Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall


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Set in Racine, Wisconsin during the Great Depression, Catch Me When I Fall is the story of one gutsy twelve-year-old girl’s quest to learn the identity of her father, the father her mother refuses to talk about. What’s the big secret? When Emma finds a photograph hidden in her mother’s bureau AND spots a circus poster featuring Filippo the Flying Wonder, she believes she’s stumbled on the truth. The aerialist’s resemblance to the man in the secret photo is too close to be coincidence. Rebelling against her mother’s warning not to go near the circus, Emma disguises herself as a boy and lands a job with the circus, determined to unravel the dark mystery that haunts her. It is here, amidst the sawdust and illusions of circus life, that Emma makes discoveries about her past that ultimately help her accept herself for who she truly is.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947548305
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 01/25/2019
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 325,948
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Author of dozens of children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, and professional books on teaching reading, Bonnie Graves spent her growing-up years in Wisconsin and Southern California. A former elementary school teacher, Bonnie’s work has been honored with Work-in-Progress grants from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Minnesota Arts Board, first place in literary contests sponsored by the Loft Literary Center and also the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and her chapter book, Taking Care of Trouble, received a South Carolina Children’s Choice Award. She currently lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Read an Excerpt



Racine, Wisconsin, 1932

Emma was concentrating on only one thing that hot July day — the Kinsie Avenue River Bridge just ahead of her, its narrow railing high above the river, the railing she bragged to Clarence she could walk. Her dog Lucky loped beside her, and her younger cousin Teddy ran just behind, trying to keep up.

"You're such a show off!" Clarence hollered. He was several yards behind them now on the road leading to the bridge. "You'll fall into the river and drown! Grow up!"

"Can't hear you!" Emma yelled back at her bossy older cousin and kept running toward the bridge. But the truth of it was she didn't feel as brave as she had just a few minutes ago. The water under the bridge wasn't swift and it wasn't deep, but it was a good thirty feet from the bridge railing to the muddy brown water of the Root River. Falling meant ... well, she didn't want to think what it meant.

When they reached the bridge, Teddy tugged on her sleeve. "Don't ... listen ... to that dumb old Clarence," he said, trying to catch his breath. "Do it. I know you can."

"Of course I can." Emma put on her "I-can-do-this" face for her nine-year-old cousin. "And I will," she said, climbing up on the railing. The river looked a long way below her now and smelled like rotting catfish, as it often did on hot summer days. The smell alone gave her reason not to fall. Other kids had fallen into the river trying to walk the railing. One had even drowned.

She stood holding the lamppost at the start of the bridge railing but didn't turn around to see if Clarence was watching. Instead she studied the sparkles on the river, like tiny explosions of stars. The hot cement railing prickled the soles of her bare feet. Now was her chance. She could do it. She would do it!

Emma took one hand off the lamppost and slowly found her balance on the narrow railing. Then she let go. She lifted her arms out, pretending she was a tightrope walker, like the ones on the circus billboard plastered across one whole side of Swensen's Bait and Tackle shack across the river. She focused on that billboard, slowly finding her balance on her front foot before she lifted her back foot and placed it forward, one sure step at a time.

Emma was nearly halfway across when she heard a motor car rumbling toward the bridge. "Hey!" someone shouted from the Model-T. And then a loud honk, honk, honk.

She felt herself losing her balance, leaning too far to the river side. She held steady on her front foot, her back foot wobbling in midair, her arms trying to keep herself from falling.

Concentrate! Emma commanded herself, staring at the billboard on the other side of the river. You can do it.

Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. She was almost there, almost to the lamppost. She reached out for it.

"Woo-hoo!" Teddy shouted when she grabbed the post.

Lucky barked.

She'd done it! Walked the entire Kinzie Avenue Bridge railing like a tightrope walker! Emma jumped down onto the bridge and threw her arms around Lucky. "I did it, boy." Lucky panted, his long, pink tongue lolling, his tail thwacking the road. Then she looked around for Clarence. She couldn't wait to see his face. But her cousin was nowhere in sight, the stinking coward.

"Now, I'm going to try!" Teddy said, climbing onto the railing.

"No!" Emma grabbed him and pulled him down.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Why'd you do that?"

"'Cause, dummy," Emma said. "You've got to do a hundred fence rails — without falling — before you try the bridge railing. Promise?"

"Aw, phooey."


Teddy shoved his hands in his trouser pockets and kicked his bare feet on the bridge. "Oh, I guess."

