cover image The Circus Ship

The Circus Ship

Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3090-4

Mr. Paine, the greedy, mustachioed manager of a 19th-century circus, browbeats his ship's captain into sailing onward on a foggy night: "Don't stop! Keep going!/ I've got a show to do!/ Just get me down to Boston town/ tomorrow, sir, by two!" The ship crashes and sinks, but the animals swim to a small Maine island, where they confound the villagers until the tiger saves a girl from a fire. After that, the islanders help hide the animals when Mr. Paine returns for them. Van Dusen's (the Mercy Watson books) verse is tightly constructed, and his cartoonlike spreads are polished, literally and figuratively: the exaggerated chins and noses of the humans gleam, and sunsets and firelight illuminate the scenes dramatically. Other than Mr. Paine, readers don't get too close to any of the characters; the focus is on the action. The fantasy of African wildlife on a quiet Maine island will absorb a read-aloud audience, and a clever hide-and-seek page lets readers hunt for the animals, which are concealed from Mr. Paine. A final page supplies the story's (much sadder) historical source. Ages 4%E2%80%948. (Sept.)