Sunday 8 February 2015

The Circus Ship

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen’s brilliant new book is created with rhyming verse and full page illustrations using caricatures. This is a fantastic tale inspired by a real happening in 1836, with the Royal Tar, a steamer sailing to Maine with 103 passengers and a complete circus.

Animals like people, never forget kindness or brutality. This strong theme flows throughout this beautifully created and designed book.

The Circus Ship steams through the fog towards its destination. Although the Captain suggests they drop anchor and wait for visibility to clear, the grumpy circus boss demands they keep going. The ship unfortunately smashes against something unseen. The terrified animals end up with some swimming for their lives, and others clinging to bits of debris as the ship sinks.

Cold and frightened, the animals come ashore at a village. They hope it’s a haven of safety. But at the sight of animals coming and going, the villagers are filled with terror.

It is in the evening that things shift. A shed catches fire. A child is trapped inside.

The circus tiger that had ‘jumped through flames a thousand times’ did what he had been trained to do, and the child is saved. ‘The tiger’s risky rescue changed everybody’s mind.’ When the crabby circus owner appears and wants the animals to put them back to work, they are nowhere to be found.

This stunning book is a work of art in every way. Everything is alive on the page. The striking colour of the illustrations in gouache, both characters and settings, create a feast for the eyes. They must be looked at in silence. The rhyming text must be read aloud for maximum pleasure for it is music to the ears.

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