"Promise you won't tell Mother? What I did?"

"Heck, I'm no snitch." Teddy gazed at the circus billboard. "So, want to join the circus? Bet you could."

Lucky chased after a huge black crow that had swooped down to peck at something in the road. The crow flapped up to the highest branches of a gnarled oak tree, cawed three times, and flew off.

"You could run away with the circus," Teddy said, as if running away were like running down to Brosky's for a loaf of bread.

"You're looney," Emma said, jogging back across the bridge, on the sidewalk this time. She could imagine a lot of things, but she couldn't imagine running away, even though Mother was so busy working at Dr. Rose's and doing other folks' laundry that she probably wouldn't even notice Emma was gone.

"Wish ... we could go ... to the circus tomorrow," Teddy said, running hard to keep up with her.

"Where would we get the fifty cents?" Emma kept going, heading toward College Avenue and her best friend's house.

At State Street, Emma halted to let Farmer Jensen's vegetable wagon pass. He tipped his hat at her. She waved back as Farmer Jensen's mule clomped down the street pulling the wagon behind him. Poor mule, she thought. What a load he had to bear in this heat.

"Besides," Emma said, running across State Street. "Mother won't let us go near the circus."

"Why?" Teddy asked.

"Don't know. She won't say."

"Just like she won't talk about your pa?"

"Shut up, Teddy. It's none of your beeswax." But Teddy was right. Mother never talked about Emma's father. And Emma dared not ask. It was a topic as forbidden as the apple God forbade Adam and Eve to eat. And the consequences to Emma seemed just as horrifying. "I'm going to Nan's now," she told Teddy. "Why don't you go play with Billy?"

"Aw, shucks. He's no fun."

"Then go find Clarence! He's a barrel of laughs! Ha, ha, ha!" She raced away from Teddy, leaving him stranded on the corner with his mouth hanging open.

Emma might be rid of Teddy, but what he'd said about her "pa," gnawed at her. Who was her father anyway and why did no one ever talk about him? Had he done something horrible, too horrible to mention, or even think of? It didn't seem possible. Last summer, she had found a photograph hidden in a box in her mother's bureau, a photograph she suspected might be of her father. Why else would Mother hide it? The man in the photograph was too handsome to be an out-and-out criminal, or worse, a murderer. He had dark hair, dark eyes, and teeth as white as Clark Gable's. On the photograph was written: To my sweet baby girl, with all my love, Papa. Who else could this man be but her very own papa? Looking at that photo made Emma's imagination whirl with possibilities about who her father was. But one thing was certain. He was someone who loved her and someday she would find him.

When Emma got close to Tittle Brothers' Butcher Shop on Main Street, Lucky loped ahead of her. In summer, Mr. Tittle, like many other shop owners, always left a bowl of water on the sidewalk for thirsty dogs. After Lucky had licked the bowl dry, he stuck his nose in the open door, his tail wagging hopefully. On Saturdays, Mr. Tittle usually had a bone or two for Lucky. "You big, silly dog," Emma said, scratching behind his long, silky ears. "Today's only Friday. Sorry." He looked up at her with sorrowful brown eyes.

Lucky wasn't the only one in Racine looking for a handout that day. At least fifty men stood in the bread line in front of St. Joseph's, fanning their faces with caps or newspapers or whatever they had to stir up some air. A sadness seeped into Emma's bones as she watched these men across the street, dressed as if they hoped a job was in their future when all they were likely to get was some thin soup and stale bread — if they were lucky. Why didn't President Hoover do something? Emma knew what hunger felt like and was thankful Mother was one of the lucky ones who had a job. Emma didn't know how much money Mother earned taking in laundry and keeping house for Dr. Rose, but after he had hired Mother there had always been food on the table. Never quite enough food, though, for her two hungry cousins, or quite enough money for store-bought dresses for Emma.

As Emma reached Main Street another crow swooped from the rooftop of Hommel's Five and Dime and alighted on the sidewalk in front of Brosky's Market, cocking its head. Lucky chased after it. Caw, caw, caw! the crow scolded, flapping its shiny black wings until it found a safe perch on a nearby lamppost.

At Brosky's, Emma stared through the window at a circus poster taped to the glass. It was a picture of a man on a trapeze. Above the picture, she read, Filippo the Flying Wonder.

As she leaned in close to get a good look, she nearly wet her drawers. The man in the poster was the spitting image of the man in her mother's photograph, the man she suspected was her father! She had to get that photograph from her mother's bureau — she had to show Nan both the poster and the photograph.


