Monday, October 26, 2015

Big Top Burning

Check out this great nonfiction children's title!

Children's nonfiction can be tricky. As a writer, you want to tell a story accurately, while also engaging the reader. But much of nonfiction for children comes in series, where each story has to fit the same number of pages, the same reading level, the same number of illustrations.

For a critical look at the Who Was...? series,
here's a blogpost from the Children's Atheneum.
Sometimes a series covers many topics well. Take the Who Was...? series of biographies, each with a bobble-headed figure on the cover.

Sometimes, however, a story needs to stand alone and not be pushed into a series format. 

Laura A. Woollett's Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Chicago Review Press, 2015) is a stand-out standalone.

At just under 170 pages, this title for readers in grades 4 and up conveys a horrifying story: the devastating 1944 fire at the Barnum & Bailey Circus while in mid-performance in Hartford, CT. Nine  short chapters cover all of the ground of the title and subtitle. Photos add to the story and help break up the text. Notes from extensive sources come at the end.

What's great about this book: The author includes tons of primary source information (some from interviews she did with survivors). The chapters are so clearly written and engaging that Big Top Burning would be a great read-aloud.

For more on the author, shown here at the circus,
check out this great blogpost on Cynsations.

Finally, the book doesn't have easy answers. Many people died on that hot, hot day in Hartford and the hows and whys are still not entirely clear. But Woollett gives readers all they need to imagine what it might have been like to be there, to see the flames rising, and to hear the shouts and screams.