The Circus Ship

Last updated Monday, January 4, 2016

Author: Chris Van Dusen
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Date of Publication: 2009
ISBN: 076363090X
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jan. 2016

Synopsis: When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the critters blend in that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, villagers of all species conspire to outsmart the bloated blowhard. With buoyant rhymes and brilliantly caricatured illustrations evoking the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen presents a hugely entertaining tale about the bonds of community — and a rare hidden-pictures spread for eagle-eyed readers of all ages.

Note to readers:
•  There are several vocabulary words listed below. You might want to have the kids point out new words they have not seen before, read the definition, and point out on the page, if pictured.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Why would a circus be on a ship?
•  Have you ever been to a circus?
•  What animals do you see on the ship?


•  refugee - a person (or in this case, an animal) who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
•  helm - a tiller or wheel and any associated equipment for steering a ship or boat.
•  ledge - an underwater ridge, especially of rocks beneath the sea near the shore.
•  ferry - transport (people, vehicles, or goods) by boat across a body of water.
•  bedraggled - wet or dirty from being in rain or mud.
•  bloomers - women's loose-fitting knee-length underpants, considered old-fashioned.
•  ashore - on land as opposed to at sea.
•  murk - darkness or thick mist that makes it difficult to see.
•  menagerie - a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition.

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Where is Maine? Where is Boston? (if there is no detailed map in the classroom, point out the area in the northeast of U.S.)
•  How did the animals help the islanders?
•  Which animals would you want to live with you?
•  Can you spot the animals hiding in plain sight when Mr. Paine returned?

Craft ideas:
•  Make your own circus ship. Use a paper plate (or cut a half-circle out of construction paper). Add cut-out or draw animals on the ship. Write the name of your ship on the bottom.
•  Make an animal mask.
•  Check out our craft ideas on Pinterest!

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!