“The idea behind this action-adventure for readers 8-and-up is to draw attention to respect for parents and positive discipline,” the author says. “I thought it would be interesting to show a character who starts out by pretending to run away so his parents would miss him. He’s tired of them telling him what to do, or punishing him when he disobeyed.”
When Michael Ellis and his little dog Barney climb up into a railroad box car filled with hay, they intend to stay there only long enough for his parents to start worrying about him. “But things get much more complicated,” Anderson says, “when the boy and his dog fall asleep in the soft hay. A train backs into his car to hook it onto its long line of other cars. The force of that impact jolts Michael’s box car, slamming the massive sliding door shut. Now he and Barney are prisoners.”
The train caries Michael and Barney clear across the country until they finally stop somewhere in Georgia, in the middle of the night. There Mike meets a grown up runaway who is now a clown in the circus. Big Bob helps to teach Mike that you don’t always know how good things are until they’re gone.
“Barney becomes the star of the circus,” Anderson said, “and this causes Mike to consider staying in the circus for good. And it’s Mike and Barney who save the circus from men who intend to destroy it. Then Big Bob reveals a secret about his life that changes everything for Mike.”
By the end of the adventure, Mike’s encounter with a grown-up runaway helps him understand that his parents truly love him. “Parents often punish their children, but only because they love and want what is best for them,” Anderson says, “not because they don’t care.”