The Plan

With the photograph now tucked safely between the pages of her new Nancy Drew book, Emma ran so fast across Main Street that she didn't see the streetcar.

Brakes screeched. Dust flew.

"You lookin' to get yourself killed, girlie?" the driver shouted, waving his fist at her.

"Sorry ..." she gasped breathlessly.

Holy cow! How could she think about streetcars after what she had seen in Brosky's window? The man in the circus poster could be her very own father! The thought of it sent chills through her. Lucky ran next to her down the sidewalk toward Nan's house. Her best friend was the only person she could tell.

When Emma finally saw the Reiners' house on College Avenue, there sat Nan on her front porch swing — just as if this were any normal summer day. In front of the porch and up and down the walk, Mrs. Reiner's rosebushes exploded in a rainbow of colors.

"You won't believe what I just saw!" Emma called as she raced up the front walk.

Nan glanced up from her movie star magazine, her dark brown hair freshly cut in a stylish bob. "What?" A grin spread across Nan's face as Emma flew up the porch steps. "Clark Gable and Greta Garbo smooching on Main Street?"

"More shocking than that!" Emma plopped down on the porch swing, her heart still racing, the book with the secret photograph resting on her lap, the bottom of her chambray shorts damp with perspiration.

"Oh, I know!" Nan said, her brown eyes wide. The swing stopped squeaking and Nan leaned close and whispered, "Dr. Rose kissing your mother ... on the lips?" Emma got a whiff of lilac eau d'cologne. Nan giggled.

"Cut it out! That's not funny. Come with me to Brosky's. You've got to see this with your own eyes."

Nan glanced at the book on Emma's lap. "Oh, The Hidden Staircase! I love Nancy Drew. Can I borrow that when you're done?"

"It's a library book," Emma said, not yet giving away the secret of what lay hidden between the pages. Emma grabbed Nan's hand and pulled her off the porch swing. "Let's go!"

"This better be good! It's hotter than blazes. Sometimes, Emma, you're such a tomboy! Bare feet! Honestly!" Nan, on the other hand, was no tomboy. She looked more like someone out of the Sears Catalog in her blue cotton sundress with drop waist, white patent leather shoes and ankle socks. Nan opened the screen door and stuck her head in. "Mama, I'm going downtown with Emma!"

"All right, darling," Mrs. Reiner called. "I'll make some lemonade for when you girls get back. Don't get overheated, now. Wear your hat!"

Nan snatched her straw cloche off the hook and pressed it on her head like a helmet. "I wouldn't be moving from that porch swing if you weren't my very best friend!"

Emma hurried with Nan back to Main Street, Lucky keeping pace with them.

"Look at that!" Emma said, when they reached Brosky's Market. She pointed at the circus poster while Lucky noisily lapped up all the water in the bowl left by the door.

"You dragged me all the way here to show me that?" Nan asked, hands on her hips. "We know the circus is coming tomorrow. So what? You know you can't go."

"No, look at him," Emma insisted, pointing to the picture of the man on the flying trapeze, Filippo the Flying Wonder. "I think he's —" She glanced around to make sure no one was listening and cupped her hands around Nan's ear. "— my ... father!" She could hardly say the word.

"What? You've never seen your father!"

"Remember the photograph I showed you? The one hidden in Mother's bureau?"

"The handsome man you think is your father?" Emma opened The Hidden Staircase and pulled out the photograph, holding it out for Nan to inspect. "Take a good look at this."

Nan peered at the photograph and then at the poster.

"See," Emma said. "He has exactly the same wavy dark hair parted on the side. And look at his chin!" Emma stuck out her own chin. "Look at that dimple. Just like mine. Just like this!" Emma jabbed her finger at the man's dimple in the photograph. "And the eyes. I've memorized the man's eyes. They look the same as Filippo the Flying Wonder's." Emma's heart raced.

The iceman's truck pulled up to the curb. Emma and Nan stared at the huge, shirtless man in overalls as he carried an enormous block of ice on his shoulder into Brosky's.

"Don't you see?" Emma said more softly, looking around to make sure no one was watching them. "Now's my chance ... tomorrow at the circus. I'm going to find out if this man could really be — my ... father." Emma tore the poster off the window, rolled it up into a narrow cylinder and stuck it down her back, between her blouse and undershirt.

Nan stared at her bug-eyed. "Emma! Honestly! What are you going to do with that?"

"Keep it."

