In May of 1884, the Ringling Brothers first began their circus performances, with traveling animal acts, acrobats, clowns, and a range of other performers. This year, we recommend a trio of picture books to celebrate the magic of the circus experience. For some family ideas for celebrating Circus Day, click here for craft ideas, games, and other activities. Raising Our Kids also has posted some free, printable circus coloring pages for quiet downtime, or to occupy little hands during–and after– readalouds.
Circus by Lois Ehlert
We are big fans of Lois Ehlert’s books, with their bright bold colors and enticing cut-paper collage. Circus is Ehlert at her best, with quirky but spot-on choices to represent circus magic. The ring-master tells the story by introducing each amazing animal or act, like the Pretzel Brothers, a pair of leaping lizards, Hugo, the world’s largest elephant, and marching snakes. There is even a very lovable clown (which is good, because clowns tend to be a bit creepy for many of us). The text and pictures capture the sounds, sights, and smells of the circus ( in a good way!), and can lead to terrific dramatic play for little ones as they act out the story.
The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen
This delightful adventure is set in the 1800’s, and allows young readers to see circus life from the circus animals’ point of view. On a steamship on their way to perform in Boston, the animals are shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Maine. It’s a great escape for the animals from their cruel circus boss, but the people on the island are not so happy to find elephants walking through their gardens, monkeys hanging from their clotheslines, and exotic snakes wandering through their pantries. But the tide turns when the tiger saves a young child, and the townspeople come together to do the same for the animals. The illustrations are bright, energetic, and humorous, and children love the rhyming text. Thanks to Ben and Jake for introducing Aunt Ruth to this great book!
Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer
We love Olivia’s expansive and magical imagination! In this Olivia tale, she tells her class how she spent her summer vacation–under the circus bigtop! She explains to her classmates that when “all the circus people were out sick with ear infections,” luckily she was able to take over because, modestly put, she knew how to do everything! She walks on stilts, juggles, and best of all, she is Queen of the Trampoline. Olivia is always hilarious, from her funny facial and body expressions to her fashion sense (here, as the temporary tattooed lady), to her droll story-telling. Olivia is quickly becoming our family’s favorite pig in literature!