Parents' Guide to

The Great and Only Barnum

By Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Fascinating, thorough look at the showman and his time.

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This skillful, nuanced biography is a feast for curious minds. In the center ring, of course, is the captivating story of Barnum himself. Candace Fleming’s engaging portrait shows this complicated man as he wished to be remembered, as he was seen by friends and detractors, and as he lived in private. This is a man who put "human curiosities" on display, yet paid them handsomely for the time, and who once bought and exhibited a slave yet later advocated allowing black Americans to vote. Amid the spectacle, she reveals a man with an astounding work ethic -- he rebounded from bankruptcy, devastating fires, and public disgrace -- and a love for life.
The narrative is embroidered with plentiful extras, including profiles of people in Barnum’s life, colorful anecdotes starring Barnum, illustrations and ephemera, and even an introduction to circus lingo. Ray Fenwick’s circus-inspired illustrations and designs pull everything together in a captivating package. An annotated bibliography, a list of relevant websites, and source notes give engaged readers a wealth of further material to explore.

The thematic artwork, inspired by 19th-century designs, makes this an immersive experience.

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