"Okay. But then what? How do you plan to find this Filippo guy? And besides, what if that photograph isn't your mother's? Maybe she's saving it for someone else. Maybe it's not your father. Why don't you just ask her?"

"Are you kidding? If she knew I was snooping in her bureau, she'd whup me good. You know she won'ttalk about my father." When Emma was little, she thought Mother might have plucked her out of a basket floating in the river, like baby Moses. Then she found the photograph in the drawer and began to put two and two together. And now, here was Filippo the Flying Wonder who looked so much like the man in the photograph! He truly could be her father. Why else would Mother have that photograph in her bureau? Emma had to find out the truth, and now was her chance. Except she had little time. The poster said there was only one performance — tomorrow afternoon at two. The circus would be setting up before dawn tomorrow and leaving after The Big Show.

"So, what are you going to do?" Nan asked.

"Help set up the circus like Eddie Glover and Hank Swensen did last summer. That way, I can look around. Meet the circus people and find Filippo the Flying Wonder. If I work hard enough, I can earn a ticket to the Big Show and see him."

A shadow fell across the sidewalk. Emma felt a yank on her braid.

"So, I see you didn't drown," Clarence said, his ginger hair a mess of sweaty tangles, his abundant freckles glistening in the hot sun.

"Didn't fall either. Walked the whole bridge railing." Emma lifted her chin, at the same time hiding the book that held the secret photograph behind her and out of Clarence's view.

"Yah, I bet."

"Just ask Teddy." Emma suspected Clarence had stayed to watch her, hidden somewhere out of sight. Just didn't want to admit it.

"He'd lie for you any day, and you know it. What's this about the circus, anyway?" Clarence asked.

"Emma is going to work to earn a ticket," Nan said. "Like Eddie and Hank did last summer."

Emma pressed down hard on Nan's patent leather shoe with her bare foot.

"Emma Monroe, a circus roustabout. Ain't that the funniest thing I ever heard?" Clarence threw his head back and howled.

Emma felt that urge to let loose the temper Mother said she had to tame. She jabbed Clarence's ribs with her elbow, and said fiercely, "I am going to get a job at the circus grounds!" She jutted out her chin. "I am."

"Yeah? Like heck you are." Clarence pushed Emma's shoulder. Lucky, who sat panting in a narrow slice of shade close to the building, barked. "You could never get a job setting up the circus. Girls ain't allowed. It's a man's work." Clarence grinned, flexing his measly arms. Two poor excuses for muscles sprouted like cherry pits under his baby pink skin. His freckled face beaded up with even more sweat in the noonday sun. While Clarence's eyes were shut under the strain of his muscular prowess, Emma handed Nan the Nancy Drew book with the photograph.

"That's nothing. Look at these!" Emma bent her elbows, clenched her fists, and pumped up two muscles of her own, bigger than Clarence's, even though he was a boy and fourteen, two whole years older than Emma. But Emma could chin herself twenty times, do backwards flips, climb a flagpole, and walk across the Kinzie Avenue Bridge railing! All sorts of tricks that Clarence could only dream of doing.


Excerpted from "Catch Me When I Fall"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Bonnie Graves.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Catch Me When I Fall 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
AReaderMS More than 1 year ago
The Big Top! Elephants! Trapeze artists! The sawdust swirls through this enchanting read by Bonnie Graves, catching young readers up into a thrilling world gone by, filled with sights, sounds, colors, and scents that convince them that indeed, they are there, under the Big Top in 1932, in the midst of the Depression, in Racine, Wisconsin, hitching a ride along with Emma, a lovable, spunky twelve year old. This delightful story of Emma Monroe, determined to find the identity of her father, will hook readers from the beginning chapter. There are many secrets to which Emma will discover the answers, but to do so, she must first disguise herself as a boy and find work at the traveling circus, watering elephants, while trying to escape the stern, watchful eye of her mother and the meddling mischief of her cousins. Enterprising, courageous, and resourceful, Emma is sure to win the hearts of young readers as they venture with her into the colorful, vivid world of the circus. Graves's ability to create memorable, sensory details transports readers right onto the circus grounds and helps readers empathize deeply with Emma and her quest to discover her father's identity. The suspense and tension builds with each succeeding chapter, building to a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion, bearing true witness to the title, CATCH ME WHEN I FALL. Young readers will thoroughly enjoy this rollicking adventure, filled with heart and humor, and will come to view their own personal challenges with hope, encouragement, and inspiration. If Emma can do it….!