cover image WORLDS AFIRE


Paul B. Janeczko, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2235-0

Janeczko, who has edited such standout collections as A Poke in the I , here takes on an ambitious task: a novel in verse about a circus fire in Hartford, Conn., on July 6, 1944. Separated into three parts (before, during and after the fire), the 29 poems together create an impression of the devastation that resulted in the deaths of 167 people. Only four of the speakers are children, but their poems are the most affecting. In Part I, 11-year-old Polly McDonald says, "I'd've been happy to stay/ in the animal tent all day,/ but Aunt Betty insisted/ we see the show," and 13-year-old Anne Bibby blames her mother for missing the circus because the woman has to work. As the novel unfolds, the irony of both girls' words becomes clear. In Part II, when the fire has started, 13-year-old Donald Hutchinson recalls the kinds of details that people become aware of in times of crisis: "I was under the bleachers/ .../ I'd scooped/ three quarters,/ a half-eaten Baby Ruth bar,/ and a linen handkerchief/ with the initials NVE ." The 25 poems from the adults' perspectives are less compelling; the arsonist's confession seems vague, for instance, and because the audience doesn't get to know the townspeople, their words likely won't pull readers in as much as the children's do. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)