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Backyard Circus

by Jill Bryant; Stephen MacEachern, illus.

Toronto writer Jill Bryant – who now lives in England – has written a dynamic guide to creating a circus in your backyard. In humorous prose, she teaches kids to clown, juggle, tumble, mime, and stage-manage. Bryant shows how to build on existing talents, such as ballet and gymnastics moves, math brains, and a ready wit. Even very small kids can be involved, since Bryant is careful not to suggest anything more dangerous than jumping over a lawn chair.

With panache, Bryant describes how to make a megaphone, create phony weights, and do magic tricks that are visually
effective and more straightforward than those frustrating ones in commercial kits. The book is bursting with good ideas, such as ways to pack a punch with animal acts using only children in costumes, and tightrope numbers with a skipping rope laid on the grass. Sidebars provide fascinating potted histories of related subjects, such as the Cirque de Soleil and Marcel Marceau.

Bryant’s circus is one kids can truly organize and see through to opening night all on their own, learning a lot about performance and production in the process. The author also slyly slips in lessons in manners and personal responsibility, devoting the final chapter to cleaning up the big top and writing thank-you notes to those who donated props and such.

Stephen MacEachern’s illustrations are colourful and lively, but don’t measure up to the quality of the writing. The naïve style he favours has become commonplace in non-fiction books, and I think it’s time to retire the trend. Also, the messy cover design is disappointing – something lean and bold, more like a circus poster, would have better complemented the text.