To the Big Top

Overview

When the circus comes to Willow Grove, Benny and Sam are in for more excitement than they can shake a stick at: elephants and acrobats, candied apples and a calliope, even a snake enchantress. They can’t think of anything better than helping the circus men set up for the grand event – until the Big Top boss gives them two tickets for the show! But then Sam’s ticket disappears, and it’s up to Benny to save the best day ever.

A tribute to the great occasions and small gestures ...

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Overview

When the circus comes to Willow Grove, Benny and Sam are in for more excitement than they can shake a stick at: elephants and acrobats, candied apples and a calliope, even a snake enchantress. They can’t think of anything better than helping the circus men set up for the grand event – until the Big Top boss gives them two tickets for the show! But then Sam’s ticket disappears, and it’s up to Benny to save the best day ever.

A tribute to the great occasions and small gestures that children will remember for a lifetime, this boisterous tale about fun and friendship is enlivened by David Gordon’s jubilant illustrations.

To the Big Top is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Joyful illustrations...will give children, especially those who have never experienced a circus parade of big-top performance, a good idea of what it was like back then." —Booklist

"As Esbaum moves the duo from backstage to the choice seats in the Big Top, she handily captures the flavor of pre-electricity days, especially in her use of vintage vernacular (Benny remarks at one auspicious moment, "I was so bumfuzzled, I couldn't unwind my tongue") . Gordon's . . . big scenes—the unloading of the circus train, the big parade down Main Street—bustle with a sense of sweep and head pleasure."Starred, Publishers Weekly

"Gordon...lights up the event, bringing prime elements of the story forward, dressed in electric color, and painting the background in a haze; the illustrations' almost-can-taste-it, dreamlike quality takes readers to Back Then, when midway and sideshow were the real deal." —Kirkus Reviews

“Gordon’s vibrant illustrations depict the historical element while also conveying the dynamic relationship between the two friends. An inviting slice of Americana.”—School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly

Esbaum (Ste-e-e-e-eam-boat a-Comin'!) and Gordon (Smitten) whisk readers to turn-of-the-century days when a circus could take a small town by storm. When a circus hand asks Benny, the narrator, and his friend Sam if they know where he "can find me a couple of strong boys to help with the elephants," the two land jobs as junior roustabouts ("We lugged water till our shoulders ached,") and earn themselves a nickel each and two free tickets. As Esbaum moves the duo from backstage to the choice seats in the Big Top, she handily captures the flavor of pre-electricity days, especially in her use of vintage vernacular (Benny remarks at one auspicious moment, "I was so bumfuzzled I couldn't unwind my tongue"). Gordon's human characters are vanilla, but the circus animals have an appropriately exotic majesty, and his big scenes—the unloading of the circus train, the big parade down Main Street—bustle with a sense of sweep and heady pleasure. Ages 5-8. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 5 to 8.

Back in the early 1900s, having the circus come to town created more excitement than you could shake a stick at. When they heard the train approaching, Sam and Benny raced to the rail yard. In the midst of all the commotion of unloading, someone approached the friends and asked them to help feed the elephants. Then they helped with carrying boards for the seats of the big top. It was hard work, but they each had a nickel and a ticket to attend the circus when they finished. Their excitement grew as they watched the parade from a low-hanging tree limb and then walked down the midway. They were tempted to spend their nickels on the side-show, but Benny had his heart set on buying a candied apple, so they continued on. When they went through the menagerie, Sam grabbed Benny's apple to tease the monkey, but the monkey outsmarted him and lifted his ticket for the circus. Showing his true friendship, Sam made a great sacrifice to retrieve the ticket, and the boys went into the big tent. Overall, it was a perfect day. They kept exclaiming to each other, "It can't get better than this." And then it did. Colorful, realistic illustrations fill the pages with authentic details drawn from historic circuses, while sensitively depicting the emotions of two boys on an almost-perfect day. A nice historical piece. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 3

Set in the early 20th century, this tale about the circus has multiple layers. Benny and Sam are ecstatic when the circus train comes to Willow Grove, arriving at the rail yard where fancy wagons, wooden planks, and giant rolls of canvas are unloaded. As the tents are set up, a roustabout spots the boys watching and invites them to help. They are happy to lug water and carry boards and thrilled to each earn a nickel and a ticket to see the Big Top show. When Sam can't find his ticket and realizes that the circus monkey has snatched it, Benny kindly sacrifices his much-desired candy apple to get it back, and the boys are able to enjoy the performance. An author's note sets the stage by describing how these shows used to travel from town to town bringing animals, performers, workers, and supplies-"everything needed to construct a tent city entirely dependent upon itself." Gordon's vibrant illustrations depict the historical element while also conveying the dynamic relationship between the two friends. An inviting slice of Americana.-Susannah Richards, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Early 20th century, early morning, a train-whistle blows: The circus is coming to town. Two boys light out for the railyard, intent on being part of the action. They pick up odd jobs here and there, get a nickel here, and there they get-gadzooks-a ticket to the Big Top. When it comes time to parlay their nickels into something good-popcorn maybe, or a candied apple-Esbaum turns the story into a morality play, with one boy the straw dog of crass immaturity and the other a knight in righteous armor, and the clumsiness of the point-making steals the story's thunder. Fortunately, boys are a forgiving lot and the day is saved by what boys are also good at: trickery and getting on with it. It is Gordon who lights up the event, bringing prime elements of the story forward, dressed in electric color, and painting the background in a haze; the illustrations' almost-can-taste-it, dreamlike quality takes readers to Back Then, when midway and sideshow were the real deal. (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374399344
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/27/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

JILL ESBAUM is the author of Ste-e-e-e-eamboat a-Comin’!, an IRA Children’s Book Award Notable, and Stink Soup. She lives on a farm near Dixon, Iowa. DAVID GORDON has written and illustrated many books for children. He lives in New York City.

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