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  • 2010 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book Award

    The Circus Ship written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen and published by Candlewick Press, 2009.

    Circus ShipMr. Carrington, the captain of a circus ship, tells the circus boss, Mr. Paine, that he needs to drop anchor and wait out the “fog as thick as stew.” However, Mr. Paine insists that they keep going. When the ship smashes into a ledge, the animals literally fly off. As Captain Carrington saves Mr. Paine, the animals are seen floundering about in the ocean. The next day the animals swim ashore to a Maine island. This double-page spread drenched in bright sunlight hints at a happy ending. Soon the townspeople find the animals everywhere from a “python in the pantry” to an “ostrich in the outhouse.” The people become more worried as the zebra eats Mrs. Dailey’s daisies, and Mr. Hood finds an alligator sleeping on his wood pile. All changes, though, when the tiger bravely jumps into a burning shed to rescue young Emma Rose. Now the townspeople find that “the animals aren’t bothersome; the animals were kind.” They all live happily together until they hear that greedy Mr. Paine wants his circus animals back. When he arrives on the island and looks everywhere, he cannot spot even one of his fifteen circus animals! They are cleverly hidden by the townspeople, and Mr. Paine finally runs off “in a fit of rage.” Now “it was a happy, peaceful place upon that isle in Maine.”

    Van Dusen’s gouache, cartoon style illustrations capture the details of this dramatic tale. Light is skillfully used to show the thick blue fog, the roaring glowing fire, and the brightly lit island setting.

    This highly entertaining story is one of those rare books that appeals to children across the ages. Children from ages three through ten enjoyed this story. One second grade teacher reported: “What a great experience! This book was fun, colorful and exciting to read and listen to . . . the illustrations were wonderful and the text contained a lot of teaching points.” Children especially enjoyed the hide-and-seek pages in which the animals hide from Mr. Paine. Readers had to pause or turn back to these pages so that children could find all fifteen of the animals. Both readers and older children appreciated the author’s note in which Van Dusen explains how he got the idea for his story from a real circus ship that had a much sadder ending.

    Chris Van Dusen lives in Maine with his family.