The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
During this time of staying safe at home while schools are closed, I've had the opportunity to join a few virtual classrooms and read to my students. The best part is getting to see their faces again, and the second best part is perusing my personal library to find something I have never read to them before that also works well when being held up to a computer camera. While the rich, color saturated illustrations are lost a little, reading by Chris Van Dusen's 2009 picture book, The Circus Ship was a treat to revisit and a hit with the kids. Hopefully, you know Van Dusen's work already. When authoring his own picture books, he is a masterful, playful rhymer. And, whether illustrating his own work of that of others (most notably Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series) his illustrations are always full of energy and detail, color and complexity.

Inspired by a true, but tragic story (see the author's note at the end of the book) Van Dusen gives his story a happy ending. It's the 1800s and a ship off the coast of Maine is carrying circus owner, Mr. Paine, and his menagerie of fifteen animal performers, a lion, tiger, elephant, ostrich, zebra, boa constrictor, monkey and hippo among them. Traveling at night and in a thick fog, the ship hits a ledge and begins to sink. when it hits a rock and sinks. The animals manage to swim to land and, walking on shore, head towards a small town. The animals cause a commotion and the townsfolk, leaving the townsfolk unsure of what to do. When the tiger rushes into a burning building to save a little girl, their opinions change and they quickly learn to live together happily. But, when the selfish circus owner comes looking for his possessions, the townsfolk cleverly hide the animals and he leaves, angry and empty handed. One of my all time favorite picture book illustrations is the two page spread (which you can buy an original print of!) that is a wide view of the center of town, rolling green hills surrounding it, all fifteen animals cleverly disguised. Readers LOVE looking for them all, and it is a wonderful challenge. It's also a treat to see Mr. Paine get his due in the end!

You can purchase The Circus Ship in paperback, but I suggest hardcover because it's a keeper! Don't miss these other favorite Van Dusen titles of mine. When I was a substitute librarian, I brought If I Built a House with me to every new school because it was always a hit, with all grades.

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