The Circus Ship

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen


The Circus Ship is inspired by the real shipwreck of the Royal Tar in 1836 off the coast of Maine (author’s note included in the back of the book). Van Dusen writes the story in rhyme which makes it excellent for reading aloud. There are also lots of great vocabulary words like thrashing, helm, daft, bothersomebedraggled, menagerie!

The story begins with a ship carrying fifteen circus animals bound for their next show in Boston. Despite the dangerous weather, the mean Circus Master pushes the captain on through the fog. The ship crashes and the animals are left to fend for themselves in the waves. Luckily they swim to shore but unluckily, the people of the small town they land in are annoyed by their presence! One night, a shed goes up in flames, one animal saves the day and in the process, changes the minds of the townspeople. There’s a page where all the animals hide from the Circus Master and you have to look carefully to find each animal in the illustrations; it’s so very clever and interactive!

Van Dusen is a masterful illustrator; I love his attention to detail and characterization. Pay attention to how sad the animals look while aboard the circus ship compared to how happy they are to be accepted as members of the community. The gouache paintings are lush; this is the “perfect” animal book and your child will enjoy pointing them out. I love the page where the Circus Master stomps into town, legs astride, fingers pressed into his chest, with a haughty expression on his face. The Circus Ship is an excellent story of community and friendship that is sure to please and become a favorite.

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Animals, Community, Vocabulary
Book Info: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, 2009 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763655921


Thanksgiving PSA


My Korean students’ hand turkeys. Assignment was to write what they were most thankful for. 🙂 Click image to view more closely, then click again to zoom! 


Well, it’s that time of year when teachers and parents look for books that celebrate Thanksgiving. Ultimately, Thanksgiving in the United States is a holiday to give thanks, eat copious amounts of food and spend time with family. The history of the holiday however is very much sugar coated and this is evident in a lot of Thanksgiving children’s literature…

If diverse literature is necessary for our children’s growth, we must be sure to let diverse voices speak, and speak clearly and true.

Most people don’t even know that the Pilgrims interacted with Wampanoag Indians. People just know about “Pilgrims and Indians.” There is rarely any discussion about what happened after the sharing of food (broken treaties, take-over of land, violence and disease). Some people think that children are too young to know the real history but I beg to differ; almost any topic can be brought to a level that children can understand and handle. The relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag involved understanding and protection. There were treaties, agreements and opportunities for celebration. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims how to harvest and survive on their land. The first “Thanksgiving” as we’ve come to call it, happened in 1621 and was a result of the Pilgrims shooting off guns to celebrate a successful harvest. Wampanoag leader Massasoit sent warriors to check out the ruckus but realized they were just celebrating, so he and his men joined in on the celebrations, hunted and brought food.

Perhaps many teachers are anxiously waiting to see their students dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians but please keep in mind that 1) There is a long and problematic history of “playing Indian” and cultural appropriation in our country’s history 2) dressing up as Native peoples reinforces the idea that Native people are only in the past; most people in the U.S. can’t name any contemporary Native American activists, musicians, writers, actors, lawmakers, etc. Also, many children’s books don’t bother to accurately illustrate the regalia (not costumes) of Wampanoag people; any old “Indian outfit” will do as long as it is cute. Representation is important.

Listed below is one really cool book and several GREAT links and resources for your consideration this Thanksgiving season.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble Gobble!


1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (I Am American) by Catherine O’Neil Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, 2004 National Geographic Children’s Books, ISBN: 9780792261391

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving– Really great resource from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

The Real History of Thanksgiving Teacher’s Guide– History Channel Resource

Best Thanksgiving Books for Children– Good list of books

Are You Teaching the Real Story of the “First Thanksgiving?”– Great Education World article

What Really Happened on the First Thanksgiving? -Indian Country Today Media Network Article Thanksgiving article and book list