June 1, 2015

Circus fire

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth
by Laura A. Woollett

Back in 1944, a fire broke out in a circus tent in Hartford, Connecticut. The prologue describes the fire and the number of people who died. A few questions are then raised - how did the fire start, was it arson, how were victims identified - before the real story begins. 

After a brief history of circuses and the operations of Ringling Brothers, we are introduced to a number of children who were in the tent that day. The dramatic account of their fates are riveting, as are the photographs that were taken during and after the disaster. However, the  excitement of the first five chapters soon give way to tedium. Two entire chapters devoted to the missing girl is circular and confusing, and the biography of the suspected arsonist is too speculative, becoming less interesting at it goes on. Adding to the frustration is the lack of concrete answers. 

By the end of the book, we're still left with a mystery; young readers may find it unsettling.

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