If there’s ever a picture book that encapsulates everything amazing, spectacular and fascinating about circuses in their heyday in the 19th and 20th centuries, this is it.
Featuring an incredible lineup of the most famous acts in the history of American circuses, including contortionists, snake charmers, boxing kangaroos and Houdini (my son’s favourite!), these are loosely organised alphabetically according to the adjectives used to describe them. Every page showcases one particular act, with a richly detailed full-page illustration beautifully painted with oils to look like a circus bill — i.e. a printed advertisement used to promote the circus’s arrival — along with a short description.
While there were probably many issues about the mistreatment of circus animals, before the advent of TV, movies, video games, the Internet and, uh, Cirque du Soleil, these travelling circuses brought much excitement and entertainment to people all over the world. And since my kids will probably never get a chance to see a real circus, I’m glad that books like this exist to preserve at least a little of their magic for them.