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Big Top Burning: The True Story of an…

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The…

by Laura A. Woollett

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Recently, I've started working on improving the middle grade and young adult nonfiction sections of my library. This can be difficult for me, since I've gotten into the habit of expecting high circ numbers from every book I buy. I have a relatively small budget and I have high expectations of my purchases. But nonfiction is, realistically, going to have smaller circulation numbers. Fewer kids are encouraged to read nonfiction, they often need a higher reading ability to understand the more complex vocabulary, and in my library it's not as easily accessible as the fiction.

This is a great gateway book to get kids who are used to only fiction interested in reading nonfiction. It has an interesting storyline, a mystery, and a very practical approach to research.

In the midst of the Great Depression, on a hot summer day in 1944, the circus was in town in Hartford, Connecticut. Packed crowds arrived for a rare day of fun but it ended in disaster and tragedy when the circus tent caught fire. 167 people, many of them children, were killed. In the aftermath of investigation and grief, the bodies of two girls were never identified and another girl was left missing. Arson investigators declared the fire to be an accident, but many clues pointed to a human agent in the tragedy.

Throughout the following years, many different people investigated the fire, trying to identify the unknown bodies, the missing girl, and the criminal, if one existed. The author finishes with a summary of the most recent conclusions and some thoughts on the changing nature of research. Copious notes, bibliography, further reading, and credits are included.

This is well-written and strikes a nice balance between a steady flow of facts and creating an interesting narrative. Even if kids don't get interesting in starting their own historical research projects after reading this, they'll enjoy following the clues and historical tidbits. Although it's a sad story, it's presented respectfully and honestly, without too many gruesome details or horror.

Verdict: A great addition to your history section, whether you are a public or school library. This might need a little extra booktalking, as nonfiction sometimes does, but with a little promotion I think it will be popular. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781613731147; Published 2015 by Chicago Review Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library
  JeanLittleLibrary | Jul 4, 2015 |
BIG TOP BURNING: THE STORY OF AN ARSONIST, A MISSING GIRL, AND THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH by Laura A. Woollett tells the true story of a circus fire tragedy and its aftermath.

Set in 1944, this well-written work of nonfiction for middle-grade readers describes the terrible fire that killed 167 people including 59 children. The book explores the many mysteries surrounding the disaster including the cause of the fire, criminal investigations, and identification of bodies. While some questions remain unanswered, youth will be intrigued by the scope of the story.

Filled with amazing photographs, survivor interviews, and other primary source materials, the book also contains an author’s note, notes, bibliography, and index. Wollett brings the incident alive by combining the historical accounts with the mystery surrounding the disaster. The author does a stellar job describing the gripping story in an age-appropriate way. For example, she focuses on the mystery of an unidentified little girl. Youth will enjoy evaluating the evidence and drawing their own conclusions.

This short book would be a good choice for reluctant readers looking for an interesting history project topic. Display it with other books about tragic fire disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

To learn more about the author, go to http://www.laurawoollett.com/.

Published by Chicago Press on June 1, 2015. ( )
  eduscapes | Jun 19, 2015 |
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