Today’s Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Wendie’s Wanderings. One of the books featured in our 31st In My Mailbox was a picture book biography called Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup. How I managed to get a hold of this book seemed almost fortuitous. A couple of weeks prior to the launch of our bimonthly theme,
I was at Book Off doing what I do best: book-hunting. Sawdust and Spangles was the first book I pulled from the shelf. Have you ever held a book in your hands and felt as if the book was insisting to be bought? That’s how I felt. When I saw the cover, I knew: Sawdust and Spangles would be perfect for Nonfiction Monday, in time for our bimonthly theme. This happened before I found out about the Nonfiction Picture Books Challenge 2012. Talk about hitting multiple birds with one stone! Totally love it!
The Boy and the Circus. To be honest, I didn’t know who W.C. Coup was. I haven’t heard of the man. When I think of the circus, I think of Ringling Bros. and Barnun & Bailey.
Born in a small Indiana Town, William Cameron Coup helped his old man who ran a tavern. Like most children, he was delighted when he found out that the circus was coming to town.
His life at the tavern was nothing compared to the magical sights and sounds of the big top. Fueled by his thirst for adventures and determined to change his life, William Cameron Coup decided to run away with the circus!
Nothing is Hard When You Love What You Do. William Cameron Coup reminds us that when we love the things that we do – when we put our heart into it – then anything is possible. Obstacles could easily be overcome, and hardly would we feel the demands of the job.
Life in the circus was hard work and long hours, but William loved every moment of it. Even the time he fell asleep in Old Romeo the elephant’s cage and awoke hanging upside down from his trunk!
Circus wasn’t just a childhood dream. Circus was William’s life. When he was older, he eventually ran his own circus and called it: W.C. Coup’s Greatest Show.
Managing a circus was no simple task. Not only did Coup have to keep track of the ticket sellers, the performers, and all the animals, but he also had to oversee the sideshow, which was filled with many strange and interesting sights. Coup’s favorite was General Tom Thumb, a man so small he could sit in the palm of your hand!
The Man Who Chased Dreams. Sawdust and Spangles was wonderfully illustrated by beloved artist Giselle Potter (whose other creation, Sleeping Bobby, also appeared in our website). The unique artwork complements the unique life that W.C. Coup lived. As a dream chaser, however, the circus was just the beginning.
What I loved most about this picture book is how it went beyond the circus story. Coup was a dreamer, and he made his dreams come true. It wasn’t just the circus life that fascinated him. With the help of his friend, Charles Reiche, he opened a new business venture: the New York Aquarium. The following lines are my favorite:
Often, at night, when the crowds had finally gone home, Coup would remain in the aquarium, alone. There, bathed in the soft blue light of the tanks, he would admire his creation. If you had been there to see him, you might have wondered if the twinkle in his eye was a reflection of the fish in the tanks, or the glimmer of yet another dream waiting to come out.
Because for W.C. Coup, there was always a bigger dream to be found.
Author’s Note and Additional Resources. Ralph Covert is the Grammy-nominated musician best known for his children’s music project Ralph’s World. He co-authored plays with Chicago-based playwright G. Riley Mills. Similar to the excerpt above, the following was written in the Author’s Note found at the back of the book:
Coup was a man of great passion and purpose, which is why we felt his story was one that needed to be told, to remind us all that the extraordinary is waiting inside all of us, all the time.
Tears in my eyes! I love books that encourage children to dream: to dream big and make it come true. In addition to W.C. Greatest Show and the New York Aquarium, Coup’s idea of the circus train forever changed how the circus traveled. The caravan of horse-drawn wagons was replaced by the circus train.
Coup’s story was not all magical. He had a bitter dispute with Charles Reiche but even that did not stop him. He eventually opened a traveling show called the New United Monster Shows that became one of the largest consolidated circuses in the U.S. Later he created the Enchanted Rolling Palaces, elaborate museums housed on trains! Talk about endless possibilities!
Sawdust and Spangles is truly a wonder, thanks to these two fabulous authors. To get to know Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills more, click on this short interview by CurledUpKids. Also, there is an actual book written by W.C. Coup himself that carries the same title, Sawdust and Spangles. To read the e-book version, visit FreeFictionBooks.
Here are two lovely music performances by Ralph Covert. The first one is called The Rhyming Circus and the second, Fools Will Try, is a lovely music video about chasing dreams. Enjoy!
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 2 of 12
Picture Book Challenge Update: 14 of 120
Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup
by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills, Illustrated by Giselle Potter
Reading Level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (September 2007)
Own copy of book. Book photos taken by me.