From School Library Journal
Grade 1-4-This fascinating historical vignette traces the paths of three famous men-circus-owner John Ringling North, ballet-master George Balanchine, and composer Igor Stravinsky-and shows how their lives intersected to create a one-of-a-kind event. The Circus Polka, a ballet featuring 50 elephants and 50 dancers, all in pink tutus, took place in New York City in 1942. In a smooth storylike narrative, Schubert weaves biographical details about the participants with descriptions of the preparations, rehearsals, and dazzling performance. The book ends with an author's note and black-and-white photos, one of which shows a long line of costumed elephants with their feet resting on one another's backs. Presented on single pages and full spreads, and using variations of bright and muted colors, the watercolor-and-ink illustrations capture the movement and vitality of this creative undertaking. For the most part, the paintings focus tightly on the performers, providing close-up glimpses of Madoc, a large Indian elephant, and Vera Zorina, the featured dancer. Scenes that depict the full company in action include only two or three pachyderms, and, in one spread, the animals become a backdrop for the ballerinas. Children can best appreciate what the elephant corps de ballet
looked like by viewing the photo, which shows most of the stage area. Clearly written and vividly illustrated, this book provides a unique introduction to three interesting individuals and a look at a curious moment in musical history.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA
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K-Gr. 3. Like Ralph Helfer's The World's Greatest Elephant
(2006), Schubert's book tells an astonishing true story about circus elephants in the U.S. John Ringling North dreamed up his elephant circus act in the 1940s, Igor Stravinsky wrote the music for it, George Balanchine choreographed the steps, and 50 elephants with ballerinas on their backs danced the Circus Polka for dazzled audiences. The words are simple and lyrical ("they let the audience see the music and hear the dance"), and the beautiful, freely sketched double-page ink-and-watercolor art celebrates the excitement of the animals' dance. Schubert's lengthy afterword, accompanied by a few photos, supplies information left out of the story, including the fact that circus animals were sometimes mistreated and that Balanchine and Stravinsky may have regarded the ballet as a farce. Images of the great animals in fluffy pink tutus and jeweled headbands will jar some children, but the book offers much to talk about: the public circus, and the issues of animal rights. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved