cover image Circus Train

Circus Train

Jos A. Smith, Joseph A. Smith. ABRAMS, $17.95 (38pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-4148-9

A boy's transition to a new neighborhood is eased by a somewhat arbitrary injection of fantasy in this uneven picture book. Timothy's lonesome, early-morning reverie is interrupted by ""clanks and rumbles, a long hissss followed by a moment's silence."" Still wearing his pajamas, he investigates, only to discover an old-fashioned circus train sitting on an abandoned track. The train has taken a wrong turn, the bridge ahead is out, and the engine can't back up. Timothy comes up with a solution: he puts the elephants to work inflating the cars like balloons, ties the whole shebang to Captain Von Boom and shoots him from his cannon, thus flying the train to its destination. ""Timothy, you have saved the circus,"" announces Carrot Top, the clown/engineer, as Timothy rides an elephant into the ring at that evening's performance. An abrupt ending makes sense only with the assistance of the final endpapers (in which Carrot Top recruits a gaggle of children to play baseball at Timothy's house), and the fussy typeface may well distract readers. Smith's (illus. of Clay Boy) workmanlike prose boasts occasional lyrical passages (""the house creaking as the sun warmed its night-chilled boards""), but the story line feels more like an opportunity for circus illustrations than compelling in its own right. The art more skillfully integrates fantasy and reality, especially with its expansive use of intriguing perspectives and its gatefold view of the airborne circus train. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)