From the circus maximus of ancient Rome to today's Big Top, the circus holds a special fascination for both young and old. I remember attending one as a child with my family and then pretending for days to be an animal trainer and a tightrope walker. In this exciting, engrossing book, Linda Granfield chronicles the evolution of the circus. While most of us associate P.
T. Barnum and the Ringling Brothers (there were seven of them!) with circus history, we probably don't know how circuses have evolved in other countries. For example, the circus tradition is so strong in Russia that in 1926 the country opened the first school for circus performers in the world, and by 1980 there were 127 circuses in Russia.
But this fascinating volume is much more than a retrospective. It presents every aspect of circus life from the pre-performance parades and clown costumes and makeup to the animal acts of such famous trainers as Gunther Gebel-Williams. Every page has new and interesting facts from past and present combined with colorful photos and illustrations. Do you know how pink lemonade originated? Or that Jumbo the elephant came from London in 1882 over the protests of Queen Victoria? There's even a list of circus movies, including Walt Disney's Dumbo (1941) and Trapeze (1956) starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, and Gina Lollobrigida.
Circus: An Album is also fair-minded as it takes a look at some of the controversial issues around circuses: sideshows cheats, poor treatment of performing animals, cramped living accommodations, and sporadic education for children of performers.
A Canadian citizen for more than 20 years, Granville is the author of several popular nonfiction books for middle-grade readers including the award-winning Cowboy: An Album. In preparation for Circus, she spent four years researching the history and legends of circus life. Her work is an excellent source for students doing research projects as well as entertaining reading for all ages. In fact you won't be able to put it down unless the real circus comes to town.
Etta Wilson is the Children's Book Editor of BookPage.