Wednesday, April 6, 2011



Fleming, Candace. 2009. THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM. Schwartz & Wade Book: New York.  ISBN 9780375841972.

Plot Summary
"The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum" is just what you will get, with Fleming's easily readable yet informative tale of "Tale" (his childhood nickname) Barnum's life.  From the farm to the three-ring circus, Barnum creates "humbuggers" and imaginative exhibits and shows.  Fleming gives accurate details of Barnum's rocky personal life, alcohol abuse and money mishaps which shadowed those of the aristocrats at times.  An extensive bibliography, website list and source notes are provided at the end to back up the bizarre and exotic aspects of the book.

Critical Analysis
Barnum's remarkable life is easy to imagine in this fantastic portrayal by Candace Fleming.  She accurately describes Barnum's childhood, heyday and the time leading up to his death like a rollercoaster ride.  From his "rag tag" band to the "hummbugger" pranks he pulled, it is easy to see why he was loved by the public.  Fleming's informative side notes add to the story by providing history, personal stories and social norms.  For example, the "Caught Looking" addendum describes how "gawking at people with disabilities" was an acceptable form of entertainment at the time.  Barnum's view described the people of the exhibits as "amazing," and the photos included in the book are, indeed, amazing.  Barnum invented the three-ring circus, and this book is an astonishing description of his legendary life.

Awards & Honors
ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2010
ALSC Notable Book 2010
Top Ten Biographies for Youth 2010
Kirkus Reviews
Best Young Adult Book 2009
New York Public Library 100 Books For Reading and Sharing Title
Publishers Weekly Best Book 2009
VOYA "Perfect Ten"
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults 2010 (nominee)

"This biography captures the spirit of the man and his era." -- The Horn Book
"Fleming captures Barnum's exuberant personality and describes how his gift for promotion and dedication to delivering what the public wanted made him the world's most famous showman." -- School Library Journal
"The text has a gently incantatory rhythm, while the book's twilight colors perfectly evoke the magic hour when shadows deepen even as the lights become more luminous." -- Roaring Book Press

  • The Fejee Mermaid duped the public by mixing a monkey with a fish.  There is a photo of this creature on page 58.  Students can practice their creative and artistic skills by mixing other animals and creating new creatures of the unknown.
  • Teachers can help create a form for "readers theater" by analyzing the people of the exhibits.  Students can be delegated as reporters or chose a person from Barnum’s show.  Afterward, they can practice conducting interviews and then perform for the class.
  • Fleming's official website provides a teacher's guide for each of her books.  She recommends creating a timeline of Barnam's life, KWL activities, or holding a mini-circus for students to show off odd talents!

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