Circuses are changing up their acts today. The elephants and bears thank them for that. Yet storybook circuses maintain all the exotic showmanship and old-fashioned atmosphere…
…decked-out elephants, red-nosed clowns, and little dogs blasting out of cannons. No harm ever comes to them. Just jollyness.
I wonder a bit why circus stories still interest kids. Seems so by-gone to me. Yet one of the most talked-about picture books from 2014 revolves around a circus train, so…there you go. Just in time for you to put on your own neighborhood circus this summer…
The Farmer and the Clown, a wordless book by Marla Frazee
published in 2014 by Beach Lane Books
Here’s the book so many thought would garner a Caldecott last year, and with Marla Frazee’s name on it, we know we’re in for some gorgeous artwork.
It’s set in the old days of coal-fired steam engines, on a dusky plain in the middle-of-nowhere America. A white-bearded farmer is the lone figure on this lonesome stretch of land, bending his back to his chores. You can hear the very solitude in the opening scene, just the wind, the cawing of a few crows, and the scratch-scratch of hay against his iron pitchfork.
Then, chuffing along, comes a merry circus train. Black, puffing locomotive. Coal tender. Jolly red, yellow, and blue cars loaded with clowns and wild beasts. What a sight for that lonely farmer.
Suddenly — boop! The farmer sees something flying off the train! When he goes to inspect, he finds a wee, baby clown. Now what to do? He’s just an old coot who knows nothing about taking care of babies!
The rest of the story unpacks the sweet relationship that blossoms as this old farmer fosters that baby clown. And, poignantly, what happens when the little fellow’s circus family returns to fetch him.