Books Paranormal and Carnivale Picture Book Challenge 2012 Picture Books Poetry Friday Reading Themes

Poetry Friday: Circus! Circus! Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by John O’Brien

For the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing paranormal-themed poetry, it’s about time that we share something circus and carnivale-related, in keeping with our bimonthly theme until end of February.

Poster courtesy of our treasured Iphigene

It was indeed a pleasant surprise to have found this lovely book with poetry selected by the inimitable Lee Bennett Hopkins entitled Circus! Circus! in our library. Perfect contribution as well for Poetry Friday this week which is hosted by Laura Salas of Writing the World for Kids.

The book, as you can see, is relatively old, with crunchy pages and a musty smell. I love its unused/unread feel. And as per usual, the poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins were spot-on. There are 17 poems included in this collection, ranging from poets like Jack Prelutsky, Bobbi Katz (whose Monsterologist we have featured here several weeks back), Patricia Hubbell, and Ogden Nash among others.

Reading the lines from Such things are far away by Fannie Stearns Davis makes one feel the excitement, the anticipation of “pop-corn and balloons,/ Gold, purple, scarlet moons” – the circus is coming indeed! Then, there is of course an ode to The Ringmaster by Lee Bennett Hopkins and everything that can be seen in the carnivale with Margaret Hillert’s Circus Fare – leading Solveig Paulson Russell to exclaim that there is Too Much to See.

And of course, not to forget The Elephants by Dorothy Aldis and Circus Elephant by Kathryn Worth. I was struck by Worth’s silent questioning of whether the giant beast still recalls his life in the jungle:

Does His Majesty remember?
Does he stir himself and dream
Of the long-forgotten music
Of a long-forgotten stream?

There are also lovely verses written To a Circus Acrobat by Patricia Hubbell and The Clown by Dorothy Aldis. The poetry is likewise enhanced by the black-and-white drawings of John O’Brien that are teeming with life, movement, and seeming-animation.

The poem that spoke to me the most, though, and which I’d like to share with fellow Poetry Friday enthusiasts is Bobbi Katz’ When all the crowds have gone

What are you like underneath your mask,
When all the crowds have gone?
Do you take off your smile for a little while,
When all the crowds have gone?
Do you always make jokes for the circus folks?
Do you quietly keep to yourself?
What are you really like, Mr. Clown,
When all the crowds have gone?

I was just reflecting that educators/teachers are like circus people in a sense – we are ringmasters inside the classroom, channeling the students’ boisterous energy, waning enthusiasm, and their inevitable lapses in attention. Regardless of what happens at home or in our private social lives (assuming that we still have one), we need to assume an enthused face to welcome the kids (or adults in my case) inside your circus tent/classroom and provide them with entertainment packaged in colorful slides bursting with imagery and text to satisfy their learning needs. Well, at least, that’s the way I see it. And yeah, it would also be interesting to see what teacher really is like when all the crowds have gone. 🙂

Circus! Circus! Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and Illustrated by John O’ Brien. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1982. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos were taken by me.

PictureBook Challenge Update: 20 of 120

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

25 comments on “Poetry Friday: Circus! Circus! Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by John O’Brien

  1. I love the illustrations. And the theme!


  2. I’m behind in my reading this week, even blog reading! Thanks for sharing this old book. It looks fascinating! Now I can’t wait to see if our school library has it! One of my colleagues at school has worked as a clown for Ringling Brothers & still does some clown work on the weekends. There is a circus school in Boulder, Colorado! I will certainly share this poem with her. And finally, your last paragraph connecting teachers with the circus performers. It does seem true that we do our work like that, yet somehow I think the best teachers take off the mask as often as they can. You’ve given me something to think about. Thanks for all Myra.


    • Hi Linda, yes, you did mention about your colleague who worked as a clown, that is fascinating – and must be very exciting too!

      Re teachers as performers – yup, there has to be authenticity at all times, but the presentation, the packaging, the panache, the theatrics of it all, such glory too! 🙂 And such joy! 🙂


  3. A shame such a beautiful looking book smelt unread…thank you for giving it some love and sharing it.


  4. Thank you for sharing this collection, Myra, which has stood the test of time. I appreciate all the photos you took – such lively art. Perfect for your theme this month, which makes me still feel like a kid – so curious and intrigued by the strangeness, but keeping one eye on the door, ready to bolt!


    • Hi Robyn, I do know what you mean. That’s the great thing about a book, you can always close it if the need calls for it. Unlike in life, when we need to face those paranormal creatures day in. day out. and it’s called drudgery. hehehe.


  5. Thanks, Myra. The illustrations are indeed animated. I love the line drawings in some older books. Perhaps in this collection they allow the poems themselves to draw the reader into the circus.


  6. Hadn’t seen this collection before. Thanks for the peek, and I love the clown poem. I agree with you about teachers and their “masks.” When I was in school, I often wondered what my teachers were like outside the classroom. Of course they never went grocery shopping or used the bathroom :). And, as a teacher, it sometimes did feel like I was “putting on a show.” You can’t expect your students to get excited or interested if you’re not.


  7. Wow, I know and love many of LBH’s anthologies, but I don’t know this one. Thanks for introducing it and sharing those two haunting excerpts. They are gorgeous.

    So true about teaching (or doing school visits)…


    • Hi Laura, yup, I also love LBH’s anthologies. I think we also featured another one here, quite a recent publication illustrated by Chris Soentpiet – Amazing Faces. Just Beautiful.


  8. I’ve always thought of teachers as being performance artists – once that bell rings, it’s show time! Thank you for sharing this lovely old book as well…that poem reminds me of “Minstrel Man” – it would make a great poetry pairing, I think.


  9. You found the perfect book to go with your theme! (Is there ANY topic LBH hasn’t written about or collected?!?!) 🙂


  10. Thank you for the sneak peak at his book, and for posting the clown poem in particular. It is an interesting perspective. I say this as a person who is personally terrified of clowns. I guess I’ve never really “wondered” what they’re like when not performing — I believe that they are clown-like all of the time, that anyone who could make themselves into a clown must be a clown to their core, always a clown, nothing but a clown in every sense of the word.

    But for a moment there — you got me thinking.

    For a moment.

    In any case, this is probably the last poetry book I would ever have picked up off the shelf myself, so I appreciate being able to check it out virtually through you.



    • Hi Ed, thanks for visiting. While I have no such fear of clowns, I do find them creepy on occasion, and from a psychological vantage, quite interesting. The dissonance between what they do and how they may be feeling plus the masks that they wear make for a very rich and interesting study. 🙂 I am also glad that I picked this book up. I should have included a youtube clip of “Send in the Clowns.”


  11. Dear Myra: I’m overwhelmed! My goodness, CIRCUS… was done so long ago.
    I almost forgot about it. At the time of its publication I was working with the brilliant
    Pat Ross who died a few years ago at a young age. She was incredible – the one
    who mentored me throughout my first novel, MAMA – still in print in paperback with
    Boyds Mills Press.

    I also want to thank all for the nice words about my collections. I send popcorn and cotton candy to you all. Love…Lee


  12. Pingback: Carnival of Children’s Literature: A February Round-Up and More «

  13. Pingback: List of Circus, Carnivale, Paranormal Themed Books for All Ages «

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