It has been a year and a half since my mother gave me a stack of books from my childhood that she rescued from the basement of my childhood home. I intended to share a few titles before now, but that’s the way it goes. I’m sharing a favorite title today because the DLM has discovered it and loves it.
Bear Circus by William Pene DuBois is the story of a colony of koalas that have to leave their home because a swarm of grasshoppers eats all the eucalyptus leaves within the Koala Park where they live. These frightened koalas set out to find a new home and are helped along by a troop of friendly kangaroos. Just as the koalas and kangaroos are getting acquainted, an airplane transporting Colonel Tim’s Tiny Time Circus crashes nearby. (Don’t worry–the Tiny Time Circus performers parachute to safety!) I love this description:
With great luck, the bears and the kangaroos soon came across some beautiful gum trees. They were standing straight and were green as a crisp salad. There was a fine beach and the sea behind them.
The crashing pink airplane arrived at the same place at just about the same time.
“What is that?” asked a baby bear.
“I never saw anything like it,” said his friend.
The pink airplane crashed into a million tiny bits, scattering pretty circus things all over the bears’ new home.
“It must have been a Christmas present which opens itself,” said a baby bear.
“I think you are right,” said his friend.
The koalas decide they will put on a circus to thank their kangaroo friends. Of course, because koalas move slowly, it takes them years to get it together, but get it together they do. It is absolutely delightful! (This is the part that hooked the DLM.) We get to see koalas performing as clowns, strong men, and even the amazing Splasho, who goes up into the air from a teeterboard and lands in a bathtub. The story ends with the koalas looking for a new home (the grasshoppers found their gum trees!). More importantly, though, it ends with a sweet commentary on friendship.
If you’re looking for political correctness or scientific accuracy, keep looking. However, if you’re looking for an engaging story with gorgeous illustrations (and koalas adorably dressed as circus performers!), this is your book. William Pene DuBois won a Newbery Medal for The Twenty-One Balloons in 1948 and a couple of Caldecott Medals for picture books after that, but this is the only book by him I’ve ever read. Published in 1971, my copy is a Weekly Reader Bookclub Book (remember those?). I have no memory of how it came into my possession as a child, though it definitely made an impression on me. It isn’t the best book to read aloud to a group (I tried), but it’s the perfect book to snuggle up with and enjoy together. Highly Recommended.