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Undertow by Michael BuckleyIn Michael Buckley’s gripping new YA novel Undertow, Coney Island is a dystopia known as “the Zone, the DMZ and Fish City.” Its famed amusement parks and Mermaid Parade are long abandoned. The neighborhood has been fenced off from the rest of New York City and turned into a militarized zone since a warrior race of sea people called the Alpha swam ashore and raised a tent city on the beach.

The book’s narrator is Lyric Walker, a feisty 16-year-old Coney Islander who is thrust into the spotlight when her high school is opened to six Alpha teens. A movie version of the story would be a dream job for a make-up department: “Many have scales. Others have jagged rows of teeth, and mouths like open wounds,” Lyric says of the Alpha students who have to be escorted past violent protestors by soldiers, cops and FBI agents. “One of them is a teenaged mountain of power, a slightly smaller version of the giant warriors who led the way. He has sunken eyes and tiny spikes on his neck, shoulders and forearms.” There’s also a girl with gelatinous skin through which her veins and bones can be seen and a golden god with a bruised face and serrated knives that pop out of his arms.

The golden god is the Alpha prince Fathom, who does battle nightly on the beach with his father’s challengers and wears his bruises like trophies. A mutual attraction develops between the charismatic prince and Lyric when the principal assigns her to be his tutor and meet with him privately every day. When their meetings incur the wrath of the xenophobic governor, the safety of Lyric’s family, who have been harboring a secret from their friends and neighbors, is put in jeopardy.

Lyric Walker is an engaging protagonist, as are the other characters in the book, including her parents, making it a great summer read for both teens and adults. Undertow climaxes with an epic battle on the beach in which Lyric literally learns to make waves. Readers rooting for a human-Alpha romance will be happy to know this is the first novel of a trilogy.

In an interview, Buckley says that Undertow took its inspiration from a refugee crisis that made headlines last year. Tens of thousands of children fled Central America and came to the U.S. where they were imprisoned while elected officials called for electrified fences at the border, similar to the ones in his novel. The Brooklyn resident’s best-selling middle grade series the Sisters Grimm and NERDS have sold more than four million copies and appear in 22 languages.

On Tuesday, May 19, BookCourt at 163 Court Street in Brooklyn is hosting an author reading, audience Q & A and book signing at 7pm.

Undertow by Michael Buckley. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. Hardcover, $18.99

Related posts on ATZ…

December 1, 2014: Autumn Reading: Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!

November 10, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

June 19, 2011: Coney Island Summer Reading: The Wonder City

June 14, 2011: Coney Island Summer Reading: Dreamland Social Club

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Step Right UpAfter Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island got lucky when a rare vintage 1940’s Mangels shooting gallery from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was brought out of storage, restored, and installed at Coney Island USA’s Surf Avenue storefront. As far as we know, it’s the only one of its kind in operation that is open to the public. Since many shooting galleries were sold for scrap iron during World Wars I and II, you’re more likely to come across cast-iron and sheet-metal targets in the shape of birds and beasts, cowboys and Indians, and soldiers and torpedo boats in folk art collections than as a game in an amusement park.

Richard and Valerie Tucker’s passion for collecting figural cast iron began in the`early 1980s with the acquisition of a row of doves from a William F. Mangels’ gallery manufactured in Coney Island. Thirty years later, they own hundreds of shooting gallery targets from a variety of manufacturers. Step Right Up! Classic American Target and Arcade Forms is a sumptuous coffee table art book with more than 225 color images of American and European targets along with a sampling of carnival banners, signs and game pieces. As the first and only book on the subject, the volume is valuable to collectors and of special interest to fans of carnival art and antiques.

In addition to Mangels, the 144-page book has chapters on C.W. Parker of Kansas, William Wurfflein of Philadelphia, the John T. Dickman Company of Los Angeles and Chicago manufacturers Evans, Hoffmann, Mueller, and Smith, as well as miscellaneous targets and a few European targets. Essays by specialists on the manufacturers supplement illustrations from the Tuckers’ archive of catalogs, trade cards and other ephemera which are a great resource since the majority of targets have no trade marks.

Step Right Up! Richard and Valerie Tucker

Card Suits by WF Mangels. Private Collection. Photo: Kimberly Gavin/Kimberly Gavin Photography

One of our favorite target makers is C.W. Parker, who started out as a shooting gallery operator and soon got into the business of supplying traveling carnivals with a wide variety of attractions. Parker had a showman’s flair for borrowing design ideas from his fellow manufacturers and fashioning them into commercially successful shooting galleries and carousels.

