cover image  To the Big Top

To the Big Top

Jill Esbaum, , illus. by David Gordon. . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-39934-4

Esbaum (Ste-e-e-e-eam-boat a-Comin'! ) and Gordon (Smitten ) whisk readers to turn-of-the-century days when a circus could take a small town by storm. When a circus hand asks Benny, the narrator, and his friend Sam if they know where he “can find me a couple of strong boys to help with the elephants,” the two land jobs as junior roustabouts (“We lugged water till our shoulders ached,”) and earn themselves a nickel each and two free tickets. As Esbaum moves the duo from backstage to the choice seats in the Big Top, she handily captures the flavor of pre-electricity days, especially in her use of vintage vernacular (Benny remarks at one auspicious moment, “I was so bumfuzzled I couldn't unwind my tongue”). Gordon's human characters are vanilla, but the circus animals have an appropriately exotic majesty, and his big scenes—the unloading of the circus train, the big parade down Main Street—bustle with a sense of sweep and heady pleasure. Ages 5–8. (May)