The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupdendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming

barnum1Cindy: Ladies and gentlemen, Children Of All Ages, with delightful derring-do and glitzy grammatical garnishing, Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan, in conjunction with the superior cyberspectacular known as www.Ringling.com are proud to present the following fabulous book review! (this website will Barnumize your email or text!) Where to start in describing the wealth of interesting facts in this biography of a most unique man? Years before the Barnum and Bailey Circus took the country by rail, Barnum opened the first public aquarium in 1849 at his American Museum on the corner of Ann and Broadway streets in New York City. There he later exhibited the first hippopotamus to be seen in America in 1860 and visitors to the museum could bring their recently deceased pets in and have them stuffed and mounted by staff taxidermists while they toured the many salons of the museum. The Great and Only Barnum (Random/Schwartz & Wade, Sept. 8, 2009) mimics his museum as a wealth of bizarre and intriguing information. Barnum’s reputation as a humbug grew from his penchant for luring paying customers with the promise of a new delight. He claimed he hurt no one with his tricks, as his customers always left happy and entertained, even if duped. Sometimes even the mighty Showman wasn’t sure what was real, but he decided that “keeping an open mind could make him lots of money.” When offered what turned out later to be a Japanese art object made from a monkey and fish sewn together, he had initially said, “I’ll believe in mermaids and exhibit it.” He was full of ideas, some of which were too lofty for even him to pull off (buying the American side of the Niagara Falls and fencing it off and charging admission for the Canadians to view it.)

nonfiction_mondayAgain and again while reading this book I thought of the possibilities for teachers to use passages from this biography for jump starting discussions, debates, and journal entries. Was the newspaper fact checking in Barnum’s day worse or better than the media is accused of in the speed of today’s news flow? Was Barnum’s creation of “celebrity endorsement” to promote singer Jenny Lind a good development for our culture? Was Barnum’s treatment of little person, Tom Thumb, ethical or demeaning? What impact did Barnum have on modern zoos and museums? What does it say about Barnum that his autobiography contains lots of mention of the famous performers he managed, but nothing at all about his children? “Controversy is good for business,” P. T. Barnum said. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Always interested in new technology, Barnum jumped at Thomas Edison’s offer to record his voice for posterity on his new fangled phonograph record invention. You can hear the recording here.

Candace Fleming gives readers young and old a superbly splendiferous show in this amazing biography of a man who had no shortage of energy, interests, or faults. Hurry to your local or bookstore or library next week when this publishes. The story is worth the price of admission!

Lynn: Readers of ALL ages, step right up and read this stupendous book! Middle schoolers are the perfect audience for Fleming’s book but those really good elementary readers and even high schoolers will find it fascinating and informative. Fleming steps away from her scrapbook style here and uses an evocative design reminiscent of the 19th century. The book is chock full of fascinating photographs, billboards, posters, ticket stubs and sidebars that provide additional information about Barnum and his time.

Readers of this book will find themselves saying, “Listen to this” and “Did you know”,” as it is full of tibits too tempting not to share. Did you know that Barnum only developed his famous circus late in his career and that he was most famous in his time for his Great American Museum – which burned down twice! He never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but he did say, “I had no small plans.” Make your own big plans to read this wonderful book! Teachers and librarians – Cindy is SO right about the exciting possibilities for classroom integration.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupdendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming"

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  1. madeline.snyder@sbcglobal.net' maddie says:

    this is a great book.

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