The Circus Ship

The Circus Ship

4.4 11
by Chris Van Dusen

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With stunning artwork and a rhyming text, the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books tells a tale of human-animal connection full of humor and heart.

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their


With stunning artwork and a rhyming text, the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books tells a tale of human-animal connection full of humor and heart.

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the critters blend in that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, villagers of all species conspire to outsmart the bloated blowhard. With buoyant rhymes and brilliantly caricatured illustrations evoking the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen presents a hugely entertaining tale about the bonds of community — and a rare hidden-pictures spread for eagle-eyed readers of all ages.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1—After their steamship en route to Boston is wrecked in a storm, a troupe of circus animals escapes bad treatment and disaster, finding its way to an island off the coast of Maine. The 1800s residents are surprised to find zebras eating their gardens and alligators lounging on woodpiles. Sympathies change when a tiger saves a toddler from a blazing shed. When a messenger announces that the cruel circus owner is returning to claim his menagerie, the citizens assist the animals in disguises and camouflage that confound him, leaving the friends to a peaceful coexistence. Van Dusen's rhymed text keeps a rollicking beat. His illustrations burst with color and energy and utilize perspective and texture to add drama and humor. Period details create a counterpoint with elements like a gorilla in a lifeboat. The spread of the animals in "hiding" is pure genius. The book honors the real circus animals that inspired this story.—Gay Lynn Van Vleck, Henrico County Library, Glen Allen, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Van Dusen's rhyming text takes inspiration from an 1836 shipwreck, but fanciful fun, not tragedy, awaits readers here. The 15 animals aboard The Royal Star swim to an island off Maine after the ship runs aground and the circus's owner, Mr. Paine, abandons them. At first they shock villagers and run mischievously amok. A fire in a farm shed-with little Emma Rose Abbott inside!-engenders a dramatic rescue by the tiger, whose skill in leaping through flames comes into play. Amusingly, animals and villagers collude to thwart Mr. Paine's attempt to reclaim his menagerie. The verse is sprightly, but the pictures are the true stunners. Bright, lampooning gouaches (familiar from the Mercy Watson series) and dizzying perspective perfectly suit this picaresque tale. The reprehensible Mr. Paine is an apoplectic giant striding into the placid village at sunset. Huge, leaping flames dramatize the tiger's riveting heroics. Children will pore over panoramic spreads that invite them to find each of the 15 animals and celebrate a denouement that serves up Mr. Paine's just deserts. Splendid! (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)
Publishers Weekly
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—8. (Sept.)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.60(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Chris Van Dusen is the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo. He wrote and illustrated IF I BUILT A CAR, an E.B. White Read Aloud Award Winner. He lives in Maine.

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The Circus Ship 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
raven12882 More than 1 year ago
We originally borrowed this book from the library and the whole family loved it so much we bought a copy for our 3 year old son. I also sent a copy to my nephew. The illustrations are fun and vivid. The rhyme scheme is brilliant and it's very fun to read out loud. There is even a page near the end that is like a search and find game. My son loves to try to find all the animals. Chris Van Dusen is now my favorite children's book writer. I recommend all his books including "If I built a Car" and "If I built a House".
kidsbooksRmything More than 1 year ago
I have been reading picture books to my kids for over 16 years and professionally for almost as long and I can tell you with certainty that it is VERY difficult to write a story that rhymes and rhymes WELL. Van Dusen has done just this. His story is full of alliteration, internal rhymes and an overall great sound. I can read this book out loud and not even look at the text most of the time, the rhymes are so perfect! But that is only half of the brilliance of this book!!! Van Dusen's illustrations are INCREDIBLE!!! There is a two page spread that comes near the end of the book that always has my litter listeners getting as close to the book as possible - there are 15 circus animals hidden amongst a normal "main street" scene and the kids NEVER get tired of spotting them. I can read this book over and over quite happily! It makes a beautiful gift!
kiwi-mum More than 1 year ago
I have a girl of seven and a boy of eight and both loved it. The pictures are bright and funny and capture the children's imagination. The story has a flowing rhythm and rhyme that the children follow along with. When you want to encourage children to look at books and to start reading on their own this one is a winner.
dudley-_ More than 1 year ago
My Grandson had so much fun trying to find all the different animals on each of the pages. He also found it quite interesting that ladies wore bloomers under their skirts in the old days. He thought that would be quite cumbersome. Not his favorite Chris Van Dusen book, but very enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We bought this book for my son when he was 3, he's now 4 and he still loves this book! It's a rhyming book with an entertaining story and great pictures. My son loves this one page where you have to find the circus animals. We've bought this book for his friends, too.
nafyboocs More than 1 year ago
I have a 3 year old daughter and she requests that both her father and I both read this story to her EVERY night. It's a fun story and easy to read. She also loves looking for all the animals when they're hiding on the island. All in all a GREAT book. I definitely recommend it to anyone who reads to their children.
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AnAbundanceofBooks More than 1 year ago
Jaunty rhymes take us through the story of fifteen circus animals who were abandoned by Mr. Paine, the circus owner, during the sinking of their ship. They swim through the night and finally make it to an island just before dawn. The exhausted animals wandered throughout the village looking for a place to rest (or some daisies to munch on). Unfortunately the poor villagers didn't know what to make of the tiger in the tulips, the python in the pantry, or the monkey swinging from the laundry line. People are upset with the animals, but this all changes when a shed catches fire with a child inside. The tiger saw the smoke and fire and it "triggered something in his head". He jumped into the burning shed and came back out with little Emma Rose. The townspeople now viewed the animals in a different light and the former circus animals became a part of the village. And just when it seems that nothing could possibly go wrong, they hear that Mr. Paine has learned that the animals survived and he's coming to take them back! Well, neither the villagers nor their new residents were going to take this lying down, so they hatched a plan. When the blowhard Mr. Paine comes striding into the village demanding his animals back, he runs into a slight problem. He can't seem to find his missing fifteen animals. There's a great double spread illustration that has all fifteen animals hiding in plain sight. My students had a fun trying to find them all (the cheetah and the alligator were the hardest!). Paine tears through the town looking for his performers but has to give up when his boat takes off without him. The brightly colored illustrations are so wonderfully detailed. This is a great book to look at on your own in order to find all the animals and little surprises Van Dusen has sprinkled throughout. While some might worry that The Circus Ship might be a little too dark for younger children, I read it to my 5 and 6 year-olds and they absolutely loved it. Mr. Paine is easily identified as the bad guy and the animals all get a happily ever after. There is an author's note at the back of the book telling of the story of the Royal Tar, the circus ship that inspired the book but had a much sadder ending. I also shared this information with my students, acknowledged it was sad, but that the author had made a story where all of the animals get a happy ending. Kids were dragging their parents in after school to checkout the book.