actors' Colony in Bluffton to make this an informative glimpse into American history, but it's compellingly, solidly centered on Henry's discovery that, though the grass on the other side may appear greener, more exciting, and full of the thrill of fame, the grass on his own side, where he's happy being himself, is just as good. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Historical detail, a rich sense of place, expert pacing—Phelan (Around the World) keeps all the plates in the air in this fictionalized recreation of the boyhood summers of Buster Keaton. In lightly sketched, gently tinted watercolor panels, Phelan conveys the excitement a troupe of summering vaudeville actors brings to sleepy Bluffton, a small resort town on Lake Michigan. It's easy to understand the envy the boy narrator Henry feels for his new friend, the child star Keaton, who performs in a comic act in which he's tossed about by his father. Buster's stunts and pratfalls are polished, and his signature deadpan gaze is already perfected. Simultaneously, Phelan hints at darker truths behind Buster's poise: his father's drinking, and the charges of child abuse that dog their act. "Buster's never been hurt in his life!" his red-faced father claims. "Well, not bad, anyway." Over several summers and endless baseball games—Buster's real passion—Henry considers the meaning of his own ordinary life in the light of his friend's celebrity in a way that's believable and satisfying. An unapologetically nostalgic piece of Americana. Ages 9–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Historical detail, a rich sense of place, expert pacing—Phelan (Around the World) keeps all the plates in the air in this fictionalized recreation of the boyhood summers of Buster Keaton. In lightly sketched, gently tinted watercolor panels, Phelan conveys the excitement a troupe of summering vaudeville actors brings to sleepy Bluffton, a small resort town on Lake Michigan. It's easy to understand the envy the boy narrator Henry feels for his new friend, the child star Keaton, who performs in a comic act in which he's tossed about by his father. Buster's stunts and pratfalls are polished, and his signature deadpan gaze is already perfected. Simultaneously, Phelan hints at darker truths behind Buster's poise: his father's drinking, and the charges of child abuse that dog their act. "Buster's never been hurt in his life!" his red-faced father claims. "Well, not bad, anyway." Over several summers and endless baseball games—Buster's real passion—Henry considers the meaning of his own ordinary life in the light of his friend's celebrity in a way that's believable and satisfying. An unapologetically nostalgic piece of Americana. Ages 9–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 3–6—Henry and his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, may be ordinary, but neighboring Bluffton is anything but. The year is 1908, and vaudevillians have come to the resort town to relax for the summer. Intrigued by the visitors, Henry heads off to Bluffton and meets a young actor named Buster Keaton. The two boys quickly become friends, but each of them yearns for what the other has-Henry wants a life of show business and fame, while Buster wants a normal life filled with baseball and fishing. Phelan does an excellent job of showing an accurate portrayal of Buster Keaton, from his dangerous physical comedy routines to his alcoholic father; the facts flow so smoothly that it does not feel like historical fiction at all. Henry is undeveloped in the beginning and simply moves along Buster's story, but the character really comes into his own later on when feuding with Buster and trying to put on a show of his own. Phelan's watercolors are expertly rendered and soft in focus, but pop at just the right moments, simultaneously showing the sleepiness of the town, the glamour of show business, and the energy of summer. An author's note and some photos explain a bit more about the real Buster Keaton. Overall, Bluffton is a rich and engaging story with a lot of charm, and will be a great choice for early chapter-book readers and graphic-novel fans.—Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI [Page 104]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A Scott O'Dell Award-winning graphic artist visualizes the story of young Henry, who in 1908 Muskegon, Michigan, bonds with a young Buster Keaton over games of baseball while the latter summers locally with a troupe of vaudeville performers.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Henry bonds with a young Buster Keaton over games of baseball while the latter summers locally with a troupe of vaudeville performers.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Matt Phelan, graphic novelist extraordinaire, presents a rollicking tribute to vaudeville, small-town dreams, and Buster Keaton as a boy.In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They're summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and ' lo and behold ' a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, 'the human mop," but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends. With signature nostalgia, Scott O'Dell Award'winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan visualizes a bygone era with lustrous color, dynamic lines, and flawless dramatic pacing.