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The Circus Ship · Candlewick Press 2009

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When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the circus animals must stagger to the shore of a small island. At first the townspeople view them with suspicion, but it’s not long before locals and animals are sharing the island in harmony. Loosely based on a true historic event, The Circus Ship is a story about the bonds of friendship and community.

Excerpts from Reviews

“The verse is sprightly, but the pictures are the true stunners. Children will pore over the panoramic spreads. Splendid!” ~ Kirkus, starred review

“Van Dusen’s illustrations burst with color and energy and utilize perspective and texture to add drama and humor. The spread of the animals in ‘hiding’ is pure genius.” ~ School Library Journal

“The fantasy of African wildlife on a quiet Maine island will absorb a read-aloud audience, and a clever hide-and-seek page lets readers hunt for the animals.”
~ Publisher’s Weekly


  • 2009 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award Winner
  • 2009 Lupine Award Winner
  • 2009 Minnesota State University Moorhead Comstock Honor Book
  • 2010 Read With ME book

Personal Notes

This book was inspired by the absolutely unbelievable wreck of The Royal Tar which sank off the coast of Maine. I added an Author’s Note at the back of the book which tells the true story of the 1836 tragedy.