A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The villagers change their view toward the animals after a tiger’s heroic act and then work together to protect the animals.
Positive Role Models
Rather than let the cruel circus owner collect the animals he abandoned, the villagers protect their new friends. But the ship captain, described as “honest and sincere,” goes along with the captain’s selfish orders.
Violence & Scariness
The circus ship goes down in a storm, and the circus owner leaves the animals to drown. A baby is rescued from a fire. The circus owner is powerfully drawn as a mean, intimidating bully.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know this picture book means well, but the bullying circus owner is so aggressively angry it’s hard to enjoy the pleasures of the book. Kids might be unsettled by the opening shipwreck scene, in which the circus owner orders the captain to leave the animals to drown in the water. Later, a young child trapped in a violently burning building is rescued by a tiger.
Is It Any Good?
There’s no shortage of bad guys in children’s stories, of course, but Mr. Paine is a little over the top in a story that feels contrived. Young kids -- for whom, typically, a circus is a source of delight rather than disgust -- may very well be taken aback by the sheer awfulness of this frightening grown-up bully. He hurls himself about the story, red-faced and corpulent, overwhelming the lighthearted touches. The rhyming text moves along easily enough, but the big twists in the plot -- the heroic tiger, and the sudden return of Mr. Paine -- are dispatched in a rush.
The idea of these strange animals stumbling ashore in 19th-century Maine is intrinsically fun, and Van Dusen offers some delightful scenes. One of the best moments is a simple hidden pictures-style two-page spread in which the 15 circus animals are disguised around the town: a camel as a haystack, an ostrich as a tree, and so on. Mr. Paine scratches his head in frustration, but kids will delight in finding each animal.
So brightly colored they veer toward gaudy, the best illustrations invite kids to explore the ways the circus animals have become part of village life.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.