No complete Parker galleries are known to exist or even to have been photographed, says Bob Goldsack, a Parker historian who wrote the book’s chapter on the self-proclaimed “Carnival King.” Parker’s highly detailed and mechanized targets included owls and eagles with flapping wings, whippets chasing rabbits, and the now politically incorrect circus animals, Indians, and Lincolnesque figure holding a sign that says “Hit Me” in a gallery advertised as “A New Political Shooting Gallery.”

A lecture and book signing by the authors will be held at the American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Ave at 66th St, in Manhattan, on December 18 at 6pm. Admission is free of charge.

Step Right Up! Classic American Target and Arcade Forms by Richard and Valerie Tucker. Schiffer Publishing, 2014. Hardcover, $45

Step Right Up! Richard and Valerie Tucker

Indian by CW Parker. Photo: Kimberly Gavin/Kimberly Gavin Photography

Related posts on ATZ…

September 5, 2013: Photo of the Day: Restored WF Mangels Shooting Gallery

February 28, 2013: Coney Island Shooting Gallery from 1940s Makes Comeback

September 28, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Auction of French Fairground Art

February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels

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Ward Hall BiographyThe official biography Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! was published with great fanfare earlier this year in celebration of Hall’s 70th anniversary in show business. More than a dozen years ago, while traveling with S & S Amusements as the High Striker Girl, ATZ had the honor of being on the same midway as Hall & Christ’s legendary World of Wonders. At the Great Allentown Fair, where the patrons love shows, the throng in front of the banner line and the torchlit bally stage conjured up the long ago golden age of the midway. Hearing Ward deliver his classic pitches against this backdrop was one of the unforgettable moments of the season.

In 1946, Ward Hall left his Colorado home at age 15 to join Dailey Bros. Circus after answering an ad in Billboard for a magician and fire eater. Though the teen did not yet know how to eat fire, a friendly canvasman taught him the skill and before long he was also working as an outside talker on the sideshow’s bally stage.

“I didn’t know what to say, so I looked over at Norma, who was selling tickets, and she hollered at me, ‘Tell ’em about the painted-face mandrill.’ Well, I did that and then I looked back at Norma and then she would tell me what to say next,” Ward recalls. By the 1960s, burlesque dancer Sally Rand had crowned Hall “The Silver Throated King of the Carnival Talkers” in an NBC documentary Carny. Sideshow historian James Taylor gave Hall the title “The King of the Sideshow” in the 1995 volume of Shocked and Amazed–On & Off the Midway.

Author Tim O’Brien, who first wrote about Ward as a reporter for Amusement Business, has masterfully researched and organized material spanning the showman’s career in sideshows, circuses, theater, movies and television, and his partnerships with Harry Leonard and Chris Christ. Photos, clippings and anecdotes from their life on the road are interspersed with chapters about the art of the bally, the value of the banner line, carny lingo, and Gibsonton, the Florida town fondly known as “Showtown USA,” which Hall and Christ call home.

Ward Hall Pete Terhune

Ward Hall and Pete Terhune. Photo © Paul Gutheil via Casa Flamingo

Among the subjects covered in the book are why there are so few sideshows and freak shows today compared to 30 years ago. Hall says it has to do with economics, not political correctness–spectacular rides have replaced shows on carnival and fair midways.

Also of interest are details of legal cases which were fought and won by Ward, such as a three-year court battle that successfully overturned the 1921 Florida law banning the exhibition of human oddities. The plaintiffs included Pete “Poobah” Terhune, a dwarf who worked with Ward and his partners for 55 years as a fire-eater, snake handler, circus clown and king of the pygmies. In the 1971 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because the plaintiffs “must be allowed to earn a livelihood.” The chapter “Ward Meets Pete: How a Dwarf Won the Heart of a King” is a loving tribute to Pete, who passed away at age 82 in 2012.

Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! The Official Biography by Tim O’Brien. Casa Flamingo Literary Arts, Nashville, TN, 2014. 262 pages, 100+ photos & illustrations, $24.99

Related posts on ATZ…

November 22, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Brooklyn Theatre Index of Coney Island, Brighton Beach & Manhattan Beach

November 10, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

November 23, 2013: More Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

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