Friday, December 4, 2009

The circus is coming!

The author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen was inspired by a real-life tragedy to create his delightful (and not tragic) picture book, The Circus Ship. In his book, a steamship runs aground near the coast of Maine in a dense fog and the 15 animals aboard all swim to safety on a nearby island. The human residents are a bit nonplussed: "There's a tiger in the tulips." But when the aforementioned tiger rescues a little girl from a burning building (since he remembers what he supposed to do when he sees fire), humans and animals settle in to a pleasant co-existence. But then the evil Mr. Paine, "owner" of the circus animals shows up on the island to get them back. The animals all hide in plain sight (a deliciously puzzling two-page spread) and Mr. Paine stomps away forever.

The real-life story, which Van Dusen explains in his author's note, was that of the Royal Tar, which sank off the coast of Maine in 1836. All the animals aboard were drowned.

Except for that page spread where you need to pause in order to look closely to find all the animals (a snake serves as an exotic shawl for example), this is a fun book to listen to. The story is all told in rhyming couplets (mostly), so a read-aloud works very well. The narrator, Andrew Watts, keeps to the rhyme but takes the opportunity to vary his delivery as called for in the book's dramatic action. He voices a few characters -- most notably the pompous bluster of Mr. Paine.

Easily the most recognizable voice at Recorded Books (and possibly the industry), George Guidall, reads the author's note. His calm, authoritative delivery tells the sad story with dispassion. Those who know small children who love animals may wish to stop the audiobook before this point.

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