cover image Barnyard Big Top

Barnyard Big Top

Jill Kastner. Simon & Schuster, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80484-7

Kastner (Snake Hunt) lightens her palette and loosens her style to tell a free-wheeling tale of a circus that comes to town and turns a boy's life upside-down. When Uncle Julius appears on the family farm with his ""fabulous Two-Ring Extravaganza"" and asks Ben to ""keep an eye on things while I visit,"" the boy has an adventure that any youngster will likely find enviable. Jovial clowns and circus animals draw a crowd when they accompany him to town to buy tiger food. Returning home, Ben discovers that his tutu-clad pig, Clarence, whom he's left in charge, hasn't done such a swell job: ""Clarence swore he didn't know how Bertha [the cow] ended up on top of the barn."" Despite some additional, good-humored confusion (fire fighters descend on an unalarmed flame-swallower), the big-top show goes on in high style, complete with Ben's aunts doing ""death-defying"" tricks on motorcycles. Kastner's buoyant oil paintings brim with sideshows worthy of applause: a lion sucks nonchalantly on the wrong end of a lollipop, Clarence rides a unicycle on the high wire, a performer flies through the air over the barnyard--with no trapeze in sight. The dauntless Clarence's preposterous acrobatic feats alone are worth the price of admission. Ages 4-7. (Oct.)